A fraudster, claiming to work for a well-known technology company like Microsoft or Norton, contacts you claiming that viruses have been detected on your computer. The fake tech representative alleges they can remotely remove the virus for a fee (typically between $100-400). Think twice before paying up or allow them access to your computer.
Sometimes the hacker charges a consumer to download harmless programs that are available for free online to demonstrate the alleged virus. Other times, they install tracking software that gives the fraudster access to personal information on the computer.
Estimates of the scope of this scam vary widely. For example, Microsoft reported that the average victim lost $875 and had to pay $1,700 in repair bills. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said it had received more than 40,000 complaints about this scam when it initiated a crackdown in October 2012 and an official with the FTC’s consumer protection bureau said he thought the number of victims was probably “substantially higher.”
Although scams of this sort started in 2008, it has become far more common in the last couple of years, gaining attention from media organizations across the world. The companies that are affected have also noticed, warning their customers and offering tips on how to spot and avoid the scam. PayPal and other payment companies have helped by shutting down the accounts of known fraudsters.
Despite government action to identify and stop scam artists running these schemes, copycats continue to defraud consumers. Consumers should use the following precautions to minimize the risk of falling victim:
Do not assume that the person contacting you is legitimately working for the company they say they are. Know that legitimate companies will not call you without solicitation and tell you that you must pay for tech support.
Reach out to the tech company yourself. Find a legitimate phone number for the company and ask them whether a representative contacted you.
Don't allow remote access to an unauthorized stranger. Never allow someone to take remote control of your computer unless you are certain that they are actually representing a legitimate company.
Don't share personal information. Do not disclose sensitive financial information such as passwords, credit card, or bank account routing numbers over the phone.
- Keep a record of your charges. 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 tech support scam, please take the following actions:
- File a complaint with Fraud.org so that we can help others avoid falling victim;
- Call your credit card company and ask to have the charges reversed;
- Check your bank and credit card statements for inaccuracies. If you find any, ask that those charges be reversed, too;
- 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 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.
- The Better Business Bureau has a scam alert that describes an incident in Montana involving this scam.
- 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.