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Suspicious Support: The Truth Behind Tech Support Scams

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Scammers try to gain your trust by pretending to be associated with well-known companies or by confusing you with a barrage of technical terms. The tech support scam targets consumers in various ways.

Tech scammers know our number – literally and figuratively. We’ve become so reliant on our computers that a virus or error message makes the average user queasy. It’s not surprising then to know that an estimated 3.3 million U.S. consumers lost $1.5 billion last year to tech support scams. An October 2016 survey by Microsoft found that among victims, half were millennials (ages 18 to 34), 34 percent were between the ages of 36 and 54, and 17 percent were 55 or older.

Here is more information about what the tech support scam is, what to know, and what to do if you think you’ve been targeted.

What is a tech support scam?

Scammers try to gain your trust by pretending to be associated with well-known companies or by confusing you with a barrage of technical terms. The tech support scam targets consumers in various ways.

  • Consumers could get a call from someone claiming to represent a well-known company who tells them that their computer is infected with a dangerous virus that can be fixed if the “representative” is allowed remote access.
  • A victim may get a phony e-mail offering a free security scan.
  • Targets may also get a pop up window on their computer or mobile device that claims a virus has been detected and that they must call a phone number right away or download software to protect their files.

A tech support scammer might also:

  • Force you to pay for phony tech support
  • Install malicious software that captures sensitive information and often times charge you to remove this software.
  • Adjust settings which leave your computer vulnerable
  • Access your personal, financial or credit card information

Here’s what you need to know

  • Know that computer manufacturers and protection-software companies don’t make “personal” phone calls or send email warnings about an infection on a particular computer. When real threats are detected, a security update or warning is usually sent en masse and directly to your computer via the antivirus protection already installed on your machine.
  • Don’t be fooled if a phony tech support caller knows your name, address or even the operating system you’re using. They often select their targets through public phone directories and guess your operating system by citing more popular ones.
  • Unless you initiate contact with a trusted technology assistance firm, never give strangers remote access to your computer.
  • At least once a week, check for updates in your security software, and run scans several times a week.
  • If you’ve already been swindled in this scam, beware of follow-up messages claiming that you’re entitled to a “refund” for fees you already paid. That’s another maneuver that aims to get your bank account information for a supposed direct-deposit reimbursement.

Here’s what to do if you’re contacted by a scammer or if your computer has been infected

  • Don't stay on the phone with someone who claims to be a tech support person. Hang up and call the company yourself.
  • Don't give control of your computer to a third party who calls you out of the blue.
  • Don't 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 may not even be in the same country as you.
  • Don't provide your credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
  • Don't give your password on the phone. No legitimate organization calls you and asks for your password.
  • Update your security software. It's best to make sure you have the latest version every week, as the programs are tweaked as criminals make tiny adjustments to the scam.
  • Change the password on your computer, email accounts, and financial accounts. Make your passwords complicated, update them often, and do not share them with anyone.
  • Consumers who think that they are being targeted by a scammer may call the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Call Center at 877-908-3360 and speak with a trained counselor.

To learn more about scams to look out for, visit aarp.org/fraud-watch.

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