“Scam artists may try using the phone to break into your computer,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said today. “Be skeptical if you get a phone call from persons claiming to be computer techs who say that they’ve detected viruses or other malware on your computer.” Any concerns about serious malware should only be confirmed by a local computer repair company, he said.
Rubenstein said his agency has recently received complaints from consumers who believe they have been tricked into paying for bogus “online technical support” by allowing companies to remotely remove malware, and later finding out that their personal information has been compromised.
“Scammers like these take advantage of consumers’ reasonable concerns about viruses and other threats,” Rubenstein said. “But the purpose behind their elaborate scheme isn’t to protect your computer; it’s to take your money.”
Fraud.org, a project of the National Consumers League, is reporting an increase in complaints about tech support scams. When calling potential victims, fraudsters claim to work for technology service firms, sometimes well-known companies like Microsoft, Dell, McAfee or Norton. All the scammers tell their victims that viruses have been detected on the victims’ computers, and that these can be remotely removed for a fee, typically anywhere from $100 to $400. Some scammers even offer bogus “proof” that the machines are compromised.
When consumers agree to pay the fee and give the criminal remote access to their computer, they often eventually learn that the “tech support” installed tracking software, giving the scammers remote access to personal information residing on the computer.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports more than 40,000 complaints about this scam, and typical monetary losses to each consumer through theft, computer repair or replacement are more than $1,500 each.
Use the following precautions to minimize the risk of falling victim:
- Know that legitimate companies will not call you without solicitation and tell you that you must pay for tech support;
- Find a legitimate phone number for the company the callers claim they are from and call to ask whether a representative contacted you;
- Never allow someone to take remote control of your computer unless you are certain that they are actually representing a legitimate company;
- Do not disclose sensitive financial information such as passwords, credit card, or bank account routing numbers over the phone; and
- When buying things over the Internet or phone, use a credit card or a debit card so that you can better dispute fraudulent charges.
If you believe that you are the victim of a technical support scam, please take the following actions:
- If you know charges have been made, call your credit card company and tell them you wish to dispute the charges.
- Check your bank and credit card statements for inaccuracies. If you find any, contact the credit card company right away and tell them you wish to dispute the charges. Typically, such disputes must be started within 60 days from the date it appears on the bill and must be done in writing.
- Contact the major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and notify them of the potential for fraud on your account; and
- Delete the tracking software from your computer. For tips from AARP on how to do this, click here.
Visit the following sites to learn more about tech support scams and ways to protect yourself:
- This post on the FTC’s Web site provides consumers with a video on how to protect computers and phone audio of a scammer conducting a tech support scam.
- This section of the FTC’s Web site gives an overview of how these scams work and ways to protect yourself if contacted by a fraudster.
- Finally, Microsoft’s posting on its Web site details common scams that falsely use its name and the common indicators that you are not truly talking to a company official.
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