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Tech Support Scams Harm Elderly Americans

| Oct 29, 2020 | Other |

Elderly Americans remain the most vulnerable population to being victimized by scams. This excellent short article from CNBC takes you through a few of the most common scams and briefly explains how and why they happen: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/05/how-to-protect-your-info-during-upswing-in-fraud-that-targets-seniors.html

The top ten most common scams targeting seniors today are: Medicare or health insurance scams; counterfeit prescription drugs; funeral or cemetery scams; fraudulent anti-aging products; telemarking or phone scams; Internet fraud; investment schemes; homeowner or mortgage scams; sweepstakes and lottery scams; and “grandparent” scams [list from the National Council On Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/].

Many of these scams occur over the phone or via the regular mail, by way of flyers and paper marketing pieces that ask for a subscription or for the victim to call a number. However, under Internet fraud is the tech support scam, a scheme that is most frequently abusive to the elderly.

The way this scam works is a combination of fear tactics, a lack of understanding of technology, and trust placed in big-name companies to be legitimate. The scammers rely on a pop-up or message appearing on the victim’s computer with a warning and a number to call. This message leads the user to think there is a virus or other problem with the device. If the victim is not aware of the nature of the scam, they may call the number given in the message, thinking they are contacting a legitimate tech support agent for Microsoft, Apple, Google, or other service.

However, the number actually takes them to a fraudulent tech support person who is imitating another company. They request the user allow them to have remote access to the computer – and once that access is granted, the fraudulent agent can do what they please. They may do a couple of things to make it appear like they’re running diagnostics on the device to discover the “problem,” which may or may not actually exist. But in the background, they could be running other programs to mine data or ensure continued access to the device and the unsuspecting user may not know. Then, once they have convinced the victim that they are legitimate and the problem needs more time to resolve, they could ask for a service fee to “fix” the issue or sign the victim up for a service contract that never does anything.

The Federal Trade Commission says this is about more than money, though: “But money isn’t the only thing people lose on this scam. By allowing scammers remote access to their computer, people hand over control. Scammers can then readily steal sensitive information or install spyware – a form of malware that lets them quietly gather information. People have even been persuaded to log into their bank accounts, often on the pretext of depositing a refund, allowing the scammer to move funds remotely.”[1]

There are a couple of ways you can avoid the scam yourself and help your senior relatives do the same. First, educate yourself and them on what you should do if there’s a real problem with your computer, as well as what to do if a warning message like this ever pops up on your computer. Second, never call the number listed on the warning, and never respond to an unsolicited phone call claiming to be from a big-name brand warning of a problem with your device. These companies are aware of the scam and will not call you in this manner. If you do take your computer in for tech support, such as to the Apple Store or to a Microsoft authorized repair center, they will inform you of how they will communicate with you about your repair. If you do receive an unsolicited phone call and are uncertain, verify the number yourself by looking up the legitimate customer service line for your service (typically listed on their brand’s websites) and calling that number to confirm.

The FTC also recommends (as listed on their website, linked below):

  • Hang up on unexpected calls from anyone who claims to be tech support.
  • Don’t believe your caller ID – it can be easily spoofed.
  • Never give control of your computer or share passwords with anyone who contacts you.
  • Keep your security software up to date.
  • If you need help, contact a computer technician that you trust. Don’t just rely on an online search.

Many seniors, especially those who are age 80 and above, are more uncomfortable than younger adults in understanding and operating technology, and are more likely to become a victim of scams like this one.

[1] https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/data-spotlight/2019/03/older-adults-hardest-hit-tech-support-scams