Tech support scams are nothing new, but they are on the rise, as fraudsters become more cunning and savvy in their attempts to extort money from unsuspecting consumers. In the fall of 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a massive investigation to crack down on these scammers. The investigation found that six fake companies posing as legitimate technical support services had conned tens of thousands of computer users into paying for bogus computer repair services and giving the scammers remote access to their computers. So how can you protect yourself and your computer from such swindlers? These five tips can help you identify potential scams and keep yourself from becoming a target.
Reputable Services Don't Call Out of the Blue
The most common and surprisingly effective tactic technical support scammers use is calling potential victims directly and claiming to be representatives of reputable, well-known companies such as Microsoft or Google. Often, the technician will claim to have discovered a serious issue on your computer, such as a virus, and will use scare tactics to get you to allow them to access your system remotely. Some companies will install bogus software to fix the non-existent issue and charge you for it, while others will use the remote access to gather your personal information.
Legitimate remote support companies will never contact you unless you've requested help. There is no way for them to know if there is actually a problem with your computer, so you should always be suspicious of unsolicited calls.
Do Your Homework on Prospective Services
There are plenty of credible computer repair services out there. However, in order to find one, a little due diligence is required on your part. Thoroughly research any prospective service you are considering. Read online reviews of the company, consult the terms and conditions on its website and know all pricing information upfront. If the business is located in the U.S., you can verify whether it is registered and legally operating in a specific state by visiting the state's official website. You can usually find this information under the state's Department of Commerce or Secretary of State Department.
Use Caution When Granting Remote Access
It's always a little disconcerting to grant a complete stranger unfettered access to your computer. Before doing so, you should be certain that the tech represents a legitimate tech support company (see above). While he or she has access, it's best to keep an eye on your computer and watch what the technician does at all times. Keep an open line of communication with the tech, whether over the phone or on chat, and never give them sensitive information such as passwords. If for any reason you become suspicious or uncomfortable, immediately take control of your system and end the remote session.
If It Seems Too Good to Be True…
…it probably is. We've all heard this old adage, and as hackneyed as it is, it certainly rings true when it comes to technical support scams. Be leery of any supposed technician who makes unrealistic claims or promises, uses hard-pressure tactics to sell you services or offers to perform services free of charge.
Take Action Quickly
If you think you might have been the victim of a technical support scam, take immediate action to minimize your losses and protect yourself. You should contact the local authorities to file a report, and file an official complaint on the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) website. If you gave any payment information, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to report the transaction as fraudulent. It's also a good idea to change all of the passwords on your computer, especially if you granted the alleged technician remote access to your system.
Your best line of defense against tech support scammers is simply using common sense. Follow these tips and practice sound judgment to keep yourself from falling prey to deceptive remote support companies.
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