Tech support fraud or tech support scams happen when a criminal claims to provide customer, security, or technical support in an effort to defraud someone. Scammers sometimes pose as a security, customer, or technical support representative and offer to help resolve issues such as a compromised email or bank account, a virus on a computer, or to help with renewing a software license.
Some recent complaints involving tech support scams also involve criminals posing as technical support representatives for GPS companies, printer companies, cable companies, or virtual currency exchanges. Criminals are even now sometimes posing as government agents, offering to recover supposed losses related to tech support fraud schemes or to request financial assistance with catching those committing the crimes.
On March 28, 2018, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) shared a Public Service Announcement warning for Tech Support Fraud based on their 2017 reporting.
How Often Do Tech Support Scams Happen?
In 2017, the IC3 received approximately 11,000 complaints of tech support fraud. These complaints added up to almost $15 million, an 86% increase over 2016 losses.
Most complaints involve victims in the U.S., but 85 different countries have reported complaints.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also highlighted tech support scams in its recent Scam Tracker Annual Report. According to the BBB's reports, tech support scams rank as the #7 scam in the U.S. (moving up one spot from 2016). The average amount lost in this type of scam is $300.
How Tech Support Scams Happen
The FBI reports that victims initially are contacted through the following methods in cases of tech support fraud:
- Telephone: Unsolicited phone call claims the victim's computer, phone or tablet is infected with a virus and is sending an error message. There are various phone scams that attempt to trick victims into giving up personal information or sending money.
- Search Results Online: When you search for help online, be on the lookout for ads that may be disguising themselves as resources for you. Some scammers pose as legit companies in search ads to trick you into clicking on their site.
- Pop-up Message or Locked Screen: An on-screen pop-up message claims there's a virus on the victim's laptop and that you need to call a number. But the phone number is for a fake company, set up to get access to your computer or more personal information. These may also be accompanied by an incoming call to ask you for more information.
- Email: Phishing emails are common, often indicating a sense of urgency and linking to sites disguised to look legit.
New Twists on Tech Support Scams To Watch Out For
Criminals are adding new techniques and tricks to attempt to gain personal information. How do they get your information, to begin with? It could be via information bought and sold on the dark web after a data breach.
Or maybe you clicked to take a quiz on social media and provided information to the fraudulent company that they turn around and use as bait in a phone call or email to you.
Posing as Law Enforcement or Collection Agencies
We mentioned earlier that some scammers are now posing as government officials or law enforcement and they claim they need funds to support an investigation or return lost funds. The FBI also shares in their PSA that fraudsters may also pose as a collection agency, claiming that the victim didn't pay a past bill for tech support services.
They usually threaten legal action or reporting the collection on a credit report to scare the person on the phone into complying." You should always ask for documentation before paying any unpaid bill, especially when you don't recognize the charges or company.
Leveraging Virtual Currency
Another growing issue is that scammers claim they're providing tech support for virtual currencies or cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. Because many people are still learning about cryptocurrencies and their security, it's an area that's easy to take advantage of. The FBI warns that criminals may also attempt to get victims to send virtual currency for payment (since it's harder to track).
Protecting Yourself Against Tech Support Scams (And Other Scams, Too)
Whether you think you're the target of a tech support scam or one of the thousands of other scams reported every year, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself from becoming a victim:
1. Just Hang Up
If you answer a call and feel like you're being pressured to share personal information or send money, don't worry about being polite. Most tech support services don't initiate calls—usually yo,u call them when you have an issue.
You can always hang up immediately. Or better yet, don't feel obligated to answer calls from numbers you don't recognize. They can always leave a message and you can get back to them.
2. Examine Links Before Clicking Them in Emails
With scammers getting more advanced—they often use companies and even logos of major companies you'll recognize to pose as legit companies. You can always contact the customer service number or visit the official company website and login there if you're truly concerned about urgent account information you need to address.
3. Monitor Your Personal Information Online
You can use an online identity protection product like Experian IdentityWorks to keep an eye on your credit reports, FICO® Score and monitor the dark web for your personal information.
You can also run a free dark web scan to see if your Social Security number, phone number or email appear on the dark web. If you have children, there are also options to monitor your family's identity online with Experian IdentityWorks.
4. Stay Vigilant
Read more here on Experian.com about the top scams popping up so you know what to look out for and learn tips for how to protect yourself from identity theft.
5. Keep Antivirus Software Current and Ensure Your Devices Are Updated
By using an antivirus software, you can help protect yourself against ransomware or malware that can compromise your system or network. You'll want to make sure you follow any security notifications and download updates on smartphones, tablets, laptops and computers.
Often, developers and computer manufacturers release updates to address security issues or concerns, so by staying current you can help better protect your device and your personal information.
What to Do If You're the Victim of a Tech Support Scam
Here are some steps to take if you think you're the victim of tech support fraud:
1. Turn It Off
The FBI recommends If you get a pop up message about a virus, it's best to shut down your computer or device immediately, so no one can access it remotely. You can restart after a bit and check to see if it's still there (many times victims report the pop up is gone after waiting a while to reboot).
If you do need tech support, contact a trusted tech support consultant or use a well-known company by contacting them directly via their official company website.
2. Don't Contact the Company Again
If you got a call or were contacted and think the company is fraudulent, don't call them back. Cut off communication immediately and if you do think you owe money for a past service, look through your emails, past bank or credit card statements, or contact the company you did actually previously use for legitimate tech support.
3. Contact Your Bank or Credit Card Company
If you did share any personal information before you realized it was a scam, contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately if you shared account or payment information.
Depending on the information you shared, you may need to also cancel your credit card or place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
4. Report the Scam
If your identity has been stolen, you should file an identity theft report with the FTC. You can also report this fraud to the IC3, sharing any details of the specific scam you experienced so they can track it and share information to help other consumers avoid the same tricks.
Save screenshots of any communications or popups and save any voicemails or emails that were part of the fraud, so you can share them with the FTC or IC3.
Check out more resources on identity theft and fraud here on Experian.com.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on April 10, 2018, and has been updated.