As we emerge from the pandemic, we’re still doing more virtually. Tech support scams exploit our concerns of not being able to function online. These are impostor scams designed to make you think there’s something wrong with your computer. In actuality the problem is non-existent.
The consumer watchdog organization Fraud!Org names these scams among the worst of 2021. According to a 2020 FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center report, the majority of victims are elderly, and the problem is growing.
These scams take different forms. Scammers can send pop-up ads telling you that you have a computer security problem and providing a phone number for service. The pop-up contains an error message that looks like it comes from your operating system or antivirus software. It may display logos from trusted companies or websites.
Scammers can also contact you by phone, sometimes spoofing your Caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from a legit company, to tell you there’s something wrong with your computer. They then have you perform an action on your computer and tell you the results indicate that there’s an issue.
What happens next can take various forms, but the fraudsters’ goals are the same: to steal your money, personal/financial information, or access your computer files. The scammers might try to sell you repair services or convince you to sign up for a servicing contract or warranty plan for which they require payment. They might try to get you to visit a sham repair website and request that you enter your financial information, such as your credit card or bank account information.
Fraudsters might also try to get you to install phony repair software that is malware which will provide them with access to your computer and any data stored on it like usernames and passwords. Scammers might even convince you to allow them remote access to your computer which will provide them easy access to information stored on it and any connected network.
If someone is pressuring you to fix your computer, don’t panic and immediately accept their offer. Here are some tips and reminders to avoid victimization:
- If you get an unsolicited tech support call, hang up immediately.
- Don’t call a phone number in a pop-up window.
- Don’t click on notifications, including in texts or emails, telling you to scan your computer or download software.
- Don’t allow access to your computer for tech support unless you verify that it’s legitimate support.
- A legitimate tech support company won’t contact you to tell you your computer has a problem.
- Make sure you have regularly updated antivirus software.
- Don’t provide financial information to anyone who wants to give you a refund for tech support services.
You can find tech support through word of mouth or a store that sells tech equipment (for example, Apple’s “genius bar”), and many software companies offer assistance by phone or online. If you need help with a computer problem, initiate contact with a trustworthy individual or company.
*The information contained in this column is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US, CIPP/E