Nearly 143,000 people reported tech support scams in 2018. It’s clearly an oldie-but-goodie for a reason.
Typically these kinds of cons involve a phony representative helping you “fix” a fake computer problem for a fee.
Recently the Better Business Bureau warned consumers about new kinds of tech support scams. Now scammers are trying a new approach by offering you a refund instead—but there’s a catch (of course). In an other version, you’re told your IP address is being used fraudulently and you could be liable.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also reporting a fresh approach to this tried-and-true con. In this case, you search online for tech support help and end up finding a scammer who sells you costly software you don’t need.
Here’s how it works
Scam #1: A big tech company appears to call you, such as Microsoft, Apple, or Dell. The person on the phone claims you were erroneously charged for tech support product and so the company owes you a refund. To get that refund, all you need to do is give them some information. The person on the phone says you need to give them banking or credit card. They might ask you to log in to specific accounts/websites or give them remote access to your computer. You may even be asked to pay using a pre-paid debit card and give them the numbers.
Scam #2: You’re on the internet and you get a pop-up message on your screen. It appears to be from a well-known tech company and it says there’s a problem and you must call. When you talk to someone, you’re told your IP address is being used for fraud or even for child pornography websites—and that you could be held liable. Scammers may also call you out of the blue too, with the same claim. Either way, you’re told the person on the phone can help if you pay and give them remote access to your computer.
Scam #3: Your computer is behaving badly or you need to recover a lost password and need expert help. You go online to find someone. You locate what looks to be a reputable company and fill out an online form to give them your contact information. When the company calls you, they ask for access to your computer to supposedly check for problems. Once there, they show you “evidence” of viruses or other threats that they say need to be addressed immediately. To fix the issues, the scammers insist you need to purchase expensive software from them that you don’t, in reality, need.
Regardless of the specifics of the scam, you’re out money—and worse, if you gave them remote access to your computer, they likely stole personal and account information.
Six ways to avoid these scams
The Better Business Bureau and FTC say you should:
- Be wary of unsolicited calls. Despite what the Caller ID might say, legitimate tech companies do not make unsolicited calls to customers.
- Never give a stranger remote access to your computer. Scammers can steal your personal information and install malware that can be used to commit identity theft.
- Beware of requests for untraceable payments. Scammers often ask for payment by wire transfer, gift card, or pre-paid debit cards. Legitimate companies do not—or will not—accept payments in these forms.
- If you need support, go to a company you know and trust. Get advice from friends or family for a referral. If you must look online, do a search on the company’s name with the terms “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.”
- Never call a number given in a pop-up window that warns of computer problems. If you get a suspicious pop-up, don’t click on anything and restart your computer. If the issue persists, use tip #4 to find a reputable company to help.
- Never open attachments or email links from unknown senders. These can generate the fake pop-up warnings that prompt you to call scammers.
Updated 3/22/2019 to include the Better Business Bureau’s latest warning
Updated 3/6/2019 to include the FTC’s latest warning