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Five Holiday Tips to Avoid the ‘Tech Support Scam’

Harrisburg, PA - While a recent Microsoft survey indicates that consumers are less likely to be deceived by the so-called “tech support scam” than in previous years, Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann reminds Pennsylvanians who expect to find a new computer under the tree next month that the threat of this scam remains pervasive and that victims of this scam suffer more than financial losses.

Wiessmann explains how this scam works:

  • You receive an unexpected phone call or an email from someone claiming to work for a computer software company like Microsoft, Apple, or Norton. This person claims that they have identified your computer as being infected with a virus, and offers to fix the problem.
  • You may also receive an unsolicited email or a fake pop-up message while browsing websites trying to trick you into believing your computer requires technical support or that your computer is locked and that you must make a phone call to unlock or fix your computer.
  • You may even be searching the internet for legitimate technical support and find a fraudulent advertisement from a company offering to provide needed support.

In these scenarios, several outcomes – none of them good – are possible:

  • To perform the “fix,” you will be asked to pay a fee by providing your credit or debit card information. You may also be asked to pay by purchasing gift cards and sharing their value with the scammer.
  • The scam artist may then hang up and you will have lost only your money. Or this person – a scam artist -- will ask for access to your computer’s systems and software from wherever they are located.
  • While performing the so-called fix, malware and even viruses are being downloaded to your computer. Your system, files, and information have been compromised.
  • You may not discover that your computer has been taken over by a scam artist for days, weeks, or even months – and during this time, the scammer has been watching your every move on your own computer.
  • The scam artist may even have downloaded “ransomware” onto your computer – you will not be able to access your computer files until you pay a ransom to the scammer. And once you’ve paid, you still may not get back access to your computer files.

“Falling prey to the ‘tech support’ scam can cost you additional money for legitimate fixes, lost hours of the day that you will not get back, and additional levels of stress during a season when we are already feeling higher levels of stress,” said Wiessmann.

Wiessmann points to five tactics that can help consumers protect their computers:

  1. Make sure you have current, effective anti-virus software installed on your computer.
  2. If a person calls claiming to work for a specific company like Microsoft, Apple, or Norton, tell them you will call them back. Call that company using a phone number you have verified as legitimate (using, for example, the company’s website).
  3. If you have received an email or pop-up ad while browsing, contact the company’s customer support website and ask the company to verify that the message is legitimate.
  4. Examine the messages carefully, looking for telltale signs such as poor spelling, bad grammar, or unprofessional design.
  5. If you believe your computer is infected, avoid using the internet and:
  • Run a scan using your anti-virus software; or
  • Contact a reputable computer repair technician or company and have them check your computer.

Wiessmann urges consumers to be informed. Know the “red flags” of scams and fraud and who you can contact if you believe you are a victim. Check out the publication: “Scams: Protect Yourself. Protect Your Money.”

“The good news from the Microsoft survey is that consumers are becoming more savvy about this kind of crime,” Secretary Wiessmann added. “However, people are still vulnerable to the feeling that ‘in the moment, nothing else matters but to have a working computer’ – and they get scammed. This holiday season, everyone is going to have to be more diligent and investigate before investing their money or sharing personal or financial information.”

Microsoft: Global Tech Support Scam Research summary here [PDF].

Anyone can contact the Department of Banking and Securities at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-600-0007 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products. Members of the public are also invited to connect to the department through Facebook and Twitter, or subscribing to the department’s newsletter.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ed Novak - 717-783-4721

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