The scam began last Thursday when emails purporting to come 'from the BTOpenworld team' informed customers that their email account had been temporarily suspended. They were advised to open the attached Zip file, which contains the virus that gathers e-mail addresses and turns unprotected computers into unsuspecting spamming agents.
One keen-eyed SC reader, suspecting it was a hoax, rang the company's call centre to alert them. But the call centre operator, based in India, merely suggested she delete the message. "When I asked to talk to a supervisor, I was left hanging on paying 50p a minute and eventually gave up," she said. Calls to BTOpenworld headquarters also failed to elicit any action. "I would have expected them either to put a warning message on their website or email users to warn them," the reader said.
Head of internet security retail for BTOpenworld Nick Truman said the company was still carrying out investigations.
"We're trying to get to the bottom of the problem," he said. "We're trying to find out where the source is coming from. There's a briefing going out to the helpdesk to try and warn customers who do ring the helpdesk obviously not to click on the text file. The trouble with putting out a mass email is that it could end up panicking some people."
Truman also agreed the call centre was ineffective in dealing with the problem.
Telecoms regulator Ofcom said it was powerless to help. "We don't regulate the internet," said Robin Hull, communications executive for Ofcom. "No one regulates the internet in the UK. [BT] is a commercial enterprise. If it's a telephone problem, we could get involved, but because it's an internet thing, it's not regulated. Ofcom can do nothing."