A pop-up alert on your computer that appears to be a technical support message could be an effort to steal your personal information, warned Attorney General Jim Hood.

The Consumer Protection Division in the Attorney General’s Office has seen a recent increase in these types of scams, where tech support scammers use pop-ups that resemble security alerts from Microsoft, Apple, or other companies. The alerts warn that the user’s computer is hacked or infected with viruses. Some pop-ups even feature a countdown clock, supposedly showing the time remaining before the hard drive will be fried—unless the consumer calls a toll-free number supposedly affiliated with one of those big-name companies.

Do not call that number—instead, shut your computer down immediately. When a person calls that number, scammers may pose as a security, customer, or technical support representative offering to resolve such issues as a compromised email or bank account, a virus on a computer, or to assist with a software license renewal.

“Once a person gets on the phone, that’s when they become most vulnerable to these con artists,” explained General Hood. “The operators instruct you to go to your computer and hit certain keys or links. When you do this, you are giving the scammers “remote access” or control of your computer, which allows them to access your personal information and online accounts.”

The scammers claim that they need “remote access” or control of your computer to run tests that they claim reveal grave problems that can only be solved by one of their “certified technicians” for a hefty fee. Do not give access to your computer unless you are speaking with a trusted source whom you voluntarily contacted. In this type of scam, high-pressure tactics are used to strong-arm consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for unnecessary repairs, anti-virus protection or software, and other products and services.

SUGGESTIONS FOR PROTECTION

 

  • Remember that legitimate customer, security, or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact with individuals.
  • Install ad-blocking software that eliminates or reduces pop-ups and malvertising (online advertising to spread malware).
  • Be cautious of customer support numbers obtained via open source searching (searching for phone numbers on the internet).
  • Recognize fraudulent attempts and cease all communication with the scammer.
  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers will urge you to act fast to protect your device. The scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure you into immediate action.
  • Do not give unknown, unverified persons remote access or control of devices or accounts.
  • Ensure all computer anti-virus, security, and malware protection is up to date.

IF YOU ARE A VICTIM

  • If you receive a pop-up or locked screen, shut down the device immediately. Ignore any pop-ups instructing to not power off or restart the computer.  Shutting down the device and waiting a short time to restart may cause the pop-up or screen lock to disappear.
  • Do not re-contact fraudulent tech scam companies. Expect additional fraudulent calls as these companies often share their customer database information.
  • Should a criminal gain access to a device or an account, you should take precautions to protect your identity. Immediately contact financial institutions to place protection on accounts as well as change passwords and actively monitor accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.
  • You should also have your device inspected by a trusted professional to determine whether any malware or viruses exist and/or whether your hard drive should be wiped clean and the operating system reinstalled.
  • Contact the AG’s Consumer Protection Division at 601-359-4230 or 800-281-4418.