Tech support scams

This week sees the UK and US national consumer protection organisations go to war against Tech Support scams. National Trading Standards is supporting the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) campaign to highlight the most widespread scam to afflict English speaking consumers.

Tech support scams are a class of telephone fraud, where scammers claim to be technical support staff from computer companies like Microsoft, Apple, or telephone and TV service providers like Virgin Media and British Telecom.

Other variants of the scam range from scammers pretending to be from a consumer’s bank, from the police or organisations like the Telephone Preference Service in the UK, to scammers who pretend to be technical support from printer companies like Epson and Canon.

The vast majority of tech support calls originate from overseas call centres mainly in India and other parts of south east Asia.

Most victims, on the other hand, unwittingly click internet pop-ups, or click search engine listings or ads after searching online for technical support. Other consumers click links in phishing emails, sent by scammers passing themselves off as antivirus companies, banks or online retailers.

After lying about who they are calling from, tech support scammers will follow up with lies about what they are calling about.They claim there are a problems with the consumer’s computer, telephone or internet connection, and offer to fix problems for a price.

Consumers responding to web pop-ups are pressured into calling toll free or free phone numbers, often panicking after threats they risk losing their data.

If consumers call the free phone numbers the scammer might ask them for remote access to run fake diagnostic tests, find a fake viruses or security problems, then sell one off repairs or subscriptions for ongoing security services.

The ultimate aim of a tech support scammer is to get control of the victim’s computer. From there they can change the victim’s settings and search their machine for financial or personally identifiable information. In some cases they spam the victim’s contacts with testimonials about the ‘great service’ they offer.

So what can you do if you get a pop-up, a cold call, spam email or other urgent message?

You can stop and @TakeFive. The UK government advice is to stop and think before you act, and to take a few minutes to consider what is really happening. Learn more about @TakeFive.

Other simple precautions you can take against tech support scammers include:

  • Don’t click any links or call any numbers you are given.
  • Don’t send any money, especially if asked to pay by wire transfer.
  • Don’t pay by gift card such as an iTunes gift card.
  • Don’t give anyone your bank account, credit card or other payment information.
  • Don’t give anyone control of your computer.

Always remember that legitimate companies do not display pop-up warnings that ask you to call freephone numbers about viruses or security problems.

If you have fallen victim to a tech support scam then:

  • If you are in the USA you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. Be sure to give them the toll-free number you were asked to call.
  • Keep your security or virus checking software up-to-date. Some companies like Microsoft offer free antivirus and firewall software that can keep your computer safe.
  • If you need help, contact a reputable computer technician, one you can trust, and don’t rely on an online search.

Finally, you can pass this information on to family and friends to warn them about the scam and to avoid making costly mistakes. #Tell2.

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