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Scams Targeting Computer Owners

By some estimates, over 85 percent of Americans have a computer in their home. Many computer users do not have the technical know-how to fix their computers when they break or jam. Scammers—many from other countries—seek to exploit these facts.

“Tech Support” Scams

Tech support scammers make unsolicited phone calls in which they pretend to be a technician for a reputable, well-known computer or software company. The caller claims your computer has been hacked or infected with a virus.

The scam artist may say that your device will crash or that hackers will steal your information if the issue is not immediately resolved. They do this to get you to act quickly, without researching the caller.

Scammers also use pop-up Internet advertisements to frighten unsuspecting people into thinking their computers have been hacked or are about to malfunction. The pop-ups are designed to look like error messages generated by the computer, and some are even accompanied by alarm sounds. The message warns that something dire will happen to the computer if the user does not take immediate action by calling the telephone number listed.

In reality, the “warning” is a pop-up advertisement, and the person on the other end of the telephone line is waiting to scam you.

The scam artist may ask you to open a program on your computer that logs various activities, such as error and warning messages. While these entries may appear alarming at first glance, they are usually harmless notations that occur during the normal operation of your computer.

After convincing you there is a problem, the scammer claims he can repair your device remotely for a fee. Unsuspecting people may then give the scam artist their credit card or bank account information and remote access to the computer. This is where the trouble begins.

The scammer may use the remote access to perform fake “repairs” or install software that is available for free through other sources. The scammer does this to justify the bogus fee. Other times, scam artists install malware or viruses, which allow them to secretly steal information stored on the computer.

Either way, the end result is this: your device is less secure and the scam artist charges you hundreds or thousands of dollars for services that were unnecessary and useless.

Remember that technology companies generally do not reach out to consumers directly to sell technical support or to alert them to problems with their computers. If you are unsure, contact a local computer repair store you are familiar with and trust.

Here’s an example of these scam calls:
“Henry” received a call from an individual who claimed to work for Apple and said his computer was infected with viruses that allowed foreign hackers to steal his information. The caller told Henry he could remove the “viruses” for $299. Henry realized that Apple would not call him to warn him about such viruses, so he hung up.

“Ransomware” Scams

If you are on the Internet, you may receive an unexpected pop-up message that freezes access to your computer. The message will ask you to call a telephone number or follow other instructions to unjam your computer.

If you call, you will be asked to pay the scam artist a fee to unfreeze your computer. In other words, the scammer who jammed your computer asks you to pay him money to unjam it. Paying him money will usually result in requests for even more money.

It can happen like this:
“Josh” was using his laptop to catch up on the day’s news online, when a pop-up froze his computer and instructed him to call a toll-free phone number for tech support. He shut down his computer, but the message was still there after it restarted. Josh knew this was a scam, so he took his laptop to a local computer repair shop to get it fixed.

How to Avoid These Scams

What to Do if You Were Scammed

Report Scams

These scams are crimes. You may file a report with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which may be reached as follows:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Minneapolis Office
1501 Freeway Boulevard
Brooklyn Center, MN 55430
(763) 569-8000 external link icon

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

Federal Trade Commission
Bureau of Consumer Protection
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
(877) 382-4357
TTY: (866) 653-4261 external link icon

For more information tech support scams or consumer issues, contact the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson as follows:

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area)
(800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities)
TTY: (651) 297-7206 or TTY: (800) 366-4812

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