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Clean Your Computer - Clean Your Account

The tech support scam that won't go away.

“I’ll need remote access to your computer before I can help you.” Those are words I will never forget.

Three months ago, I was eager to talk to a live person who could resolve my issue. I thought I would be on hold for ages, but my call was picked up on the second ring. I told him why I was calling hoping my desperation wasn’t obvious.

At first, I’d ignored the pop-up warnings on my laptop. Then the messages got scary. I wasn’t sure if they were always so dire or if it was because I was finally taking the time to read them from beginning to end.

The most recent pop-up made me take notice. It was in a different color and warned me that I needed to take action now because my computer was infected with malware or some crazy virus.

“Tabitha, go to the web address I just gave you. We’ll get everything taken care of,” said James, an IT professional from a well-known tech company.

I was relieved when I finally called the number in the pop-up and James answered. He reassured me that a new antivirus program would remove not only the annoying alerts, but protect the other personal data I had stored on my computer.

“Uh-huh, I can see it on our end. Yup, your computer is infected with a nasty virus. It’s a good thing you called us when you did.”

I shared with James the reason I finally made the call. The last alert told me if I didn’t call the phone number that my computer access would be disabled for my safety. Apparently, someone was trying to access my financial information, social media account logins, and credit card data. At least that’s what James told me. He and his team needed to get my attention.

He even said how the same thing happened to him about six months ago, so he understood how I felt.

I clicked on the link at the website just like James had instructed.

“This is the only antivirus program we recommend to take care of issues like this.”

“How much is it?” I braced myself.

James cleared his throat. “$600.00.”  

Silence.

“It comes with a lifetime warranty,” he added.

“Really? That’s kinda expensive,” I muttered.

“It’ll take care of all of those notices and keep you safe. Trust me. Look, if you don’t take care of this now, it won’t be good.”

I didn’t know what to do.

“Tabitha, don’t worry. I’m going to talk to you while I go ahead and install the program on your computer. Just click “allow access” and we can get started.”

I gave him my credit card number, remote access to my computer and waited while he downloaded a new program I’d never heard of.

As he talked about his wife and kids, I became more comfortable. He seemed like a normal guy. He used a lot of technical terms, so he sounded pretty knowledgeable. James even reassured me that when he was done I’d be able to browse online again without worrying someone was watching my every move.

The following week is when I noticed several of my financial accounts were off. My checking account had a payment to an online retailer that I’d never visited. My credit card had two new charges for spa services at luxury hotels in another city. I hadn’t left my hometown in over two years. I called my credit union and credit card company. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t want to go there, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.

James and “his family” were treating themselves at my expense.

***************

Tabitha contacted her credit card company to dispute the charges including the charge for the antivirus program. After speaking with the credit card company’s fraud department, she learned that when she gave James access to her laptop, he likely installed a backdoor trojan that gave him and his band of bandits access to the entire contents of her laptop whenever they wanted. This included files that contained logins, passwords, and financial account information.

She couldn’t figure out how he’d accessed her credit union account. Tabitha’s account information wasn’t stored on her computer. Her credit union informed her that James must have left another surprise. He’d installed a keylogger which tracked her keystrokes when she logged into her credit union account online.

You can avoid becoming a tech support scam victim by following these tips:

  • Understand that well-known tech companies do not contact their customers with pop-up notices. They do not track nor make unsolicited attempts to resolve technology issues.
  • Since these scammers also make phone calls to snare their victims, hang up and block their calls.
  • Don’t trust caller ID to confirm the caller’s true identity. Caller ID can be masked or altered to display the name of a well-known tech company. Again, well-known tech companies do not make unsolicited attempts to repair your computer.
  • Never share passwords with anyone who contacts you.
  • Use a password manager to help safeguard multiple passwords. Otherwise, it might be overwhelming to keep track of them all. If you use the same login ID and password for every website, you’ve made the scammer’s job much easier.
  • Ignore or remove these annoying pop-ups yourself by following these instructions.
  • View educational videos at Federal Trade Commission’s Tech Support Scams. The website explains variations of this scam and how to avoid becoming a victim.

If you think you’re a victim of the tech support scam, contact an F&A Federal Credit Union member representative as soon as possible to discuss steps to remedy the situation.

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