In a recent twist, scam artists are using the phone to try to break into your computer. They call, claiming to be computer techs associated with well-known companies like Microsoft. They say that they've detected viruses or other malware on your computer to trick you into giving them remote access or paying for software you don't need.
These scammers take advantage of your reasonable concerns about viruses and other threats. They know that computer users have heard time and again that it's important to install security software. But the purpose behind their elaborate scheme isn't to protect your computer; it's to make money.
Scammers have been peddling bogus security software for years. They set up fake websites, offer free "security" scans, and send alarming messages to try to convince you that your computer is infected. Then, they try to sell you software to fix the problem. At best, the software is worthless or available elsewhere for free. At worst, it could be malware - software designed to give criminals access to your computer and your personal information. The latest version of the scam begins with a phone call. Scammers can get your name and other basic information from public directories. They might even guess what computer software you're using.
Once they have you on the phone, they often try to gain your trust by pretending to be associated with well-known companies or confusing you with a barrage of technical terms. They may ask you to go to your computer and perform a series of complex tasks. Sometimes, they target legitimate computer files and claim that they are viruses. Their tactics are designed to scare you into believing they can help fix your "problem." Once they've gained your trust, they may:
Regardless of the tactics they use, they have one purpose: to make money.
If you get a call from someone who claims to be a tech support person, hang up and call the company yourself on a phone number you know to be genuine. A caller who creates a sense of urgency or uses high-pressure tactics is probably a scam artist.
Keep these other tips in mind:
If you think you might have downloaded malware from a scam site or allowed a cybercriminal to access your computer, don't panic. Instead:
If you paid for tech support services, and you later get a call about a refund, don't give out any personal information, like your credit card or bank account number. The call is almost certainly another trick to take your money.
The refund scam works like this: Several months after the purchase, someone might call to ask if you were happy with the service. When you say you weren't, the scammer offers a refund. Or the caller may say that the company is going out of business and providing refunds for "warranties" and other services.
In either case, the scammers eventually ask for a bank or credit card account number. Or they ask you to create a Western Union account. They might even ask for remote access to your computer to help you fill out the necessary forms. But instead of putting money in your account, the scammers withdraw money from your account.