Scams Get Technical
Scams aren’t anything new, but they sure have changed over time. With the advent of the internet and technology, scammers are using new avenues to take advantage of trusting and unsuspecting consumers and businesses alike. In particular, tech support scams have increased over the past few years, with millions being lost. Tech support scammers try to fool you into paying for support or services you don’t need. Fear of losing data or a security compromise are easy ways for bad guys to trick you, and they have many techniques to do so.
Common Tech Support Scams
A tech support scammer can initiate communication several different ways. One common technique is a cold call to your home or mobile phone. The caller claims to be someone from Microsoft or another large IT company, often “spoofing” the caller ID to make it appear legitimate. They may state your computer is infected with a virus or malware, and for a fee they can help. They’ll ask you to visit a website that lets them take control of your computer. After gaining access, they’ll usually run some commands and show you “problems” with the computer. What they are actually doing is taking advantage of people who are not trained IT professionals, and displaying normal computer settings or behavior. They will assure you that someone is hacking your computer, or that your computer is about to crash. At this point they usually tell you they can fix the problems, and ask for a credit card number. After “fixing” the problem, they may try to sell you a support contract – and getting even more money from you.
Another method used is through a pop-up on your computer that flashes a warning. The message may say your computer is infected or a problem was detected, and will display a toll free phone number for tech support. The message may also offer a “free” computer checkup, with a link to install software. It may display information about your Internet provider to appear even more legitimate. Upon calling this number or installing the software, a similar scenario to the one above occurs. The end result is your computer is no better off, and you’re out several hundred dollars.
When You Lead Yourself to the Scam
Sometimes, searching the web for tech support can lead to an encounter with a scam artist. Some scammers pay for legitimate advertising on well-known search engines. A search for “HP Printer Support” or “NetGear tech support” may display some paid advertising at the top of the list (usually marked with “ad” near the search result, indicating paid advertisements rather than genuine search results). While some listings may be legitimate companies, others may be unscrupulous organizations based inside AND outside the US. Because the ads are displayed when someone is searching “support” or “help”, these companies know you’re already in need of service. Its easy to inflate the actual issue you are having and sell additional support or services you don’t need. When searching product support, make sure you’re only clicking on links that will take you to the intended site by reading the website address (usually just below the search result heading).
Tips to Protect Yourself
Following some simple rules can help you avoid tech support scams.
· Never give someone control of your computer unless you know and trust them, or the encounter was initiated by you to a trusted and known support provider.
· Never give out credit card, personal information, or anything confidential to anyone unless you know for sure who you are dealing with. If in doubt, hang up and call the published number of the company you want to deal with.
· Don’t install “free” software or click on links claiming to fix your computer. This is usually malware designed to infect your computer.
· Never give out passwords over the phone or through email.
If You’ve Fallen Victim to a Tech Support Scam
If you’ve allowed someone remote access to your computer, and suddenly realize they’re up to no good – restart the computer. This will sever the connection to your system. Afterwards, run a full malware and virus scan with an up to date antimalware and antivirus solution. If you aren’t sure how to do this, you may want to contact a local IT service provider for help. Its also a good idea to change all your passwords, including banking and financial website logins. If you paid the scammers, contact your financial institution to report the charge. Finally, if you gave out any personal information such as date of birth, address, maiden name or social security numbers, you may want to consult with the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website https://www.identitytheft.gov/ . For more detailed information on tech support scams, you can also visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0346-tech-support-scams