Tech Support Scam Takedown | Office of Attorney General Keith Ellison

Help take down tech-support scams: be aware, come forward

The mission of Attorney General Ellison’s office is to help people afford their lives and live with dignity and respect. This is why the Attorney General’s Office is actively participating in a national effort to stop tech-support scams called Tech Support Takedown with 18 other states, the National Association of Attorneys General, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Federal Trade Commission — and we need your help to do it.

How tech-support scams work

Tech-support scams work when scammers call you or send pop-up ads to your screen that resemble security alerts from major technology companies. They’re often convincing and look real. They’re designed to scare and overwhelm consumers and trick them into contacting the operators of these schemes and providing remote access to the consumers’ computers and even bank accounts. The scammers will claim consumers’ computers are infected with viruses or experiencing other problems. They’ll then try to pressure consumers into buying unnecessary computer repair services, service plans, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services.

The FTC has created a graphic that shows how these scams work.

Attorney General’s office takes down a Minnesota scammer

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation of Teknicians, Inc., based in Bloomington, after receiving consumer complaints that the company was running a textbook tech-support scam. Here’s how the company did it.

 

As a result of this investigation, on January 3, 2019, the Attorney General’s Office brought a lawsuit against Teknicians to stop its practices and make whole the consumers it harmed. Because Teknicians never responded to the lawsuit, on March 6, 2019, the Attorney General’s Office filed a motion for default judgment in the case seeking an injunction against Teknicians’ deceptive practices, restitution for consumers harmed by Teknicians’ conduct, and civil penalties.

To see for yourself what it looks like when a scammer is trying to scam you, you can view screenshots from the investigation of Teknicians, listen to audio of a scammer from Teknicians trying to convince our investigator that there was a problem with her clean computer, and watch an .mp4 of a fake alert from another scammer that was sent to and captured by a computer in the Attorney General’s Office.

How you can protect yourself

You can protect yourself against tech-support scams by hanging up if you receive a call claiming your computer is infected with a virus. If you receive a pop-up message asking you to call a telephone number for tech support assistance, do not react to it at all. Instead, take a picture of the pop-up, including the URL of the web page, and include that picture with a report to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, the FTC, or other law-enforcement agencies.

A legitimate tech-support company will not reach out to you by phone or pop-up to try to convince you something’s wrong with your computer. Only a scammer will.

If an unknown person has remotely accessed your computer, disconnect it from the Internet immediately, turn it off, and take it to a reputable computer technician for inspection. If you provided a credit card or bank account number, contact your financial institution right away to dispute any inappropriate charge. And if your personal information was compromised, consider taking steps to protect yourself from identity theft, such as placing a fraud alert on your credit report and monitoring your financial accounts for unauthorized activity.

If you’re a consumer, be wary of people contacting you to tell you your computer has a problem. High-pressure sales tactics are another red flag. Seek out a trusted tech-support company by engaging your family, friends, and community for recommendations and seeking reviews online.

The Federal Trade Commission has produced a video that shows consumers how not to be victimized by a tech-support scam.

If you’re a business owner or representative, especially of a small or medium-sized business, work with a local tech-support business whose employees and physical space you can see in person. You can get recommendations from local business and industry associations for tech-support companies that specialize in your industry.

How you can help others

As Attorney General Ellison’s office keeps up its work to help people afford their lives and live with dignity and respect, and to catch these scammers and hold them accountable, you can do two things to help: be alert, and come forward.

Being alert means educating yourself and your loved ones about how tech-support scams operate, being on the lookout for the signs of a scam, and not engaging at all by immediately hanging up the phone or shutting it your computer without clicking anything.

And if you’ve been victimized, come forward and tell your story so that my office can help you, hold scammers accountable, and make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

If you’re afraid or embarrassed to come forward, remember this: the scammers who victimized you want you to feel ashamed and stay quiet. Shame and silence help them victimize others. But when you come forward, personal shame turns into the power of helping other people.

If you’ve been approached by or victimized by a tech-support scammer in any way, please contact our office immediately. We’re here to help.