Have you ever had one of those phone calls where the person claims they’ve detected a virus in your computer? The callers claim to be from Apple, Microsoft or another reputable tech company. They do their best to convince you that all your valuable, personal information is at risk or that someone is about to steal all your files. They try to scare you and confuse you with a lot of technical jargon. Then, out of the goodness of their hearts, they will kindly offer to walk you through a set of steps to fix it. All you have to do is pay them a modest fee (which you can conveniently put on your credit card) or give them remote access to your computer, and they will fix it for you.
If you get one of these calls, don’t fall for it. Your computer is fine. This is a scam, pure and simple. Hang up immediately! This “tech support scam” is the latest in a long list of tricks scam artists use take your money and gain access to your personal financial information — and evidently, it works.
A survey released in October by Microsoft found that over the past year, two-thirds of consumers have experienced the tech support scam — and 20 percent of them fell for it, losing an estimated $1.5 billion.
Everyone is a vulnerable target, from tweens and teens to boomers and seniors. That’s why AARP’s Fraud Watch Network has launched a major campaign to raise awareness of the tech support scam (aarp.org/TechScams), as well as tips and advice on how to prevent you and your loved ones from being tricked.
Make no mistake, these thieves are good at what they do. It’s easy to be fooled. They’ll ask you for your credit card number, they’ll trick you into installing malware that could grab your personal and financial data, or they’ll try to enroll you in worthless computer maintenance or warranty programs.
Their schemes are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Some hijack Caller ID, making it look as if a company you respect or are familiar with is actually on the line. And they’re always one step ahead. They know you’ll be going online to check them out, so they make sure they show up high in search results by placing ads or paying to boost their ranking so their websites and phone numbers appear above those of legitimate businesses.
You might also see a pop-up ad on your computer screen, filled with warnings that your device is infected or malfunctioning. Don’t fall for it. Close the box without clicking on any links.
Tech support swindlers have been around since the dawn of the digital age, but as security experts step up efforts to stop them, the scammers find more sophisticated ways to get around them.
Through the AARP Fraud Watch Network (which is a free resource available to people of all ages) you can get the latest information on frauds and scams, prevention tips from experts and access to a free helpline (877-908-3360) to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. The best way for us to avoid being victimized by these scammers is to become aware that they exist, and to learn all we can about how to prevent and avoid them. Working together, we can expose their dirty tricks and put them out of business.