TRADING standards staff have won a landmark case after successfully prosecuting the man behind a Microsoft computer scam which tricked hundreds into paying for free anti-virus software.
Crooks in Indian call centres duped people into allowing them access to their home computers resulting in the removal of security programmes - leaving PCs in a worse state than before.
Victims - including seven from the North-East and North Yorkshire -were cold-called and told their computer would crash because of a serious fault.
The callers claimed they were Microsoft-certified engineers, or from a company representing Microsoft.
People were tricked into paying between £35 and £150 after allowing the fraudsters remote access to their computers.
They would then install anti-malware software that Microsoft provides for free.
Specialist e-crime investigators from the National Trading Standards Team based with North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council carried out the inquiry with backing from ActionFraud and Redcar and Cleveland Trading Standards.
Over 400 people from across the UK initially complained about the scam.
Mohammed Khalid Jamil was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and fined £5,000 after a hearing at York Crown Court, trading standards officials said.
Jamil, who ran Luton-based company Smart Support Guys, was also ordered to pay £5,665 compensation and £13,929 in prosecution costs.
The 34-year-old, from Luton, admitted unfair trading by allowing his staff to make false claims regarding computer support services.
He claimed he had tried but failed to control call centre staff and not adequately supervised them.
Deborah Sherwin, prosecuting, said that Luton trading standards had previously warned Jamil about the conduct of a previous company, Online PC Masters.
Microsoft has no links with the firm, trading standards said, and the software giant said people should not be charged for its free products.
Lord Harris, chairman of the National Trading Standards Board, who oversee the work of the National Trading Standards e-crime team, said: ''This is a landmark case, as we believe it may be the first ever successful prosecution of someone involved in the Microsoft scam in the UK.
Chris Metcalfe, Executive Member for Trading Standards at North Yorkshire County Council added: "Consumers up and down the country have been affected by this scam for too long. This should serve as a warning to anyone trying to con UK consumers with similar scams that you can no longer hide behind the anonymity of the internet."