Computer tech support scams are on the rise. The scammers use the consumers’ fear by alerting them to security breaches, viruses, or ineffective software programs for malware and spyware. The target buys into the scam, worried that his identity will be stolen or worse. Scammers contact targets through phone calls, text messages, email, and pop up ads. Savvy consumers can spot the scam with the following information:
Tech support scammers notify targets that there is a problem with their computer, such as a virus or damaged hard drive. They tell you that they can fix the problem for a fee and ask you to wire money, buy a gift card or prepaid card. They choose those methods of payment because they are difficult, if not impossible, to get back or trace.
Spotting the Scam
Con artists have different ways to trick people into believing their stories. Here are the most common ways they fool consumers.
Tech support scammers make random phone calls and claim to work for a well-known company like Microsoft or Apple. They say that your computer has informed them of a serious problem and offer to run a diagnostic scan if you give them remote access. If you agree, the scammer pretends to run a scan on your computer and then tells you about a problem that isn’t real. The Federal Trade Commission has recorded one of the calls made by a computer tech support fraudster. You can listen here.
Legitimate companies will not call you to discuss an alert or ask for payment for tech support. Most companies use online support systems. If the problem cannot be solved, you can call tech support directly. If you do receive a call, use a reverse phone search on the number that called you. Write it down so you can report it to the authorities.
Pop-up ads are a nuisance and can often be avoided by using a pop-up blocker. However, scammers are smart and can sometimes work around the block. The ad will pop up on your screen, alerting you to a problem on your computer, due to a failing operating system or virus. The ad might show a logo from a well-known company. It lists a phone number for you to call to get help.
Online ads for tech support are always suspect. If you haven’t had any problems with your computer then ignore the ad. If you think that your software might be outdated, run an update on your system and then perform a scan.
Scammers love weak passwords. Change your password on a regular basis. You can create a complicated password or use a password generator to improve your computer’s security.
Reporting a Scam
Consumers don’t always report scams because they are embarrassed. They may not know that they have been scammed. If you suspect you might be the target of a computer tech support or other scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission’s Complaint Assistant.