Faking It

Fake tech support scams are still here, and they’re worse than ever. Learn how to stay safe and what to do if you get faked out.

How does this work?

The Fake Tech Support scam is a confidence game like all the other confidence games that have been going on for years.

In this version, the con artist convinces someone to phone a number for technical support, then gains the trust of the person, convincing him/her to grant remote access to the computer through TeamViewer, GoToAssist, LogMeIn, or other perfectly legitimate products.

Once the scammer has taken control, s/he will do techie-looking things to convince the victim that there’s a problem, and that it can be fixed for a price. The scammer will try to obtain credit card and/or banking information.

At best, the victim is inconvenienced by having to cancel credit cards and change passwords, and maybe being out a few hundred dollars.

At worst, it’s a life-changing case of identity theft.

What do you mean, “convinces someone to phone?”

Ten years ago, when this scam was new, the most common way scammers engaged people was by calling them. And that’s still happening! Don’t fall for it!

Since then, things have progressed to the point where fake tech support sites are advertised on major search engines like Bing, Google, and Yahoo. You might search for help with a product, like “Facebook customer service phone number” or “Canon printer help.”

At least some of those search results, and often the ones near the top, are fake. If you phone, you’ll get someone who will do everything s/he can to convince you to part with your credit card information.

A recent twist now causes fake error messages to pop up in browsers. These are scary messages informing you that your computer is infected or that a serious error has occurred. Some of them even include loud sounds and shouting. All of them include a toll-free number to scammers.

This is a Windows thing, right?

To everyone chuckling and congratulating yourselves on having a Mac: You are also vulnerable to these scams. Your Safari browser can be compromised to pop up fake warnings.

You can also get tainted search results. And lately, the cold callers who used to hang up when someone said, “I have a Mac,” now pivot and claim to support Apple products.

Android smartphones and tablets are now targets, too.

How can I protect myself?

If you get a popup, get some help cleaning your computer. Do not search for help online, because if you’re getting that popup your browser and search have probably been hijacked, and your search results will show more bogus websites and toll-free numbers that get you to the same scam artists.

These guys are resourceful.

When reaching out to a company for technical support make sure the website or phone number you’re calling is truly for that company. The paid version of Malwarebytes can prevent you from browsing to websites known to be a problem.

Check on the legitimacy of a website by using the Avast! Antivirus Online Security add-on, the one from Trend-Micro, or whatever your antivirus offers by way of protection.

Check using the VirusTotal website.

If you phone a support line and the connection is poor, there’s lots of noise and shouting, and the so-called technician tries to hard sell you something, you are probably not connected to the real deal.

Have you been scammed? Read this article to see what to do.


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About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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