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In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Gabriella Samuels is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Margaret Danniher.

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Today, most of us have a laptop or computer, smart phone, smart watch, and/or tablet. Sometimes, if these devices stop working or need an update; and if we have trouble doing it ourselves, we go to tech support. But what happens when you seek tech support, but end up connecting to someone you think is tech support?

Tech support scams are one of the newer ways hackers are getting consumer data. How do they work? Hackers pretend to be well-known, legitimate companies (such as Microsoft or Apple), with real phone numbers and email addresses. In some instances, these fake tech support companies use pop-up ads, emails, and robocalls to trick consumers as well.

These fake tech support companies then may ask for access to your device. They will then ask for you to download a file to scan for malicious viruses or malware; but there was never an issue with your device to begin with. Now, with the file you downloaded from them, they have access to your device and any information or accounts connected to it.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “nationwide, in 2021, 23,903 people reported losing more than $347 million due to tech support scams which is a 137% increase in losses from the previous year.”

Things to remember if you suspect a fake tech support company:

  • Legitimate customer, security, or tech support companies will not contact you personally.
  • Be cautious of customer support numbers obtained via online searching. Never use numbers on “sponsored search results.
  • Confirm legitimacy of phone numbers on company website.
  • Do not give anyone remote access to devices or accounts.
  • Do not download or visit a website that an unknown person may direct you to.
  • Let unknown numbers go to voicemail and do not call them back.
  • Do not give unknown personal account information or personal information

If you become a victim of one of these scams make sure to run updated virus protection software on your device, change all passwords, contact your financial institutions, and file a police report.

With any online scam, always file a complaint to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov and the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov.