It’s not a matter of if you will become a target of computer technical support scammers, but when these scammers will try to victimize you. Thieves, many of whom are located in India, are using sophisticated advertising and carefully crafted sales techniques to scare consumers into buying phony fixes for their home and business computers. BBB warns consumers to be on the look-out for these scams so they can combat fraudsters.
Complaints about the fraud continue to mount as Microsoft, a software company whose name is routinely used by the scammers, reports it receives more than 12,000 complaints worldwide every month. According to the FBI, U.S. consumers lost more than $21 million to tech scams in the first nine months of 2017.
The report was prepared by C. Steven Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist and retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region. It recommends a tougher, more-coordinated effort by U.S. law enforcement, including the filing of civil and criminal cases against the scammers. It urges law enforcement in India and other foreign countries where the scammers originate to make computer tech fraud a high priority. It also asks search engine companies to carefully vet, set strict standards and consider eliminating sponsored links for tech support firms that do not meet standards.
What BBB found
Consumers typically are lured into the scheme in four ways — by either a pop-up ad on their computer; an unsolicited phone call from a “technician” claiming to have detected problems with the user’s computer; via ransomware attached to an email; or by internet searches for technical support on sponsored links. Most people, about 55 percent, lose money through the use of credit cards or debit cards. Checks are the second most-common form of payment with 36 percent reporting this type of loss.
The problem is worldwide with U.S. residents accounting for 33.6 percent of victims. The scam also is popular in Australia (25.4 percent of victims) and Singapore (22.4 percent). Studies show that 85.4 percent of the scammers come from India. Less than 10 percent of the scammers operate inside the U.S.
What you can do
There are precautions you can take to avoid tech scams. Start with researching tech support companies at bbb.org before you decide to do business with them. Once you’ve found a reputable company, double-check all the details. If you’re directed to an official company website, make sure that it’s the real company’s site by double-checking the spelling of the company’s name in the website address.
Anything that claims to be from “Microsoft,” for example, is a scam. If the caller claims to work for a reputable company, ask for their name and company ID and then hang up the phone and call that company’s official customer service line and ask to be directed to the employee. Do not use a phone number provided to you by the caller.
If your computer has been compromised, don’t panic. Scammers are relying on you to make hasty decisions. You’ll be better able to avoid their traps if you don’t rush.
Make sure you’re using a quality, up-to-date antivirus software and that you are running the latest version. Next, change the password to any account or machine the scammer has or could access. Then change the passwords on any account that you were logged in to on your machine, as well as any accounts for which you use the same or very similar login credentials. Be sure to call your credit card company. If you made a payment by using your credit card, the company should help you to appeal any unauthorized charges and to get a new card.
The hope is that by getting this information out, no one will fall victim to this scam. However, if you should be a target, there are ways to remedy the situation.
Kirstin Davis is the marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest.