March 8, 2016
***National Consumer Protection Week Consumer Alert***
Carson City, NV – Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt alerts consumers about an increase in technical support scams in Nevada involving unsolicited phone calls or pop-up computer messages warning of computer viruses. Consumers who fall victim to tech support scams can be charged hundreds of dollars to have the virus “diagnosed” and “removed,” and risk exposing their personal information to fraudsters.
“It is estimated that 3.3 million people per year fall victim to technical support scams at an annual cost of $1.5 billion,” said Laxalt. “Computers are an essential part of everyday life, and con artists prey on this dependence by creating a fear of problems that may not actually exist. Consumers should be aware of the warning signs of this scam, and exercise caution before paying any fees associated with technical support solicitations.”
Scammers use a variety of methods to initiate contact with consumers, including coldcalling, online advertising, web browser pop-ups and spam email messages. In each case, the consumer is informed that their computer has been infected with malware, and is advised to contact tech support to “clean” the computer. However, when the consumer calls for help, the call is answered by a scammer, not a legitimate technical support professional. Tech support scammers often establish trust by claiming they work for a reputable company, and then persuade the consumer to grant remote access to his or her computer. Once access is granted, alerts can be fabricated to indicate that the computer is infected. Scammers then prompt the consumer to pay for a “cleaning session” that can cost more than $100 and is not actually needed or completed.
Remote access affords the fraudster the opportunity to steal personal information that may be stored on the computer. While purportedly cleaning the computer, the scammer can also install malware or enroll the consumer in automatic subscription services, prompting the consumer to contact the same tech support company in the future to pay for additional services. Consumers should never call an unfamiliar tech support company on the phone to fix any apparent problems. Nearly all computers have an antivirus program, and consumers should use that program to initially verify the presence of and remove any harmful software. If a consumer remains uncertain about the presence of any malware, they are encouraged to take the computer to an authorized repair center, which can be found by contacting the manufacturer company either online or by phone.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has fallen victim to a tech support scam, the victim should:
- Contact bank and credit card companies to verify whether any fraudulent purchases have been made with their account, and request new cards for their accounts.
- Place fraud alerts with their financial institutions and with any of the three major credit bureaus, including Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Consumers may also order a free annual credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus to review any suspicious activity.
- Update all passwords for online accounts, including email, social media, financial, health and retail accounts.
- Microsoft also keeps records of tech support scams involving its software and customers, and encourages customers who are victims of these scams to report the incident to Microsoft here.