In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, the world is at our fingertips. We can connect, shop, and even run businesses, all from the comfort of our cell phones or home computers. Access to the convenience and technology of today brings benefits but also provides criminals with a new playground to operate within. In 2022, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received over 800,000 complaints with $10.3 billion in losses from internet scams and fraud.i The IC3 Recovery Asset Team (RAT) reports a 73% success rate in recovering assetsi, however, this would mean over $2.7 billion in assets were not recovered in 2022.
In 2022, IC3 received thousands of reports of tech and customer support scams accounting for over $800 million in losses in 2022.i Illegal call centers and tech/customer support scams are becoming increasingly more prevalent. These scammers rely on using the names of well-known businesses that we know and trust to gain access to our computers and personal information. In 2022 IC3 reported a 132% increase in losses from tech and customer support scams.i
[These illegal] call centers overwhelmingly target the elderly, with devastating effects. Almost half the victims report to be over 60 (46%), and experience 69% of the losses (over $724 million).i
So how does a tech and customer support scammer operate? These scammers use deceptive tactics to portray themselves as businesses that have consumer confidence such as Apple, Norton, and BestBuy’s Geek Squad, just to name a few. They utilize phone calls, emails, text messages, and pop-up ads to deceive victims into believing they are experiencing an issue with their computer or are facing an immediate security risk.
A common scenario includes the tech support scammer listing a number to call with a “specialist” using software to “help” the victim by granting access to their PC via a remote desktop software. Once the scammer has access to the computer, they can use the information found on that computer to manipulate the victim. The scammer’s goal could be to manipulate the victim into paying an exorbitant fee for repairs to their computer or to convince the victim that they have been hacked and they need to immediately begin moving assets to prevent the hackers from depleting their accounts.
The FBI’s Boston Field Office reported a woman in Massachusetts lost $200,000 after calling a tech support line upon receiving a pop-up alert that her computer had been “hacked.” The victim called into what she thought was the tech firm’s advertised support line, and she was routed to the “fraud” department. The “fraud” department directed her to move money into “safe wallets” to protect her assets from the hackers. Over the next few weeks, the “fraud” department directed her via phone calls and messages to make several wires out of her bank accounts and retirement accounts. She was instructed to let her bank know she knew who she was wiring to and not to tell anyone because the “hackers” could be anyone.[iii]
In both of these common tech support scam scenarios, the scammer is using manipulation to incite fear and desperation in their victim. Scammers use messages that urge you to call immediately and threaten the loss of personal data or assets if you don’t call the support line. The common reaction is to call immediately, and scammers rely on this impulse. If you take the time to read the message and research the issue, you will often find reports related to the message identifying it as fraud. Do not call any provided numbers on these pop-ups. If you have concerns that your computer or personal data may be compromised, locate a known number for customer support or your financial institution. Legitimate security and tech support companies will not contact customers unsolicited and legitimate pop-up error messages will never contain a phone number.
Some basics to protect yourself from scams:
- Make sure your anti-virus, security, and malware protection is up to date and make sure to enable the settings required to reduce pop-ups.
- Always be cautious when using a search engine to locate a phone number for a company, and make sure to confirm the legitimacy of the phone number before utilizing it.
- Never download or visit a website you have been directed to by an individual not known to you.
- Do not trust caller ID at face value as criminals can spoof the caller ID and make their call look like it’s coming from a number familiar to you.
- Take steps to verify the caller and, when in doubt, hang up and call back a number known to you.
- Make sure to add all phone numbers you contact or that contact you on a regular basis to your contact list and let unknown calls go to voicemail.
- Do not call the numbers back provided in the voicemail, instead find the number for the institution that you wish to contact from an outside source and call them back directly.
What to do if you are a victim of fraud
- Make sure to have your computer professionally cleaned by a reputable provider. Scammers can embed malicious software that can be difficult to detect.
- Immediately contact your financial institutions and your financial advisor to let them know of the fraud, and they will likely direct you with the steps they feel are necessary to protect your accounts.
- Update your passwords starting with your email and financial accounts, never use repeated passwords, and make sure to use strong unique passwords.
- Keep any documentation possible from the fraud incident, including phone numbers, websites, email addresses, faxes, logs, etc.
- File a report with your local police department and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
It is important to stay up to date on the latest tech support scams and techniques as criminals are constantly evolving and modifying their practices. Stay up to date with IC3’s latest updates at https://www.ic3.gov/Home/ConsumerAlerts.
[i] Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022) Internet Crime Report 2022. Retrieved from ic3.gov.
[ii] Federal Trade Commission. (2022) How To Spot, Avoid, and Report Tech Support Scams. Retrieved from ftc.gov.
[iii] Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022) FBI Warns Public to Beware of Tech Support Scammers Targeting Financial Accounts Using Remote Desktop Software. Retrieved from fbi.gov.