Years after criminals started distributing fake antivirus software on a wide scale, UK consumers are still regularly falling for the scam, government-backed security organisation Getsafeonline has said.

According to the organisation’s own research, 80 percent of UK web users aren’t even aware that such cons exist, an ignorance that has allowed it to morph into potentially even more serious forms such as cold calling scams.

Getsafeonline now reckons that as many as one in four of UK web users have been phoned up by criminals claiming that their PCs are infected with viruses, tricking them into handing over credit card details.

The criminals, overwhelmingly foreign-based, are making steady money by tricking people into buying useless and dangerous security software so they keep coming back for more.

“This is big business. In recent cases, we have seen gangs employing 300-400 people to run their operations and using call centre-scale set ups to target victims en masse,” said SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency) deputy director, Sharon Lemon, presumably referring to a notorious Ukrainian front company called Innovative Marketing, downed last summer by the FBI.

“They can also be paying out as much as $150,000 a month (on a pay per download basis) to individual webmasters who are unwittingly advertising their fake software – this level of investment from criminals indicates that the returns are much heftier than this,” she added.

The idea that a quarter of UK Internet users have been contacted by phone scammers sounds exaggerated but there is no question that this type of social engineering approach is now a common nuisance.

What is not known is how many victims such scams are catching. That is the missing piece of information that officially-backed groups such as Getsafeonline and SOCA can’t know because consumers currently still have no way of reporting problems.

Consequently, intelligence is thin on the ground, and three years after these scams first became common on the Internet, a public campaign needs to be launched to make people aware that such cons even exist.

Techworld and other sources have been reporting on these scams for over two years.

Major news organisations such as the BBC have even headlined on the new Getsdafeonline fake antivirus campaign as if it is stands as a major revelation. It isn’t. It is old news, very old news, and for its unknown number of victims dated enough to count as too little too late.

Getsafeonline is holding an awareness week from today as part of its campaign to draw attention to the cold calling and other bogus software scams.

For consumers who haven't heard of fake antivirus scams, Getsafeonline has published a guide on its website.