Telephone scams are nothing new, and neither are telephone scams where cybercriminals pretend to be tech support staff. That’s been going on for years. However, with recent high profile computer security issues like the WannaCry file encryption crisis, the bad guys are taking advantage of a nervous public to really step things up. Calls supposedly from reputable tech support services including Geek Squad, Microsoft and Apple have spiked. And they’re asking the people they call to give them access to their computer so that they can “fix” a virus or issue that they’ve found through a remote scan.
Don’t take the bait.
This is a classic telephone tech scam. No reputable tech support company is going to call you out of the blue and ask to access your PC. Certainly not Geek Squad. Unless you’ve called them first and asked for remote assistance, this is a scam!
Taking Advantage of a Nervous Public
Telephone tech scam incidents have been on the rise recently. A big part of this current flood of attacks can be traced back to last May and the WannaCry ransomeware attack (you can read everything you need to know about WannaCry and protecting your PC from ransomware).
WannaCry made headlines globally. The consequences of losing access to a computer altogether and having to pay big bucks to get it back shocked many people. Subsequent high profile ransomware attacks have continued to make people nervous.
This apprehension and the public warnings to make sure your PC is protected haven’t been lost on cybercriminals. They are opportunists. They’re using the fear created by WannaCry to pose as legitimate tech support specialists, calling their victims directly and claiming they’ve detected a virus on their computer from a remote scan. Or, offering to scan their PC for viruses and malware as a free service.
The Consequences of Being Victimized by a Telephone Tech Scam
Cybercriminals want access to your computer for a variety of reasons, none of them good.
If they gain access to your PC, they can quickly grab critical personal information including credit card numbers. They could gain access to your online accounts, including banking. They could gain access to your e-mail and social media accounts. They could copy your digital photos, movies, and other personal files. Some cybercriminals also install software than runs in the background, using your PC and your internet bandwidth to attack other computers, sending spam and viruses, or constantly hammering websites in a denial of service attack.
The consequences to you are all bad.
They range from an immediate financial hit if they start starting buying things with your credit card or transferring money out of your online bank accounts. There could be personal safety and privacy issues—not to mention blackmail opportunities—if cybercriminals get their hands on your private information. There is the possibility your e-mail and social media accounts could be used to send misleading or offensive information to all your contacts. You could end up in a WannaCry situation, where the cybercriminals install ransomeware that encrypts your hard drive, effectively locking you out of your computer and all of your files until you pay a ransom fee.
Even in a best case scenario (if you could call it that), where your personal info isn’t hacked and your PC is instead used as part of a botnet to attack other computers, your internet bandwidth is going to take a hit and your PC will likely run sluggishly.
How the Scam Works
The goal of the telephone tech scam is to gain remote access to your PC. The cybercriminals will call you, and claim to be from Geek Squad, Microsoft or some other tech company that you trust. Playing on fears of WannaCry and other high profile malware, they try a variety of ploys:
- Claiming their system performed a remote scan of your PC and discovered a problem, or that your PC has been sending warning messages that it is infected to the company
- Offering to remotely install an official update that protects your PC from malware
- Asking if your PC performance seems slower, and implying that is being caused by a virus (which they can fix for you)
- Offering to remotely scan your PC to ensure you are virus-free
- Trying to sell you virus protection software that they will remotely install
- Directing you to a website where you can have have your PC scanned, or buy anti-virus software
It all sounds legitimate—the people making these calls are pros who can sound very convincing—but it never ends well for you.
One way or another, they will request remote access to your PC and once they have it, often flash fake warning screens that “prove” to you that your computer has been infected. You could be pressured to buy antivirus services (adding insult to injury), your personal information will be jeopardized and your PC will undoubtedly now be infected.
What to Do if a Scammer Calls You
I’m going to repeat this point, because it is key to this entire telephone tech scam: a legitimate tech support service—Geek Squad, Microsoft, Apple or anyone else—is not going to call you out of the blue. You call them if you need support.
If you receive one of these phone calls, consumer protection organizations including the Better Business Bureau and the CRTC agree on what you should do: hang up. Never give the caller remote access to your computer, and don’t engage them in a conversation—that just gives them more opportunity to persuade you. And they can be very good at that …
Concerned You’re a Victim of This Telephone Scam?
If you have that sinking feeling that you have been victimized by a telephone tech scam (or any other malware attack for that matter), you need to act quickly to minimize the potential damage.
- Change all of your online account names and passwords
- Change the administrator and individual account passwords on your PC (if you’re able to)
- Install antivirus software and run a full scan of your PC. Geek Squad offers free tools for Windows and Mac that can help you here, or you can purchase commercial packages like McAfee or Norton.
If you’re concerned that the situation may be worse than you can handle yourself, you can contact a Geek Squad online agent for assistance, or even bring your PC to your local Best Buy store for a hands-on assessment by a trained Geek Squad agent.
The ideal solution is to make sure your computer’s security software is always kept up to date, ensure you always have a full backup of your system and its files, and hang up if someone unexpectedly calls you, claiming to be offering computer support.