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Security & privacy

Windows users! These tricky scams are spreading

With the countless number of cybercriminals in the world, it’s a good idea to stay informed of the latest attacks. As they say, knowledge is power.

If you know what to watch for and how to respond, there’s a better chance to avoid becoming a victim.

That’s why you need to know about these tricky scams that are making the rounds. Things are so bad that the FBI is getting involved.

Cybercriminals are ramping up their attacks

Tech support scams are nothing new, they have been around for years. It’s when a criminal claims to be providing customer security or technical support in an effort to defraud unsuspecting victims.

Even though these types of scams are commonplace, the FBI is warning everyone that things are getting worse. In 2017 alone, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received nearly 11,000 complaints related to tech support fraud. The claimed losses amounted to roughly $15 million, which is an 86 percent increase in losses from 2016.

The IC3 isn’t the only entity warning of spikes in tech support scams. Microsoft is also sounding the alarm.

In 2017, Microsoft customer support services received over 150,000 reports from customers claiming they came across or ended up being victims of tech support scams. That’s up 24 percent from the previous year.

Image: Tech support scams reported directly to Microsoft. (Source: Microsoft)

These scams are not limited to Microsoft users either. Fraudsters are going after Android, iOS and Mac OS users also.

What to watch for

Tech support scams are delivered in numerous ways. According to the FBI, initial contact with the fraudsters typically occurs through the following methods:


A victim receives an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming the victim’s gadget is infected with a virus or is sending error messages to the caller. Generally, callers are said to have strong, foreign accents.

Search Engine Advertising

People who actually need tech support may use online search engines to find tech support companies. Criminals pay to have their fraudulent tech support company’s link show higher in search results hoping victims choose one of the top links.

Pop-up message

The victim receives an on-screen pop-up message claiming a virus has been found on their computer. In order to receive assistance, the message requests that the victim calls a phone number associated with the fraudulent tech support company.

If you’re using Windows, these pop-up messages might stay on your screen and seem impossible to eliminate. Here is how to get rid of the pop-up message:

  • Click on the Windows search box in the lower-left corner.
  • Search for Task Manager.
  • Open Task Manager.
  • Right-click on the browser you have open listed under the Processes tab and click End. If you have multiple tabs open, repeat this step for each tab.

Locked screen on gadget

The victim’s gadget displays a frozen, locked screen with a phone number and instructions to contact a fraudulent tech support company. Some victims have reported being redirected to alternate websites before the locked screen occurs.

Phishing emails

Victims receive a phishing email warning of a possible intrusion to their computer or an email warning of a fraudulent charge to their bank account or credit card. The email provides a phone number for the recipient to contact the fraudulent tech support.

Calling numbers from phishing emails can lead to a number of horrible things. The scammer on the phone could try and trick you into giving them your bank account information or convince you to provide them with remote access to your device.

There’s another related scam where the caller offers a “fake refund.” This is typically offered to those who have already fallen victim to a tech support scam. The fraudster claims that to receive a refund for the victim’s losses, they just need to pay a small fee up front. Of course, they will never receive a refund, it’s a scam.

Phishing emails are all too common. Click here to take our phishing IQ test to see if you can spot a fake email.

FBI suggestions for protection

  • Remember that legitimate customer, security, or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact with individuals.
  • Install ad-blocking software that eliminates or reduces pop-ups and malvertising.
  • Be cautious of customer support numbers obtained via open source searching. Phone numbers listed in a “sponsored” results section are likely boosted as a result of Search Engine Advertising.
  • Recognize fraudulent attempts and cease all communication with the criminal.
  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Criminals will urge the victim to act fast to protect their device. The criminals create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure the victim into immediate action.
  • Do not give unknown, unverified persons remote access to gadgets or accounts.
  • Ensure all computer anti-virus, security, and malware protection is up to date. Some victims report their anti-virus software providing warnings prior to an attempt.

If you believe that you may be a victim of an online scam, you should file a complaint with the IC3. Click here to file a complaint.

Have a question about tech support scams or anything tech related? Kim has your answer! Click here to send Kim a question.

The Kim Komando Show is broadcast on over 450 stations. Click here to find the show time in your area.

Speaking of security, millions of smartphone apps are putting your personal information at risk

Sites like Facebook and Google track your online activity so they can provide users with targeted ads. It’s not just websites either, in fact, many smartphone apps take part in the targeted ad process. Now, we’ve learned that millions of apps are putting your personal information at risk.

Click here to find out what’s going on and if there’s anything you can do.

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