Tech support fraud is surging. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) says it received around 11,000 complaints related to tech support fraud in 2017 with claimed losses nearing $15 million. That’s a whopping 86 percent increase in losses over the numbers reported for 2016.
“Criminals may pose as a security, customer, or technical support representative offering to resolve such issues as a compromised email or bank account, a virus on a computer, or to assist with a software license renewal,” the IC3 warns.
That means tech support scams can sneak in under many different guises, from a hijacked computer browser to a phone call or an email. To protect yourself, you need to know what to look out for. Here is what the IC3 says are the most common scams that try to trick you into thinking you’re dealing with legitimate tech support services.
Fake pop-ups on websites
You’re browsing the internet when suddenly a message pops up in your browser warning that you have a virus on your computer. It may also include an audio message. It gives you a phone number to call for help. This can be jarring and you may feel like your browser is trapped, but don’t call the number. It connects you to a fraudulent tech support company. The scammer may try to get you to pay up to fix the issue or may try to gain access to your personal information.
An email arrives. It looks official. It’s a warning of a compromised bank account or credit card, or an alert about a problem with your computer or an online account. It encourages you to click on a link for assistance or to call a fake support number.
“Once the fraudulent tech support company representative makes verbal contact with the victim, the criminal tries to convince the victim to provide remote access to the victim’s device,” says IC3. As with the fake pop-ups scheme, the scammer may try to get you to pay up to fix the fictional problems with your computer or accounts.
The “Fake Refund”
Here’s an unusual approach criminals are using to gain access to your online bank account. The scammer contacts a victim to offer a refund for tech support services. To get the refund, the scammer talks you into giving him access to your computer. He then asks you to log into your bank account to process the refund. The criminal then gets access to your account to proceed to process a fake refund. This elaborate scheme involves transferring money among accounts and talking the victim into sending money to the scammer via a wire transfer or prepaid card. The IC3 calls this particular scam a “widespread issue.”
Unsolicited phone calls
Not all scams start through a web browser or email program. The IC3 also cautions about unsolicited phone calls from a person claiming your computer is infected with a virus or is sending error messages to the caller. Again, this turns into an attempt to extract payment or personal information. “Remember that legitimate customer, security, or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact with individuals,” says the IC3.
Don’t become a victim
If the tech support world is fraught with peril, how do you protect yourself when you need real tech support help? The answer is to use a legitimate tech support provider with a proven track record. Our sponsor HelloTech offers assistance with everything from remote computer tune-ups to Wi-Fi setups to smart-home help.
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