If you expect to find a new computer under the tree next month, the Department of Banking and Securities wants you to know that the threat of the so-called "tech support scam" remains pervasive and victims suffer more than financial losses.
Here's how the scam works:
- You receive an unexpected phone call or an email from someone claiming to work for a computer software company like Microsoft, Apple, or Norton. This person claims that they have identified your computer as being infected with a virus, and offers to fix the problem.
- You may also receive an unsolicited email or a fake pop-up message while browsing websites trying to trick you into believing your computer requires technical support or that your computer is locked and that you must make a phone call to unlock or fix your computer.
- You may even be searching the internet for legitimate technical support and find a fraudulent advertisement from a company offering to provide needed support.
In these scenarios, several outcomes – none of them good – are possible:
To perform the "fix," you will be asked to pay a fee by providing your credit or debit card information. You may also be asked to pay by purchasing gift cards and sharing their value with the scammer.
- The scam artist may then hang up and you will have lost only your money. Or this person – a scam artist -- will ask for access to your computer's systems and software from wherever they are located.
- While performing the so-called fix, malware and even viruses are being downloaded to your computer. Your system, files, and information have been compromised.
- You may not discover that your computer has been taken over by a scam artist for days, weeks, or even months – and during this time, the scammer has been watching your every move on your own computer.
- The scam artist may even have downloaded "ransomware" onto your computer – you will not be able to access your computer files until you pay a ransom to the scammer. And once you've paid, you still may not get back access to your computer files.
Here are five tactics that can help consumers protect their computers:
Make sure you have current, effective anti-virus software installed on your computer.
- If a person calls claiming to work for a specific company like Microsoft, Apple, or Norton, tell them you will call them back. Call that company using a phone number you have verified as legitimate (using, for example, the company's website).
- If you have received an email or pop-up ad while browsing, contact the company's customer support website and ask the company to verify that the message is legitimate.
- Examine the messages carefully, looking for telltale signs such as poor spelling, bad grammar, or unprofessional design.
- If you believe your computer is infected, avoid using the internet and:
- Run a scan using your anti-virus software; or
- Contact a reputable computer repair technician or company and have them check your computer.
Check out: "Scams: Protect Yourself. Protect Your Money" to learn more about the "red flags" of scams and fraud.
Contact the Department of Banking and Securities at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-600-0007 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products.