Consumer tip of the month: Beware ‘IT professionals’ that pop up uninvited

These days, we can use our computers for everything from banking to buying groceries. Technology’s progress has certainly added convenience to our lives. However, these advancements have opened new doors for scammers.

The scam usually starts out the same way: Someone claiming to be a tech support representative calls your home or you get a pop-up on your computer. Whichever avenue the scammers take, these so-called IT professionals pose as employees from well-known companies like Microsoft, Comcast, Norton or Dell.

Often the scammer will create a sense of urgency — the computer is sending error messages, they've detected a virus, or your computer is about to crash and you’ll lose all your data! They tell you that only tech support can fix the problem and ask for remote access to your device. Once access is granted, the caller or automated tech assistant will often run a “scan” and claim your computer is infected with viruses. The scammer then offers to fix the problem — for a fee.

Unfortunately, the scam does not often stop there. If you allow access to your computer, malware may be installed on your machine. Malware often scans files in search of personal information, which scammers can use to commit identity theft.

Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific gives the following tips for spotting this scam and avoiding becoming a victim:

  • Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you know it is the representative of a computer support team you contacted.
  • Legitimate tech support companies don’t call out of the blue. A popular way for thieves to get in touch with victims is through cold calls. The callers often claim to be from a tech company. But remember that scammers can spoof official looking phone numbers, so don’t trust your Caller ID.
  • Look out for warning screens: Nearly half of tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim’s computer screen. This pop-up will have a phone number to call for help. Instead of calling, shutdown your computer and restart it.
  • Be wary of sponsored links. When you search online for tech support, look out for sponsored ads at the top of the results list. Many of these links lead to businesses that scam consumers.
  • Don’t click on links in unfamiliar emails. Scammers also use email to reach victims. These messages point consumers to scam websites that launch pop-ups with the fake warnings and phone numbers.

If you or someone you know does become a victim of a tech support scam, BBB offers these tips:

  • Contact your bank immediately.
  • Take your computer to a trusted local business and have it checked out.
  • Remove any software that authorized remote access to your computer.
  • Change the passwords you use to access your bank and other sensitive sites.
  • File a report with BBB Scam Tracker and with law enforcement authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

For more consumer tips and the latest scam alerts, download the BBB App at bbbapp.org. Anyone who feels they may be a victim of a cybercrime should report it to local law enforcement and BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

Lauren Hall is the Western Washington marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau based in DuPont. Reach her with consumer-related questions at lauren.hall@thebbb.org.