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Scam of the Month: The Case of Tech Support Impostors


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Con artists call the newsroom, too. In the past few weeks, two employees and an intern all got calls from someone alerting them to supposed problems with their computers.

The caller ID displayed “Microsoft ATTN” as Denton Record-Chronicle reporter Britney Tabor picked up the phone at her desk recently. The man on the other end tried to convince her there was a problem with her personal computer.

Ever the fact checker, Britney soon had the scammer on the ropes: He didn’t sound like anyone from the company’s knowledgeable IT department, he had called her at work to ask about her home computer, and he was ready to fix a Windows problem when she has a Mac.

The scammer ended the call quickly.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, these calls are the latest twist on long-running tech support scams. The con artists get your name and phone number from public directories and make a guess at the equipment and software you’re using.

Caller ID spoofing, as happened in Britney’s case, makes it seem the caller is part of a well-known company. Or they’ll opt to barrage you with technical terms, trying to get you in front of your computer to perform a series of tasks designed to scare you.

From the FTC, some warning signs that a call is a scam designed to get your money:

They ask for remote access to your computer (and then they make changes that leave your computer vulnerable to hacking).

They try to keep you on the phone and use high-pressure tactics.

They offer a computer maintenance or warranty program that’s worthless.

They ask for your credit card information to bill you for these phony services or direct you to websites that do the same.

They trick you into installing malware designed to steal sensitive data, like user names and passwords.

What to do if you get a call:

Never give control of your computer, provide your credit card or other financial information to someone who calls you out of the blue.

Never give your password on the phone.

Because spoofing is so prevalent, don’t rely on caller ID to authenticate a caller. Nor are online searches always reliable. Scammers place online ads and pay to boost their rankings so they come up higher in search results than legitimate companies. Hang up and call the company yourself on a phone number you know to be genuine. You can find a company’s contact information on their software package or on your receipt.

If you think you’ve been scammed, don’t panic:

Change your password. If you use that password for other accounts, change those passwords, too.

You can get rid of malware on your computer. It takes time, but it isn’t difficult. Update or download legitimate security software and scan your computer for suspicious files. Follow the steps to delete anything it identifies as a problem.

Call your credit card provider if you agreed to pay for the phony services with your credit card and ask for them to be reversed. Watch your bank statements carefully for any other bogus charges, and ask to reverse those, too.

— Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe


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