Better Business Bureau issues a scam alert for tech support scams

A tech support rep calls and offers to fix a computer bug you haven’t even noticed, or a popup warning appears on the screen instructing you to dial a number for help. In this con, scammers pose as tech support employees of well-known computer companies and hassle victims into paying for their “support.” 

Within the last year BBB Serving Central Indiana has received numerous Scam Tracker reports from consumers losing more than $5,000 to tech scams. 

How the Scam Works: 

A call comes through on the Caller ID, a popup on the computer screen or you receive an email from someone claiming to be with tech support from a well-known software company. Microsoft, Comcast, Norton and Dell are all popular choices. The scammer ceates a sense of urgency—the computer is sending error messages, they’ve detected a virus, or your computer is about to crash causing a massive loss of data! 

Rest assured the tech support employee can fix the problem but only if they’re allowed to remote access the troubled machine. Once access is granted, the caller will often run a “scan” and claim the computer is infected with viruses. The offer is made to fix and repair the machine for a fee. That may not be the end of the scam. If you allow remote access, malware may be installed on your machine. Malware often scans files in search of personal information, which scammers then use to commit identity theft.  

According to a recent BBB Scam Tracker report, a Bloomington woman reported losing $1,400 to this tech scam. She called the number in a pop-up message after her computer screen went black. At the time, she believed she was speaking to a technician at Microsoft. “He then told me that he will download an ad blocker Adguard and cleaner and charged me $699 for the software – I thought this was a good way for me to protect my information online, so I wrote out a check for $699.” Later, she realized additional charges had been taken from her account and that’s when she knew she had been scammed. She is now taking steps to shut down her bank account and file a police report.  

Tips to spot this scam:

  • Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you are absolutely certain it is the representative of a computer support team you initiated contacted. 
  • Legitimate tech support companies don’t make unsolicited phone calls. A popular way for thieves to get in touch with victims is through cold calls. The callers often claim to be from a tech company. Scammers do and they can spoof official looking phone numbers, so don’t trust Caller ID. 
  • Look out for warning screens: Nearly half of tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim’s computer screen. This pop up will have a phone number to call for help. Instead, disconnect from the internet and wi-fi connection by  shutting off the device and restart it with an antiviral scan. 
  • Be wary of sponsored links. When searching online for tech support, look out for sponsored ads at the top of the results list. Many of these links lead to businesses that scam consumers. 
  • Avoid clicking on links in unfamiliar emails. Scammers also use email to reach victims. These messages point consumers to scam websites that launch pop-ups with the fake warnings and phone numbers. 

If you are a victim of a tech support scam: 

  • Contact the bank immediately to report the incident and describe exactly what happened. 
  • Take the laptop, tablet, mobile device, or computer that was infected to a trusted local business and have it checked out. 
  • Remove any software that authorized remote access to the device. 
  • Change all of the passwords used to access bank accounts, social media and other websites that contain personal information.  
  • File a report with BBB Scam Tracker and with law enforcement authorities, such as the FTC  

Learn how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams” and sign up for scam alerts.  

Learn more about BBB Accreditation Standards and BBB Standards for Trust

Read BBB’s complete study with more details on who is behind tech support scams, how they are requesting money, and whom they are victimizing, as well as BBB’s recommendations for dealing with the problem.

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