Tech Support Scams
Some scammers will call you and claim to be computer technicians with a well-known and established company such as Microsoft or Apple. Other scammers can send pop-up messages, emails that will notify the user that the computer is infected and has problems. The scammers will claim to be from “tech support” calling you to assist with computer problems and will ask to be remotely connected to your computer.
Once connected they will eventually diagnose a non-existent problem and ask you to pay for their services in fixing the issues. Other times the scammers will install malicious software or lock your computer and demand payment to fix the issues they created. If you get an unexpected pop-up, call, spam email or other urgent messages about problems with your computer, stop. Don’t click on any links, don’t give control of your computer and don’t send any money. Microsoft or any other IT company will not contact you unless you contact them first.
How the Scam Works
To convince you that both the scammer and the computer problems are real they may:
- pretend to be from a well-known company – like Microsoft or Apple
- use lots of technical terminologies
- ask you to get on your computer and open some files – and then tell you those files show a problem
Once they have you convinced that there are problems they may:
ask you to give them remote access to your computer – which will let them change your computer settings, lock you out of your computer, install malware or viruses, so your computer is vulnerable to attack
- trick you into installing malware that provides them access to your computers and your sensitive data, like user names and passwords, bank accounts, and so forth.
- try to sell you software that’s worthless, or that you could be obtained for free
- try to enroll you in a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program, which will not be honored after they receive payment
- ask for credit card information so they can bill you for phony services, or services you could get elsewhere for free
- direct you to malicious websites and ask you to enter your credit card number and other personal information
These scammers want to get your money, access to your computer, or both. However, there are things you can do to stop them.
What to Do if You Receive a Call
- If you get an unexpected or urgent call from someone who claims to be tech support, hang up. It is not a real call. Moreover, don’t rely on caller ID to prove who a caller is. Criminals can make caller ID seem like they are calling from a legitimate company or a local number even though they are not.
- If you get a pop-up message that tells you to call tech support, ignore it. There are legitimate pop-ups from your security software to do things like update your operating system. However, do not call a number that pops up on your screen in a warning about a computer problem especially if it pops up while browsing the internet.
- If you are concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly – but don’t use the phone number in the pop-up or on caller ID. Instead, look for the company’s contact information online, or contact your IT service provider for assistance
- Never share passwords or give control of your computer to anyone who contacts you out of the blue
What to Do if You Have Been Scammed
The things you should do with a tech support scam are similar to those for identity theft. Most of the time if the scammer has accessed your computer they have stolen personal information and corrupted your computer. If this has happened, you can follow the steps below to minimize the damage but contacting a local IT company is the best way to stay protected.
- shut down and disconnect your device from the Internet. That puts an absolute stop on any external meddling. It also often automatically revokes remote access for when you restart, dependent on the installed application.
- ideally, you would have a full system backup that would enable you to restore your computer to its previous state, ensuring the scammers no longer have access to your machine.
- if you do not have a backup, run the Windows System Restore feature.
- whether you restored your system or not, ensure your Internet security software is up to date and run a FULL virus scan to remove any lingering malware.
- if you know how to do it, check your web browser’s settings for any newly installed extensions or add-ons you do not recognize and delete them.
- if you do not know how to do this or you are still not certain your machine is “clean,” have it professionally checked.
- only when you have done all this should you change all passwords. Yes, all passwords on every account you access via your PC.
- alert your bank and credit card companies and monitor all statements online every day, looking for suspicious items.
- put a freeze on credit applications via the three credit monitoring agencies — Equifax, Experian and the TransUnion. This will cost a few dollars but is worth it. Each of the bureaus has its own credit lock service.
- file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Whether you are a victim of a tech support scam or not, make a point of educating yourself about these tricks and how to avoid them.
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