How to protect yourself and your business from 'tech support' scams
Don't give strangers access to your computer – or card details. Here's what you can do instead
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com. Her book, “The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business,” was released in 2018. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.
How can I protect my business, my cards and myself from 'tech support' scams?
If you receive a call from a stranger pretending to work for a large tech company saying there's a problem with your computer and demanding access to it in order to fix it, don't fall for it. It could be a growing type of fraud known as a “tech support scam.” The fraudster might even demand you pay for the service with your credit card or install malicious software on your computer.
Dear Your Business Credit,
I got a call from someone who said they were from a big PC company. He said there was a problem with my computer he needed to fix and wanted remote access.
He told me there was a charge for the service and asked for my credit card number. I was suspicious and did not give him access.
Now I’m wondering if there really was something wrong with my computer, which I use for work in my small business.
Should I get it checked? – Dan
You did the right thing. Big computer companies do not call their clients to announce there is a problem with their computer.
If companies need to update the software, they generally do it through an automated software update. They will do that if, for instance, they discover a route for your computer to be infected with malware.
Given all of the hacking that is going on these days, you’ve probably gotten alerts of updates on various programs you use on a regular basis.
- If you haven’t already done so, install software to protect your computer from viruses and malware that might harm it.
- Make sure you get it from a reputable firm. Some of the big ones are Norton and McAfee.
- If you still are afraid something is wrong with your computer, call the computer company’s tech support line for help.
'Tech support' scams a growing trend
There is a growing problem with computer repair fraud, as the Federal Trade Commission has reported.
- In these scams, the perpetrators often pretend to be computer repair shops.
- Some scammers may call you by phone, while others may send you free “security scams” that appear as popups on your computer.
- The goal is to get you to give them remote access to your computer.
- In some cases, they will diagnose a problem that doesn’t really exist and ask you for money.
- In others, they may install malware on your computer that gives them access to your data and passwords.
Given that this is your business computer, this could mean giving them exposure to data on your clients, too. Sometimes, they may try to get you to sign up for a warranty program (worthless!) to boot.
If someone like this calls you again, stick to your guns and do not give them access – or money! Instead, report them to the Federal Trade Commission.
Tip: You can be a victim of credit card fraud in different ways, including account takeover and identity theft. See “How to report and protect yourself from credit card fraud and ID theft” to learn how to protect yourself while applying for and using your credit cards.
What to do if you’ve been a victim of a 'tech support' scam
For anyone who may have been scammed in this way, this is what you can do:
- Be sure to report the scam to your credit card company. That way you’ll be able to change your credit card number.
- Keep a close eye on your credit card statements for the next few months to see if there are any bogus charges.
- If there are, report them to the credit card company immediately.
- Also, file a police report so you have a record of what happened.
When it comes to technology, many of us are not deep experts on the subject and can feel intimidated talking with someone who seems to know more than we do about computers.
Don’t let yourself get intimidated by someone who is throwing around a lot of jargon. Trust your gut instinct.
If you don’t think there is something wrong with your computer, don’t let someone persuade you to give them access – or your credit card number. It can cause a lot of hassles to undo the damage.
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