The internet contributes 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). When devices break or slow down, users are often desperate to get computer issues fixed as quickly as possible. This urgency is leaving people vulnerable to a new wave of tech support scammers.
An estimated 3.3 million US consumers lost $1.5 billion last year to tech support scams, with just under half of victims aged 18 to 34.
How does a tech support scam work?
Tech support scammers send a false alert to a victim’s computer, reporting an issue that needs their immediate attention. This alert could appear in several different ways, including:
- An on-screen pop-up claiming a virus has infected the computer
- Receiving an e-mail offering a free security scan to deal with an urgent technical problem
- A phone call from someone claiming to represent a well-known tech support company
After initial contact scammers will attempt to gain a victim’s trust, over the phone or via text. Once a dialogue has been opened, the problem will begin to escalate instead of reducing. The fraudster’s ultimate objective is to gain access to personal files and information, or convince a victim to pay for software that leaves their computer open to cyberattack.
For example, over the phone a scammer may inform the victim that their computer is infected with a dangerous virus that can only be fixed if they are given remote access. A fraudster can then install malicious software that captures confidential information. The victim may then be asked to pay for the software to be removed – paying the scammers directly or employing genuine technical support. Scammers can also adjust computer settings to leave computer’s vulnerable to other malware in an attempt to access personal or financial information.
Keep your computer safe
Microsoft guidelines warn that even if someone contacts a user claiming to be from a reputable software company, users should remain vigilant:
- Do not purchase any software or services over the phone/via email
- Never give control of a computer to a third party, unless that third party has been confirmed as a legitimate source
- Terminate a phone call if there is a fee or subscription associated with an advertised service
- Do not be swayed by a caller knowing your full name, address or even the operating system being used
Among other industry leaders, Microsoft has confirmed its representatives will only ever call a customer directly after giving notice. When a ‘real’ computer issue is detected, a security update or warning is sent directly to a computer via an antivirus protection programme that is already installed. Should a customer fall victim to a scam call, the company is urging them to immediately report a fraudster’s information to help combat the new wave of tech scammers.