The Tech Support Scam Explained

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CHEYENNE, Wyo - Fraud against those age 50 and over is a massive problem, especially schemes that use the internet. US Attorney Mark Klaasen and AARP Wyoming's Sam Shumway stopped by the morning show to discuss the Tech Support Scam.

In the tech support scam, a criminal convinces a consumer to purchase phony, worthless, or malicious technical-support services for their computer.

In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission received over 142,000 complaints about technical-support schemes. The vast majority of complaints came from people over 50years old. Aggregate reported losses were $54 million, with the most common reported loss between $100 and $1,000. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg since most of these crimes are not reported.

In total, the charged elder fraud schemes caused over $750 million of alleged losses.

Most tech-support scams start with a pop-up on your computer, but they may start through unsolicited phone calls or emails. Some scams even show up when you search for “technical support” on a reputable search engine.

Typically, a tech-support scam pop-up asks you to call a toll-free number or follow a link, and urges you to do so immediately because you will lose personal data if you don’t. Legitimate companies do NOT display pop-up warnings and ask you to call them about viruses or security problems.

The easiest way to protect yourself is to close the pop-up, close your browser, and don’t call the number or click the link. If the pop-up won’t close, turn off your computer.

If criminals get you to call, they will pretend to work for a software company, computer manufacturer, cable or satellite provider, online bank, or GPS software company. They will falsely tell you of some urgent electronic threat (like a virus, malware, or hacking) that requires you to act immediately or risk losing personal data.

From there, the criminals may immediately ask you for money to repair the phony problem with their worthless services. Often, they will ask for payment by gift card or wire transfer.

In the worst-case, the criminals will ask you to give them remote access to your computer to run a “diagnostic test” or “scan” for the alleged virus. Once they have access to your computer, they can steal your identity, your passwords, and your banking information. So don’t give anyone remote access to your computer unless you are 100 percent certain they are legitimate and trustworthy. When in doubt, say “no.”

One especially dangerous scheme is the refund scam, which usually comes after you’ve been involved in a tech-support scam. In a refund scam, the criminal calls and tells you that you are entitled to a refund. They then call back and say that they mistakenly gave you too much money. At this point, they often have access to your bank account from the tech-support scam, and they’ve moved a large amount of money from your savings account to your checking account so it looks like they really gave you too much money. The criminal will then ask you to drive to your bank and wire the “excess refund” to them. They will want to stay on the phone with you while you do this.

If you are contacted by one of these criminals, don’t talk to them. If you already did, cut off all contact immediately. Call AARP’s Fraud Watch for help. Report the scheme to the FBI at www.ic3.gov and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint.

For more information check out the interview from the morning show.