As far as you know, everything is fine with your computer. Then, out of the blue, you either get a call or a pop-up on your screen that things are bad, really bad.
The caller, who may claim to be from a well-known computer company, tells you that they have to fix a computer bug that you didn’t even notice. If you get a pop-up blocking your screen, it might be accompanied by a high-pitched noise. A phone number will flash on your screen. You’ve got to make a call, and make it fast.
In both scenarios, you’ve been targeted by a scammer. That scammer will create a sense of urgency. If you don’t act quickly, you’re going to lose all of your data. Bank records, priceless family photos and other data are just seconds away from being destroyed.
None of that is true. The scammer wants access to your computer. They say they will run a scan for viruses and when they claim to have found a problem, they will offer to fix the issue for a fee. If you allow the scammer to access your computer, they may install malware, which can scan files for personal information and open you up to becoming a victim of identity theft.
In 2019, consumers reported more than 1,500 tech support scams to Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker. There were more than 50 reports of tech support scams in the St. Louis region.
A St. Louis woman reported losing $800 in a tech support scam in January 2019. The woman said she was working on her computer when a message came across her screen claiming to be from Microsoft. The alert said her computer was being hacked and she needed to call a number immediately.
The scammer was able to access the woman’s computer and showed her places where her computer was compromised. The scammer asked her to buy gift cards worth $800 from a nearby store. She complied and wound up reading the numbers off the back of the gift cards so that the scammer could access the money put on them.
“I should have followed my first mind, just hang up the phone but I didn’t,” the woman wrote in a Scam Tracker post. “This is a very hard lesson to learn. Please be careful and never give money to anyone without verifying they’re from the actual company.”
In December 2017, BBB released an in-depth investigative study on tech support fraud.
“Unfortunately, this is a scam that shows no signs of slowing down,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO. “If you lose money to these scammers or find yourself targeted by them, reporting the incident is important. File reports with the FTC and BBB Scam Tracker. If you’ve shared bank account information, contact your bank immediately.”
How can you protect yourself if you’re targeted in a tech support scam?
* Never give up control of your computer to a third party unless it is the representative of a computer support team you contacted.
* Legitimate tech support companies don’t call consumers out of the blue. Remember that scammers can spoof official-looking phone numbers, so don’t just trust your Caller ID.
* Ignore warning screens. Nearly half of all tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim’s computer screen. Instead of calling a number on a pop-up screen, shut down your computer and restart it.
* Be wary of sponsored links. When searching online for tech support, look out for sponsored ads at the top of the results list. Some of these links lead to businesses that scam consumers.
* Don’t click on links in unfamiliar emails. Scammers also use email to reach victims. These emails point consumers to scam websites that launch pop-ups with fake warnings and phone numbers.
BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information.