It’s happened to an increasingly large number of people: They’re clicking away on some less-reputable website when a pop-up advises them that their computer has been breached and their financial information exposed, but there’s one way to save the day.
For a couple in Maine last year, that way was to call someone who claimed to be with Fidelity Investments. This false representative told the couple, according to an FBI report, to download the UltraViewer software on their computer to monitor for fraud. That done, the rep told the couple to transfer some of their retirement funds and take out a home equity line of credit and wire it all to a cryptocurrency marketplace for “safekeeping.”
It was, of course, a scam. That couple, one of the 65 victims in Maine last year, lost $1.1 million to the fake tech support scammer, which was probably devastating to their finances but hardly a drop in the total pool of $347 million lost by nearly 24,000 victims across the U.S. last year, according to tracking data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
That’s a 137% year-over-year increase over those scammed in the same way.
Of New England’s 809 victims, populous Massachusetts saw the highest losses with nearly $5.4 million lost by 521 victims, nearly 4 ½ times as much as the next highest victimized state in the region, New Hampshire.
And, like the romance scams and — especially — the “Grandparent” scams reported in the past by the Herald, the victims here are predominantly older, with six out of 10 of them being more than 60 years old and representing more than three-quarters of the losses.
Pop-up warnings like those experienced by the Maine couple noted in the FBI report are a common gateway into the scam. For those less technologically savvy, the internet pop-up may appear to be a legitimate warning from their computer or maybe even their legitimate antivirus software.
There’s a way to know for sure. If you know what antivirus software you run on your computer and this pop-up is advertising an unknown service, then it’s a scam. If it tells you to call a “live technician now” and lists a phone number, absolutely do not call that number.
“Real security warnings and messages will never ask you to call a phone number,” the Federal Trade Commission states. “If you’re looking for tech support, go to a company you know and trust.”
But pop-ups aren’t the only rabbit holes down to tech support scam financial loss. The FTC states that sometimes these begin with cold calls from scammers claiming to be computer technicians from well-known companies who report they have found a problem with your computer.
If anyone does this, do not follow their advice. No outside technician should be calling you about what is on your computer unless you had previously set up an appointment with a legitimate company.
The FTC states these techs will often direct their victims to install software that gives the scammers remote access to their computers to run a “diagnostic test” and then make you pay to fix a problem that is either not real or one they introduced to your system.
Other simple precautions would be to keep your computer’s actual antivirus software updated and run regular scans, not trust Caller ID names because these can be spoofed and to simply slow down and not do anything rashly.