TECH SUPPORT SCAMS AND POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS
"Some scammers call and claim to be computer techs associates with well-known companies like Microsoft or Apple. Other scammers send pop-up messages that warn about computer problems. They say they've detected viruses or other malware on your computer. They claim to be 'tech support' and will ask you to give them remote access to your computer. Eventually, they'll diagnose a non-existent problem and ask you to pay for unnecessary -- or even harmful -- services."
This is what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes as a 'tech support scam'. In this blog post, we'll explore a number of similar scams that fall under the same umbrella; that is, scammers and hackers pretending to be tech support in order to access your computer or data, whether it occurs over the phone, online chat, in-person or through a malicious, unwanted program installed on your computer. Follow along with us as we explore the various methods of these con artists and how to thwart them before you become a victim.
To counter the tech support scam threat, it is important to understand exactly what these criminals are after. It may not seem like much to you, but your data is actually extremely valuable to hackers. Even if you place a low value on your photos, documents and videos, hackers can often piece together small bits of data found across many files to create the 'big picture', your identity. Think about what you have saved on your computer: tax documents, scans of your drivers license, birth certificate or social security card, receipts for large purchases, your address, account names and passwords stored in your web browser and bank information. Even if hackers don't plan on using this data themselves, it is remarkably easy to offer identities up for sale on the dark web, often in large lots from multiple compromised computers.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Now that you understand the value of your data and why it needs protecting, let's discuss what you can do to spot scammers and stop them in their tracks. First of all, you must be suspicious of everyone and everything asking for access to your computer. If you didn't initiate contact with a tech support agent, it is almost guaranteed that being contacted unsolicited is a scam. These con-artists take advantage of the complicated nature of computers to convince less tech-saavy users to simply give up control, but you know better than that! If you receive a call claiming to be tech support that you didn't schedule or arrange, it is a scam, even if the caller ID data appears legitimate. It is common for criminals to 'spoof', or fake caller ID names to appear legitimate (enough) to complete the scam. Similarly, unexpected popups often use the logos and branding of major corporations to convince you that they are legitimate. When in doubt, it is a good idea to close the popup by clicking the 'x' in the corner of the window. If you are overly suspicious or the popup seems legitimate, look up the phone number for the company using your favorite search engine and call that number from your phone to confirm. Do not call the number provided by the popup!
You may even be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics if you become a target of these scammers. Fake tech support agents may use lots of technical terms, or jargon, to frame themselves as an expert and prevent you from properly participating in the conversation. In their minds, they want you to be as scared and confused as possible so that you agree to their proposed 'solution', which is usually asking for remote access into your computer. They may even try to get you to buy into their scheme by guiding you through some simple processes on your computer, like checking files or typing commands into the command prompt, to convince you that you have a problem by being polite and helpful -- just like a real technician. Don't fall for it! The last step they ask for will always involve gaining remote access to your computer or getting you to pay for something. With remote access, the scammers will have permanent access to your computer, day and night, and can do anything they choose with it, like viewing video through your webcam or using your computer as part of a Botnet to hack bigger targets.
POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS
To change gears a little, most scams we have seen, particularly in Southern Colorado and Colorado Springs, do not actually involve a phone call. They are conducted entirely online via program downloads and are often welcomed by the victims who believe they need the scam program for one reason or another. It is also common to bundle unwanted programs with legitimate free software without properly disclosing this to the user. This method involves preying on victims searching for computer help. For example, if you search for 'remote computer repair', you are bombarded with similar-looking websites offering to help. What can you do to figure out if 'LogOnfixIt' or 'OnlineComputerRepair' are legitimate? Simply put, don't trust anything you haven't already heard of. If you really need something an unknown site is offering, run an additional search specifically about the company with the word 'scam' in the query; for example, 'LogOnFixIt scam'. This will show you if any consumers have been scammed by the company and if you can expect the level of service you deserve from them. Searching for a company on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is also usually helpful.
Many of these sites will install a program on your computer that is not necessarily malicious, but rather unwanted. We've all seen them: the programs that start up as soon as your computer loads, bug you over and over to upgrade to the paid version and frequently cause you to stop what you're doing to pay attention to them. These programs are best uninstalled using a powerful uninstall tool, like IOBit Uninstaller, which removes all remnants of uninstalled programs to make sure they don't come back to haunt you, as they often do. A short list of programs that fall under this criteria, also known as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs):
- Web Assistant
- Safe Search
- Yahoo/Ask/Google Toolbar(s)
As you can see, not all of these programs have names that sound malicious. A program called 'PCSpeedUp' sounds useful if your computer is slow, and it will appear that way when you run it. Your inability to close, delete or uninstall the program is what makes the program dangerous. Combine this with the fact that the program is most likely also collecting your personal information for the private gain of others and you have a recipe for disaster. Remember, you only want well-established, high-quality programs on your computer. If you don't know where a program came from, call us at (719) 345-2345 to determine if it is harmful or not. We care about your security and privacy at PC Pro.
Not sure if you've been infected? Most modern anti-malware and anti-virus programs are capable of notifying you. Here at PC Pro, we recommend using MalwareBytes Antimalware, BitDefender antivirus, or Avira antivirus to stay safe both on- and offline. Of course, Windows Defender and Firewall should always be enabled and running simultaneously with your antivirus program. Since some PUPs may actually be beneficial or wanted, like programs by IOBit or McAfee, these malware scanning programs will only alert you to their presence and let you decide if they should be removed or not.
If you still have doubts after reading this article, or if your computer is simply not running like it used to or you are experiencing unwanted popups and advertisements, you should call PC Pro today to schedule a free consultation and PUP removal.