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Fraud 101: Tech Support Scams

POSTED IN ADVICE ON TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2018

Don't fall victim to this common computer fraud.

Getting a virus on your computer can be truly terrifying – you're not sure whether your files and personal information are safe. Scammers prey on that fear with one of the most common types of fraud: a tech support scam.

This con typically begins when a message similar to this one pops up on your computer: "You have a virus! Call the number below to protect your identity before it's too late!" The scammers are counting on your panic in this moment – your perfectly natural desire to safeguard your personal information – to give them the keys to the kingdom by picking up the phone.

If you dial that number, the person on the other end may:

  • Try to sell you software or services that you don't need, that don't work or that plain don't exist.
  • Ask for remote access to "run a diagnostic test" or otherwise fix your problems; this can give them access to all the files stored on your computer.
  • Direct you to install software to find or fix the virus. This software is likely dangerous and can help steal your personal information, like passwords for websites.

One of the biggest red flags: Your "tech associate" may require payment for any of these "services" via gift card, cash reload card or wire transfer because those can't be clawed back or shut down when the fraud is discovered.

Of course, real antivirus and tech support companies don't operate like this. Antivirus software is designed to quarantine viruses on its own and shouldn't require a phone call. You should never give access to your computer to someone you don't trust. And have you ever been to any legitimate business who not only accepted but demanded gift cards from other stores as payment?

If you see a virus message like the one above, odds are your computer is fine. If you're worried, however, contact your regular tech support directly – NEVER call the number in the message – and always report any attempted scams to the Federal Trade Commission.

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