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BBB Tip of the Week: How to avoid tech scams

Tyler Russell

Do you ever see those pop-ups with promises of fame, fortune or a better quality of life?

Sometimes a warning comes across your screen saying your computer is broken or that a virus is present. For many, this causes panic and the need to act quickly without thinking. The fear of losing your information, money or treasured photographs causes us to act immediately. The Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific wants you to be prepared the next time those pesky pop-ups show up on your mobile phone or computer.

Better Business Bureau has received more than 7,000 reports to BBB Scam Tracker in the past two years from people claiming a company posing as a computer repair or security service contacted them to fix problems with their computer.

One of the biggest companies, Microsoft, whose corporate name is often used by thieves to dupe consumers, has reported receiving 12,000 complaints worldwide every month. The age of the victims may vary but Microsoft says millennials are most likely to continue with a fraudulent tech support offer, while older consumers are more likely to file complaints.

If you have been affected by a tech support scam, a reboot of your computer usually eliminates the warning screens and gets you back to business. This is not the only way scammers target potential victims. Below are other examples of how scammers could get your personal information or hard-earned money.

Warning screens. Nearly half of tech support scams begin when an alert message appears on the computer screen saying it has detected a problem. There will be a number you can call for help. Never call a number that just appears on your computer.

Cold calls. Another popular way for thieves to get in touch with victims is through cold calls. The caller claims to be from Comcast, Norton, Dell or another tech company and says servers have detected signs the consumer’s computer has a security problem. Never give a cold caller any financial information and never let someone who cold-calls you have access to your computer.

Sponsored links. When using a search engine to look for tech support, be wary of the sponsored ads at the top of the list. Microsoft warns many of these links go directly to businesses set up to scam consumers.

Emails. Microsoft recently reported that scammers now use email to reach potential victims. A link in the email takes the consumer to a website the scammers operate that launches a pop-up with the fake warning and phone number.

What should you do if you realize you are the victim of a tech support scam? First, contact your bank immediately and put fraud alerts on your accounts. Then take your computer to a trusted local business to check for malware. Remove any software that has authorized remote access to your computer. Then change the passwords for online access to financial institutions and other sensitive sites that could have been compromised.

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