Beware of High-Tech Computer Scams

Many people own computers nowadays, but not everyone has the technical background to fix things that go wrong on their computers. As a result, scam artists are now taking advantage of people with several high-tech computer scams.

Tech Support Scams.

The “tech support scam” works like this: A person receives a call at home from someone who claims to be a “tech support specialist” with a well-known computer or software company. The caller says that your computer has been infected by a malicious virus or spyware. He may use scare tactics, claiming that your computer will crash or the information on it will be misappropriated if you don’t immediately fix the problem. The caller says he can correct the problem for a fee if you allow him to remotely install anti-virus software, usually by going to a website to which he sends you. Wanting your computer to be fixed, you visit the website and give him your credit card number. Weeks later, you may discover that your account was charged not only for the supposed software repair “service,” but also for other unauthorized transactions. If you let the caller install a program onto your computer by visiting his website, you may also find that malware or spyware has been installed on your computer that allows the fraudster to drain from your computer private bank account numbers.

Ransomware Scams.

So-called “ransomware” scams work like this. While you are visiting a website, malicious software is installed on your computer, causing it not to work. A “pop up” box then appears on your computer, telling you that the computer has been infected. The scammer asks you to pay money to download software to repair the problem. If you do so, you give your credit card number to scammers, who will charge your account for bogus help and may use your credit card to make other unauthorized charges.

Protect Yourself From High-Tech Scams.

Take the following precautions to avoid being hit up by these scams:

  • Don’t be duped just because a caller knows the name of your computer manufacturer or software company. Since many consumers do business with just a handful of large, national companies, the caller usually just guesses the name of your company. If he guesses right, he counts on the fact that this will establish credibility with you.
  • Don’t be duped by glitzy websites. A caller may direct you to a website while you are on the phone with him. Don’t be persuaded by authentic-looking websites to which the caller directs you. Scammers can create glitzy websites for a nominal price.
  • Don’t give your credit card number to an unknown caller or website.
  • Don’t download software from an unknown third party. It could be spyware or malware that will damage your computer and be used to usurp the private information stored on your computer. If your computer stops working or becomes infected, hire a legitimate company to help. Don’t respond to pop-up ads selling anti-virus software, as these are part of the “ransomware” scam.
  • If you need to call the technical support division of your computer or software company, call the number listed in the materials given to you when you purchased the computer or software. Never call back the number given to you on the phone by an unknown caller, as it may just lead back to a scammer.

Help! I am a Victim of a High-Tech Computer Scam.

If you become a victim of a tech support scam, take the following steps:

  • Have your computer inspected by an expert. Scammers may install spyware or malware on your computer to partially disable the computer’s protective firewalls or antivirus software and drain your computer of private bank account and other information stored on it.
  • Until you are sure that your computer is free of spyware or malware, don’t connect to the Internet.
  • Change your computer’s password, change the password on your email accounts, and change the password for any financial accounts, especially your bank and credit card accounts.
  • If you provided your credit card information to the scammer, promptly contact your credit card company to notify it of the scam and dispute any inappropriate charges. You may wish to cancel your credit card to protect against future unauthorized charges.
  • These scams are crimes. You may file a report with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which can be contacted as follows:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Minneapolis Office

1501 Freeway Boulevard
Brooklyn Center, MN 55430
(763) 569-8000

You may also wish to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission as follows:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
Toll free: 1-877-382-4357

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353
TTY: (651) 297-7206
TTY: 1-800-366-4812

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