Tech Support SCAMS

Beware of tech-support scams

Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press Published 10:06 a.m. ET May 21, 2017 | Updated 24 hours ago

Carolyn Aronson got caught not once, but twice, by tech-support scams, to the tune of $800.

The first time she was trying to download Windows 10 for free back in 2015. But a dire-looking warning popped onto the screen.

“All of a sudden, my computer just went nuts," said Aronson, 74. "I'm rattled at this point."

So she quickly called the number that showed up on her screen. The so-called rep politely convinced her to turn over control of her computer system to the company to fix it. The scammers had remote access to her computer for 15 hours, and she was out $600 on her credit card.

A couple of weeks later, what was supposedly Dell's tech support contacted her to tell her that her computer files were corrupted. There went another $199.99.

"I said 'OK, get it fixed,'" said Aronson, who lives in a small town in Tennessee.

It's easy, of course, for anyone not taken for a ride by a con artist to wonder how people can fall for such scams. But the Federal Trade Commission estimates that more than $24.6 million has been lost to tech-support scams alone in the last two years. On average, a typical consumer can lose about $280.

Aronson told her story at a media briefing held by the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida Attorney General's Office. She ultimately got her money back after disputing the purchase with her credit card company and PayPal, and proving that she didn't receive any services for her money. Many consumers who wire money aren't as fortunate.

In early May, the FTC and other regulators announced “Operation Tech Trap,” a nationwide and international crackdown on tech-support scams. Scammers are not only bilking people out of a couple of hundred bucks a pop, but con artists also can trick consumers into installing malware that gives them access to an individual's user names and passwords.

"Tech-support scammers create an artificial emergency," said Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. As part of the scam, your computer screen can flash threatening messages such as, "Your hard drive will be deleted if you close this page."

While many of us are still getting phone calls from some dude who claims to be from Microsoft, the phony pop-up messages on computer screens are increasing.