Contact 2: Avoiding phony tech support scammers

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – “All of the sudden, I get this emergency broadcast system message coming over saying I had a virus on my machine, saying I needed to shut it down and call this number right away,” said Sherry Thomas.

Thomas made that call and before long, she’d given away control of her computer. The person on the other line said they fixed the problem and Sherry paid $180.

“Couple of weeks later, I get a call from this gentleman,” Thomas said.

The caller had an elaborate story and access to Sherry’s bank account. He told her he’d accidentally placed too much money in her account and wanted her to send the difference back on iTunes gift cards. She got suspicious and caught on right in the nick of time.

“I’m not sending you anything. If you call me again I’ve already got you investigated. If you call me again, I’m calling the police,” Thomas said.

Sherry is one of the tens of thousands of people targeted by computer technical support scammers every year. Steven Baker, International Investigations Specialist for the Better Business Bureau, said there’s a clear network of people in the United States helping overseas scammers carry out their attacks.

“A study found 85 percent of all these calls are actually coming from India. About 10 percent are in Florida, some of them are calling from Costa Rica,” Baker said.

Scott Verseman, Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, was part of a team that investigated a scam network based out of Boynton Beach, Florida

“Our investigation found there were over 40,000 victims nationwide, Canada, and parts of the Caribbean as well. Fifty-seven of those victims were located here in southern Illinois,” he said.

Verseman said over three years, scammers accumulated $25 million from their victims. Fourteen of the people involved were charged. Seven pleaded guilty so far.

“We can’t begin the process of identifying these frauds, of investigating them, or ultimately prosecuting somebody if victims don’t come forward and make it known,” he said.

That message from US Attorney Don Boyce is one Sherry Thomas took to heart.

“I’m sure I’m not the first one. Definitely won’t be the last, but I think it’s important people know because they were so good,” she said.

• Research tech support companies before you decide to do business with them. Go to bbb.org to search for BBB Business Profiles or contact the St. Louis BBB by calling 888-996-3887.
• Double-check all the details. If you’re directed to an official company website, make sure that it’s the real company’s site by double-checking the spelling of the company’s name in the website address. Anything that comes from “Micorsoft,” for example, is a scam.
• If a caller claims to work for a reputable company, ask them to tell you their name or their employee ID, and in which department they work. Then look up and call that company’s official customer service line and ask to be directed to that employee. Do not use a phone number provided to you by the caller.
• If your computer has been compromised, don’t panic. You may still be able to get your machine fixed. Scammers are relying on you to make hasty decisions, you’ll be better able to avoid their traps if you slow down and don’t rush.
• Make sure you you’re using a quality, up-to-date antivirus software. Make sure you are running the latest version of the software.
• Change your passwords. First change the password to any account or machine the scammer has or could access. Then change the passwords on any account that you were logged in to on your machine, as well as any accounts for which you use the same or very similar login credentials.
• Call your credit card company. If you made a payment by using your credit card, the company will help you to appeal any unauthorized charges and to get a new card.
• Victims can report the tech support scam to BBB’s ScamTracker.