As senior citizens, we are the primary target of technical support scams. According to recent testimony in front of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, over 3 million people are victimized annually to the tune of $1.5 billion.
How it works
One type tech support scam is online or pop-up ads. The ads may say:
- We can make your computer more secure!
- Your computer is infected with viruses!
After you click on the ad, the scammer can then take control of your computer.
Another, newer type tech support scam uses unsolicited phone calls. Calls are used to prey on seniors because we don’t want to be rude and hang up.
The caller will tell you, falsely, that he or she is a computer support tech, often throwing out the name of a legitimate company such as Microsoft or Windows Technical Support. They know that seniors, even those that only use the computer for email, have heard of, and are concerned, about “viruses.”
To “prove” to you that your computer has viruses, the scammer may even ask you to look at certain files on your computer. For example, PC users have a Windows Log that shows many harmless errors. But the caller will try to convince you that these are quite dangerous and must be removed immediately.
Or they may tell you to go to a specific website that will “analyze” your computer. When you get to the website it will display errors that supposedly come from your computer. It’s a fake website, of course.
Scammers can be attempting to do any of the following:
- Get you to pay for a computer maintenance or warranty program, neither of which they will actually provide.
- Send you to a phony website where they can install or have you install malicious software on your computer. This software will allow them to steal your personal data such as passwords to your bank accounts.
- Ask you to give them remote access to your computer so they can get inside your computer and steal personal data or make your computer vulnerable to future malware.
One scam even goes so far as to install software on your computer that locks it. The scammers then demand payment (and a credit card number) to unlock it.
What to do?
Suppose you get a call from a person claiming to be a tech support person. What do you do?
First, don’t rely on caller ID to tell you if the caller is authentic. Scammers use caller ID spoofing which displays a legitimate company’s phone number on your caller ID, even though the caller may be anywhere in the world.
- Hang up. You don’t want to give control of your computer to someone who calls you out of the blue.
- Do not give your passwords to your computer or any website your visit, to a person claiming to be tech support.
- Do not provide credit card or financial information to someone calling and claiming to be from tech support.
- Do not go to any website recommended by someone claiming to be from tech support.
If you need tech support for your computer, check the manufacturer’s website for their contact information. They may only provide an email address, not a phone number. If your computer is still under warranty, contact the store or website you bought it from.
If it’s software that’s giving you trouble, look on the packaging for contact information.
Be aware that a tech support person from a legitimate organization may ask for remote access to your computer. That’s why it’s important to be certain you are dealing with a legitimate support person. In this case, though, it should be you who has contacted the company’s tech support rep. Legitimate companies will not call you without you having requested it.
I’ve already been scammed!
If you think you’ve already let one of these tech support scammers into your computer or you’ve downloaded malware or a virus from a scam site, don’t panic!
Do the following:
- Download (or update) legitimate security software, then use it to scan your computer. This type software will identify malware or viruses and then usually ask you to delete or quarantine this malicious software.
- Change any passwords you may have given out, especially ones for banks and credit cards.
- Assuming you used a credit card for phony services, call your credit card company and challenge the charges.
- Also review your bank statements for any additional charges you don’t think were legitimate.
For more information and to read comments from people who have actually received these calls read Tech Support Scams: Part 2 on the Federal Trade Commission website.