Don’t fall for bogus computer-support calls

“Hello, we’ve received an alert that you have a virus on your computer.”

If this sounds familiar, you’ve been scammed, and the truth is — you are not alone. Tech-support scamming is at an all-time high in the U.S. with more than 30,000 complaints being logged with the Federal Trade Commission in 2015.

The more troubling trend of this intrusive activity is that the senior population is increasingly targeted. “Often, residents in senior living facilities fall victim to the scams,” wrote Steve Baker, contributor and retired regional director of the Federal Trade Commission. “For most of us, it isn’t a question of if we will be approached by this scam, but when.”

“Technology is a vital component in keeping our residents connected with loved ones, but we also want to protect them from scammers who try to mislead some of our residents,” said Mark Hymas, executive director for Copper Ridge Health Care. “Our IT staff takes scamming tactics, and other intrusive motives, very seriously at our facility and we take extra measures to ensure our technology is safe for everyone to use.”

What does tech support scamming look like, and how can we protect ourselves and loved ones from falling victim to it? Here are three things to know about tech support scammers.

  1. Recognize tech support scamming when you see it.

Whether it is through random phone calls, emails, sponsored links, or pop-up ads on your computer, scammers are known for taking the initiative. Typically, a scammer will call and introduce themselves as a rep from Dell, the U.S. Government, or Microsoft, for example. The purpose of the call will be that they received a notification of a virus on your computer. Now, they are calling to fix the problem remotely for a fee, or they may offer a software package that is available to purchase.

“Any deal that comes through the phone is a scam if it involves tech support,” warned Matt Pope, lead developer for Osmond Marketing, a firm that works with over 300 senior care providers. “The same is true with email. No real company advertises like that without the intent to take advantage.”

If you have been contacted by a rep making these claims, don’t give them any information. Instead, make note of the company’s name, the rep’s name, the phone number, and report this information to the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau.

  1. Understand what scammers hope to gain.

Money. And according to the Federal Trade Commission, it amounts to lots of it. These scammers typically leave their “customers” on the hook for a “service fee” of $500 to $600. That deception adds up to millions of dollars each year. Baker explained that the amount of scammer complaints to the FTC is presumably much higher because only about 10 percent of those targeted realize they have been scammed.

The other threat is that scammer’s gain access to your personal information. Their “service package” may be fake, but their ability to access your computer— and everything on it—is very real. “One concern is that the scammers might not only remove spyware or other problems — they could place spyware on a computer,” Baker wrote. “Hidden programs called keystroke loggers can capture everything done on a computer and then email it back surreptitiously to a scammer. This software may be able to get passwords and login information for online bank accounts and the like.”

  1. Things to do if it has happened to you or your loved one.

If you experience a high-pressure sales call, and you suspect it is fraudulent, the FTC recommends hanging up the phone. Although, if possible, make note of the name of the rep, the company he or she claims to represent, and the phone number. This information is helpful when filing a complaint with the FTC or BBB.

If you discover your loved one has already authorized a transaction, call the bank or credit card company right away and report fraud, have the transaction canceled, and then file a complaint with the FTC.

Finally, take your computer to a local, reputable professional computer service to have it scanned for unwanted software. “I’d recommend staying local for any tech support,” Pope said. “And look up reviews on Google about a vendor before going in.”

It is comforting to know we can stay connected with our loved ones from anywhere, but that connection also needs to be protected. By recognizing the tactics of tech support scammers and taking measures to be sure your computers are protected, you can be sure the only connection your loved ones experience is a heartfelt one.


Amy Osmond Cook, who wrote this article, is executive director of the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers.