KEY WEST, Fla. – Investigative consumer reporter Christina Vazquez is always working to get ahead of the latest scam campaign.
In this edition of Call Christina, the team tackles the on-going problem of tech support scams. Capt. Bridget Lynch contacted Vazquez in an effort to protect others from the latest tech support scam.
Generally speaking, tech support scams are run by scammers who trick people into believing their computer has a problem and then charge hundreds of dollars for worthless services.
In a new twist, the Better Business Bureau is charting a new trend of criminals installing ransom-ware by luring victims into a pitch for a free Windows 10 upgrade.
"My computer was destroyed by a company that billed themselves as being Windows 10," Lynch, who lives the Florida Keys, told Local 10 News' Christina Vazquez. "I clicked on it. They started installing Windows 10, and it actually worked for a couple of days. Then my screen went blank and up popped a page, and that page said, ‘Phone us, and we'll repair your computer.' So I phoned them. They said it starts at $230. And I said, ‘$230?!' And they said, ‘Yes, but we start at $100.' I said, ‘Oh, OK. Thanks.' ‘Do you want us to fix it?' I said, ‘Absolutely not.' Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
Lynch tells Local 10 News everything was lost and she decided to share the story in order to help other Local 10 News viewers.
"Sometimes the scams are pretty sophisticated," explained Cybersecurity specialist Dave Aitel of Immunity Inc.
According to the Better Business Bureau the so-called "Microsoft Scam" that netted Lynch is leading the pack of tech support scams.
"Now, you get all sorts of offers on the computer, and I don't necessarily go along with those," explained Lynch. "But this one looked real. It looked like it was a representation from Windows 10."
"That is their job," said Aitel, "The scammer's job is to look perfect. They are the model scammer. They look better than the real thing. The reality is you are going to click on something. Everyone falls for something and just hopefully they don't fall for too much."
Aitel recommends compartmentalizing your work and personal life on separate computers and keeping the boundary between the two rigid so in the event you do fall victim to a scammer's online trick, you don't lose all of your information.
"If you see on the lower right-hand corner of your screen a pop up that says ‘We will install for free Windows 10,' do not, under any circumstances, pop onto it because you stand the potential to lose absolutely everything," warned Lynch.
"I lost all the information I had on the computer. All the things that were important to me are gone. And it was simply because they said they were going to update my computer from Windows 7 to Windows 10. And it wasn't true. The problem is, for anybody, you lose a computer. I paid $800 for this computer, and it's gone. It's just nothing more than a paperweight."
The "Call Christina" Team thanks Lynch for reaching out.
Experts say consumer protection education is the best defense to economic crime.
Another version of a tech support scam is someone calling you, or a small business, posing as a tech support specialist.
If you get that kind of call:
- Hang up and call the company directly.
- Don't trust the Caller ID because scammers can spoof Caller ID numbers.
- Never give your password over the phone.
- Don't give control of your computer to a third party who calls you out of the blue.
- Do report any experience with a tech support scam to the Federal Trade Commission who has been working to put an end to this type of scam.
In October the FTC took action and reached a settlement with operators of a suspected tech support scam.
The operators were accused of tricking consumers into paying for technical support services they did not need and/or software that was otherwise free.
As a result of the settlement, the operators had to turn over multiple real estate properties, money, and leases on two luxury cars.
The settlement includes a monetary judgment of $3,095,037.02.
BBB Tech Support Scam Consumer Protection Tips:
If you think you might have downloaded malware from a scam site or allowed a cybercriminal to access your computer, don't panic. Instead:
- Update or download legitimate security software and scan your computer. Delete anything it identifies as a problem.
- Change any passwords that you gave out. If you use these passwords for other accounts, change those accounts, too.
- If you paid for bogus services with a credit card, call your credit card provider and ask to reverse the charges. Check your statements for any other charges you didn't make, and ask to reverse those, too.
Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV
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