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Scammers Now Using Pop-Up Tech Support Scams

September 11, 2020

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has forced many of us indoors for almost all of 2020. If you’re one of the millions of Americans currently teleworking, that means screens for work and entertainment. Unfortunately, there’s more to worry about than a steady stream of eyedrops and affordable standing desks.

Identity theft scams have been kicked into high gear all year. While the Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners primarily focus on tax-related identity theft, and other government agencies sound the alarm on broader cybersecurity threats to Americans. The Federal Trade Commission this week warned that phishing emails and web ads aren’t the only digital land mines lying in wait—even pop-up messages can try to steal your information and money.

But wait, there’s more!

Are scammers posing as tech support?

Scammers are posing as tech support specialists to trick victims into providing personally identifiable information and financial data. According to the FTC, these phishing scams can appear as phone calls, online ads, fake websites, and pop-up messages. And just like other phishing scams, these criminals hope that impersonating an organization you trust—in this case, tech support—to take the bait.

“Tech support scammers want you to believe you have a serious problem with your computer, like a virus,” the FTC writes. “They want you to pay for tech support services you don’t need, to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. They often ask you to pay by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, prepaid card or cash reload card, or using a money transfer app because they know those types of payments can be hard to reverse.”

The FTC points out that you’re simply not going to get an unsolicited tech-support phone call telling you that your computer has a virus. On the off-chance that you answer one of these phone calls, the other dead giveaway that they’re not really from “Microsoft” is that they demand payment.

Since tech support scammers are more than happy to take your money in any way you’ll give it, here are some of the payment methods they’ve “requested:”

  • Bank account information
  • Bitcoins
  • Credit cards
  • Gift cards
  • Money transfers

Oh yeah, don’t give random callers your Social Security Number, either.

As for the pop-up scams, they create a pop-up window telling you that there’s a virus on your computer. One of the samples provided by the FTC reads as follows:

  • “*** COMPUTER SCAN – ALERT ***

    Suspicious activity detected on your computer. Contact a live technician now.”

The FTC says these pop-ups include an 800 number that you are supposed to call to get in touch with a “technician,” which, obviously, you should not call. (Other similar pop-up scams can contain links to malware, so be warned. I learned this around 10 years ago when my wife clicked a fake pop-up warning from “her anti-virus software.” As much fun as decontaminating that computer was, I want you to avoid a similar weekend-destroying mistake.)

Learn more about tech-support scams by visiting the “How to Spot, Avoid, and Report Tech Support Scams” page on Consumer.FTC.gov. On this page, you’ll find a sample phone recording and an image of one of these threats. So, it’s probably a good idea to familiarize yourself with the types of attacks you could receive, especially when so much can be at stake.

Sources: “How can you spot a tech support scam?”; “How to Spot, Avoid and Report Tech Support Scams”

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