Imagine your mother receives a call from a fast-talking “computer technician” and before she knows it, the technician has convinced her that her computer is infected with a virus and for $600, they will “fix” it. This scam happens more often than you might think!
Tech support scams are not a new phenomenon. Scammers have been peddling useless security software for years, tricking people into spending millions of dollars on non-existent computer problems. However, today’s scam artists have added a new twist — using a so-called “technician” to gain access to a person’s computer. These scammers claim to find non-existent computer viruses and infections then con people out of their hard-earned money for bogus tech support; in addition to stealing personal and financial information or even installing new malicious software. Since May 2014, Microsoft has received over 65,000 customer complaints regarding fraudulent tech support scams.
Going after the scammers
In its first big strike against technical support scamming companies, today Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit will file a civil lawsuit in federal court in the Central District of California against Omnitech Support and related entities for unfair and deceptive business practices and trademark infringement.
Omnitech Support, a division of Customer Focus Services, is charged with misusing Microsoft’s name, registered trademarks and service marks in connection with the provision of phony tech support services. Omnitech utilized the Microsoft trademarks and service marks to enhance their credentials and confuse customers about their affiliation with Microsoft. Omnitech then used their enhanced credibility to convince consumers that their personal computers are infected with malware in order to sell them unnecessary security services to clean their computers.
In some instances, Omnitech has actually created security issues for victims by gaining access to their computers and installing malicious software, including a password grabber that could provide access to personal and financial information.
How scammers operate
Many of these technical support companies are able to gain victims’ trust by claiming they work for Microsoft, are a Microsoft Certified Partner or somehow affiliated with Microsoft. In some instances, once the tech scammer gains remote access to a consumer’s computer, they will use scare tactics — telling the consumer that if they do not pay for support services they will lose all of their files, suffer a computer crash, or risk the leak of personal identifiable information. Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software have fooled victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will open up whatever information is on the user’s computer to scammers.
Tech support scammers don’t discriminate; they will go after anyone, but not surprisingly senior citizens have been among the most vulnerable. According to the FBI (Fraud Target: Senior Citizens), senior citizens are often more trusting and con artists exploit these traits.
The holiday season is a popular time for scammers as more people engage in online activities, including shopping, donating to charity and searching for travel deals. Still, our customers must be vigilant to protect themselves.
Helping consumers fight back
Our Customer Support Services team is leading efforts to help impacted customers. If someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support, or affiliated with Microsoft, calls you:
- Do not purchase any software or services.
- Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the “service.” If there is, hang up.
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
- Take the caller’s information down and immediately report it to your local authorities.
- Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of technical support scam, please contact:
- Report a Microsoft Technical Support Scam – support.microsoft.com/reportascam
- Federal Trade Commission – ftccomplaintassistant.gov
- State’s Attorneys General – naag.org/current-attorneys-general
- Better Business Bureau – bbb.org