ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Tech Support Scams appeared first in 2008 since then there have been thousands of individuals who have fallen victim to the scam. Originating in India, today the scam is commonly known as the “Microsoft Scam” and since mid-2014 there has been a major increase in scam activity.
Originally, the scammers placed calls claiming to be “tech support specialist”. They’d build trust with their potential victims convincing them that their computers have been hacked. In a new twist, cyber criminals attempt to defraud individuals using another avenue. The scam is executed while a user is browsing the Internet, where they unknowingly click a link that produces a pop-up warning that their computer has been hacked. The warning provides a phone number for tech support.
That was the case with James Topp, a Des Plaines senior citizen and Viet Nam vet. Mr. Topp says, “In May I saw an odd icon on my computer with a message that said I had a problem with my computer. I called the number provided. They told me I had to pay $199 to fix the problem. I was not aware of any problem but I paid with a credit card.”
In June after he placed the first call he received another, from a person who identified himself as Patrick Sanders, and was told his computer had been compromised. According to Mr. Topp, “He said that I had to wire $2000 to fix the problem and then they locked my computer. Now they have $2,199 of my money.”
And in a third call, trying to gain access to Mr. Topp’s bank account the scammers asked that he turn on his computer and provide access to his bank account; that would allow Microsoft to refund his money as part of a special program for senior citizens. To that he said no.
“Even though there are ongoing efforts by federal authorities to shut down this and other scams, these cyber criminals seem to have become more determined in their efforts and tactics to rip-off consumers,” says Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.
Horton noted “Regardless of how the contact is made by telephone or on screen pop-up the scam only works if the scammer gains the trust of their potential victims. And that’s where a healthy dose of consumer skepticism will pay off.”
If they are able to gain your trust, they may:
• ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then make changes to your settings that could leave your computer vulnerable
• try to enroll you in a worthless computer maintenance or warranty program
• ask for credit card information so they can bill you for phony services — or services you could get elsewhere for free
• trick you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data, like user names and passwords
• direct you to websites and ask you to enter your credit card number and other personal information
If you get a call from someone who claims to be a tech support person, hang up and call the company yourself on a phone number you know to be genuine. Keep these other tips in mind:
• Don’t give control of your computer to a third party who calls you out of the blue.
• Do not rely on caller ID alone to authenticate a caller. Criminals spoof caller ID numbers. They may appear to be calling from a legitimate company or a local number, when they’re not even in the same country as you.
• If you need tech support, look for a company’s contact information on their software package or on your receipt.
• Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
• If a caller pressures you to buy a computer security product or says there is a subscription fee associated with the call, hang up. If you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly and ask for help.
• Never give your password on the phone. No legitimate organization calls you and asks for your password.
If you think you might have downloaded malware from a scam site or allowed a cybercriminal to access your computer, don’t panic. Instead:
• Update or download legitimate security software and scan your computer. Delete anything it identifies as a problem.
• Change any passwords that you gave out. If you use these passwords for other accounts, change those accounts, too.
• If you paid for bogus services with a credit card, call your credit card provider and ask to reverse the charges. Check your statements for any other charges you didn’t make, and ask to reverse those, too.
For more information on scams, visit www.bbb.org/chicago