A new report by Better Business Bureau (BBB) says it’s not a matter of if you will become a target of computer technical support scammers, but when these scammers will try to victimize you. Thieves, most of whom are located in India, are using sophisticated advertising and carefully crafted sales techniques to scare consumers into buying phony fixes for their home and business computers. BBB warns consumers to remain on guard so they can combat these fraudsters.
The report – “Pop-Ups and Impostors: A Better Business Bureau Study of the Growing Worldwide Problem of Tech Support Scam” – says that anyone who owns or uses a computer is a potential target. Complaints about the fraud continue to mount as Microsoft, a software company whose name is routinely used by the scammers, reports it receives more than 12,000 complaints worldwide every month.
You can find the report in full online at go.bbb.org/FULLtechscamstudy.
The report recommends a tougher, more-coordinated effort by U.S. law enforcement, including the filing of civil and criminal cases against the scammers. It urges law enforcement in India and other foreign countries where the scammers originate to make computer tech fraud a high priority. It also asks search engine companies to carefully vet, set strict standards and consider eliminating sponsored links for tech support firms that do not meet standards.
“In today’s world, it is paralyzing to stare at a blank computer screen or sit in front of a ‘frozen’ computer,” said Lori Wilson, President and CEO of BBB serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California. “Unfortunately, there are scammers operating who know exactly how to prey on those fears by promising fixes that don’t need to be made; these people aren’t interested in helping with computer problems.”
Among the victims is the mother of Brian Collard, a computer security specialist from Dublin, California. Brian had recently installed advanced antivirus software on his 90-year-old mother’s computer when she received a pop-up alert claiming the computer was infected with a virus. Collard’s mother, a resident of Colorado, said she was unable to navigate or turn off her computer, so she called a phone number for a business called giltedgesolutions.com of Dublin, California.
Collard says the business took remote control of her computer and, after assuring her she had viruses, charged her $287 for repairs. She signed an online contract but, after speaking with her son, refused to pay for the service and closed her bank account. Her son later found that the business had removed the antivirus he had installed for his mother and replaced it with something that was not nearly as effective. Collard then called BBB.
Among the report’s key findings:
- Consumers are lured into the scheme in four ways – either a pop-up ad on their computer; an unsolicited phone call from a “technician” claiming to have detected problems with the user’s computer; via ransomware attached to an email; or by Internet searches for technical support on sponsored links.
- Most people lose money through use of credit cards or debit cards (55%). Checks (36%) are the second most-common form of payment.
- The problem is worldwide, with U.S. residents accounting for 33.6% of victims. The scam is also popular in Australia (25.4% of victims) and Singapore (22.4%).
- Studies show that 85.4% of the scammers come from India. Less than 10% of the scammers operate inside the U.S.
- According to the FBI, U.S. consumers lost more than $21 million to the scheme in the first nine months of 2017.
The report was prepared by C. Steven Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist. Baker is the retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region.
In his role with BBB, Baker is working with an alliance of five BBB’s, including the San Francisco Bay Area office, in analyzing and reporting on some of the most pervasive fraud issues that impact American consumers. A study on puppy scams he authored and released in September was met with worldwide media coverage.
BBB offers the following tips for consumers to avoid being caught in tech support fraud:
- Research tech support companies before you decide to do business with them. Go to bbb.org to search for trustworthy businesses, or contact your local BBB at 866-411-2221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Double-check all the details. If you’re directed to an official company website, make sure that it’s the real company’s site by double-checking the spelling of the company’s name in the website address. Anything that comes from “Micorsoft,” for example, is a scam.
- If a caller claims to work for a trustworthy company, ask them to tell you their name or their employee ID, and in which department they work. Then, look up and call that company’s official customer service line and ask to be directed to that employee. Do not use a phone number provided to you by the caller.
- If your computer has been compromised, don’t panic. You may still be able to get your machine fixed. Scammers are relying on you to make hasty decisions. You’ll be better able to avoid their traps if you slow down and don’t rush.
- Make sure you’re using quality, up-to-date antivirus software. Make sure you are running the latest version of the software.
- Change your passwords. First, change the password to any account or machine the scammer has or could access. Then, change the passwords on any account that you were logged in to on your machine, as well as any accounts for which you use the same or very similar login credentials.
- Call your credit card company. If you made a payment using your credit card, the company will help to reverse any unauthorized charges, and to get you a new card.
- Victims can report scams to BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker whether or not money was lost.