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Don’t Be Tricked By Tech Scammers

What to Watch for

Tech support for electronic devices can be a mysterious and sometimes frustrating part of having a computer. Constantly being on the lookout for viruses or other intrusions on your device can feel cumbersome. However, it’s that very sentiment that can leave you open to tech support cons. These tech-savvy swindlers will convince unsuspecting individuals that there’s an issue with their computer, and then they angle to resolve the bogus problem, usually for a fee. These crooks will request remote access to a device to “fix” the issue, after which they usually ask for payment through wire transfers, gift cards, prepaid or reloadable cards, money transfer apps, or cryptocurrency. In all cases, it can be incredibly difficult for a person to get their money reimbursed and to come back from the danger created by allowing hackers access to their data in the first place.

Types of Tech Support Scams and How to Avoid Them

There are many ways that tech support scammers try to gain access to targets’ devices, but the most common method is via phone. These criminals will call and pretend to be support technicians from a well-known company like Microsoft. They persuade their victim that they’ve discovered a problem with the computer and then request remote access to the device. NEVER DO THIS! Do not allow someone you do not know or trust to access your computer remotely! Most often, the con artist will run a pseudo diagnostic test to simulate the act of “discovering” a problem, then ask for compensation to resolve the false concern. In worse cases, they will tell the victim that the problem is fixed. As an alternative, they install malicious software, like a virus or ransomware, onto the computer that allows them to access personal data or even take control of the device. If you get an unexpected call from someone claiming there’s a problem with your computer, the safest thing to do is hang up.

Another way scammers operate is to use false pop-up windows that appear on a target’s screen.  They generally look like an error message or alert from the computer’s operating system or antivirus software, and the posts can seem credible. They often use logos from trusted companies or websites to add to the appearance of legitimacy. The message window will indicate a security issue with the computer, and instructions will appear, compelling the recipient to call a phone number or click on a link. If you receive this kind of pop-up alert, do not call the number or click on the link. Legitimate security alerts and warning messages will never ask you to call or visit a third-party website.

Yet another convincing way tech support scammers attempt to take advantage of the public is through online listings and ads.  They have websites listed through online search results, or sometimes they run advertisements through websites and social media.  The hope is that people will click on the ads/link or call the phone number to get help with whatever computer issue they may have.

Two things to know to avoid a tech support scam: 1) Legitimate companies, such as Microsoft, McAfee, or Norton, will never contact you by phone, email, or text message to tell you that there’s a problem with your computer.  2) Security alerts or pop-up warnings from real tech companies will never ask you to call a phone number or click on a link.

A different way swindlers garner money from people is the tech support refund scam. If someone calls you to offer money back from the tech support services you paid for, it’s probably a fake refund scam. How it works is that the caller will ask if the service received was satisfactory. If the answer given is no, they’ll offer compensation. Or the caller may say that the company is giving refunds because it’s going out of business. Whichever ruse they try, they’re not returning any currency; their goal is to steal money. Do not give them any form of payment information, such as your account number or credit or debit card number.

What To Do if You Think There’s a Legitimate Problem with Your Computer

If you think there may be a definite issue with your computer, you should first update your security software and run a scan. If the scan turns up a problem, delete it, and if you’re still worried that there’s something wrong, reach out to someone you know and trust to resolve the issue. Most software companies offer tech support online or by phone, and many stores that sell computer equipment offer in-person tech support.

What to Do if You Were Scammed

If you allow an unknown third party on your computer, immediately run your protection software or reach out to a trusted source to give your computer a once-over. If you paid the scammer with a debit or credit card, you might be able to stop the transaction. Reach out to your credit union or credit card company, tell them what happened, and ask if they can reverse the charges. If you paid with a gift card, contact the issuing company, and tell them what happened. Ask if they can refund your money and cancel the gift card. If you gave any user ids or passwords to the scammer, immediately change the passwords. If you use the same password for other sites or accounts, change those too. Create a new, strong password.

Reporting Tech Support Scams

If a tech support scammer contacts you, immediately notify the FTC (the Federal Trade Commission) at The agency relies on citizens like you to report these criminals so they can act against them. When you record a scam, the FTC uses the information to build cases against the defrauders. Don’t underestimate the difference you can make by informing the authorities. Reporting them increases the likelihood they get caught, preventing them from doing the same thing to someone else.

Tech support scams can be scary and convincing, but if you’re vigilant, they’re easy to spot. Just stay on guard and keep your eyes and ears open for fraudulent activity. Remember – you are the first line of defense against criminals like these, and you need to safeguard yourself as securely as possible!

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