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Tech Support Scams: The Dos and Don’ts

News
31 May 2020
Tracking down tech support call centre scammers is tricky since they are often based in a country where our local authorities don’t have any jurisdiction.
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With many of us working from home during the lockdown, we rely on our computer more than ever before. So imagine the absolute horror when an alarming pop-up message suddenly appears on your screen informing you that your system has been compromised. Try as you might, you simply cannot close the error message. Desperate to regain access to your PC, you call the number shown on the error message. A friendly individual answers, advising you that they can see there’s definitely something sinister happening on your machine. But don’t worry! The friendly individual is from tech support and will have your system fixed in no time. However, this is all a scam to enable scammers to get their hands on your hard-earned cash and, in some instances, infect your computer to spy on your online activities.

This is a tech support scam and it’s been around for many years. Entire call centres in various parts of the world exist purely to fool users into handing over their money. We take a look at some of the methods used to scam people and what you can do should you come across this scam.

** As a general rule, reputable tech companies will never contact you via SMS, instant messenger, phone or email to inform you of a problem with your computer.

 

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

In most cases, scammers pretend to be from a reputable company under the guise of assisting you with a technical issue you might have. In most cases, there is no technical issue, but victims are often lured into a trap through the use of fake alerts claiming your system has been infected or your account has been frozen.

Once they’ve convinced you that your computer system is at risk, they will assure you that they can fix it remotely – but at a price. The cost of the supposed fix can range from just a few US dollars to several hundred US dollars. The scammers often ask you to pay them via third-party online payment services or by loading money onto a gift card or prepaid voucher. They prefer this method of payment since it’s extremely difficult to reverse and almost impossible to trace.

 

POP-UP WARNINGS

This is the most common tactic. A user is blissfully going about their daily tasks when suddenly an ominous message pops up on the screen warning of a security issue. The message often looks similar to those of your computer system or your anti-virus, and often includes logos from trusted companies. The message includes a phone number which the user must call in order to have the error resolved. In many cases, users are unable to close the error message, making it seemingly impossible to regain access to their PC.

 

What to do

Don’t call the number. Legitimate security warnings will never have a number you should call. Usually, simply switching off your computer will make the error message disappear. Immediately run an anti-virus scan once you switch your computer back on. If the problem persists, you might have to approach a reputable IT expert to help find and remove any hidden malware.

 

A RANDOM PHONE CALL

In some cases, the scammers simply phone a user out of the blue. There’s no pop-up message or perceived technical problems when the scammer calls. Instead, they inform their victims that they have noticed some strange activity on the victim’s computer and are calling to firstly, make the person aware of a possible breach and secondly, to help them fix the problem. The scammer then asks the user to provide their login details to gain access to their system.

 

What to do

End the call immediately. No major tech company or antivirus organisation will call you to make you aware of a possible breach on your computer. If you’ve shared your login info with the scammer, change your passwords immediately.

 

REMOTE ACCESS

In some instances, once the scammer has convinced you that your computer system is compromised, they often request to access your system remotely to fix the non-existent problem. While they have access to your PC, the scammer often installs malware that can be used to track your activity online. This includes gaining access to your online banking services, email and sometimes social media services.

 

What to do

Immediately run an anti-virus scan on your system and delete any items your anti-virus identifies as a potential threat. If you’re still unsure whether your system has been cleaned, you can contact a reputable IT expert to assist further. Once you’re certain your system is safe, you should change all your passwords.

** NB! Don’t change your passwords before you’re certain your PC is clean, otherwise the scammer could still see when you change your password and what it’s been changed to.

 

I’VE BEEN SCAMMED!

Unfortunately, many individuals fall for these scams every day and, by the time they realise they’ve been scammed it’s usually too late.

If you’ve paid the tech support scammer via credit or debit card, you could still reverse the payment by contacting your bank immediately. Be honest with your bank about what happened – there’s nothing to be ashamed about.

If you’ve paid the tech support scammer via a gift card or voucher OR any other cardless method, you need to contact the company selling these gift cards and/or vouchers immediately. While not always possible, some companies will try and refund your money.

 

CAN I REPORT IT?

Yes, but tracking down these scammers is tricky since they are often based in a country where our local authorities don’t have any jurisdiction. However, you can report the below scams as follows:

 

  • Someone claims to be from Microsoft

           Fill out the form on the official Microsoft website; www.microsoft.com/reportascam

  • Any other tech support scams not linked to Microsoft

           You can report the incident to econsumer.gov (a US government site monitoring international scams). https://www.econsumer.gov/en/Details#crnt

 

Sources: Microsoft |Berkeley Information Security Office