Spotting Remote Access Scams
How can you spot a remote access scam?
Here’s how this scam occurs: you are browsing around the web, working, shopping, or planning a family vacation when suddenly a message pops up on your screen, demanding your immediate attention:
WARNING: MALICIOUS VIRUS FOUND ON YOUR COMPUTER!
CLICK HERE FOR IMMEDIATE REPAIRS
What do you do? Everyone has heard about devastating computer viruses, and you certainly don’t want to be the next victim, so you click the link to connect with a team of tech support professionals standing by to help you protect your computer. What a relief! Or not…
Instead of protecting yourself, you’ve become another victim in one of the longest-running scams on the Internet. Scammers use methods exactly like these to convince unsuspecting people to give them remote access to their systems. Whether it’s a giant red warning on a pop-up window or a spoofed phone call from “Bill” or “Annabelle” at “Microsoft”, scammers are capitalizing on the fear of getting hacked to plant malware in victim’s computers and to steal personal information that can be used to commit identity fraud.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network received nearly 143,000 reports about tech support
scams in 2018.1
So how can you avoid becoming a statistic? Here are tips for spotting remote support scams.
- The first red flag is that random pop-up on your computer or a phone call saying that you’ve been infected. Unless you have contracted with a security monitoring service, you aren’t going to get a notice through your web browser, and Microsoft won’t be calling you. (Even legitimate anti-virus software doesn’t normally direct you to a help desk.) Ignore any calls that don’t come from a recognized provider, and never click on a pop-up unless it comes from software you have installed.
- If you answer a call from someone claiming to be from a tech support company, hang up. Don’t provide personal information, give credit card numbers, or give them access to your computer.
- If you notice any unrecognized activity from your computer after one of these popups, immediately run anti-virus software and/or contact a legitimate tech support organization. (Often scam pop-ups don’t have a cancel button or a big X to close the window, so it’s easy to start downloading something by accident.)
There are a number of agencies that monitor and track tech support scams, and we encourage you to report to the Federal Trade Commission, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (FBI – IC3), or Microsoft if the scammer claimed to represent them. If you realize after the fact that you’ve been scammed, cancel any charges immediately and report the fraud to your credit card companies or banks, as they may be able to track the merchant information and assist with reporting. But the best way to stop these scammers is to make them unsuccessful in the first place, so never let surprise or fear get in the way of common sense: always think before you click.