The Twelve Frauds of Christmas – Tech Support Fraud

Liv Lake

When things go awry with your home PC or printer, people often turn to support hotlines, online forms, and various other modes of communication to share their issues with tech support companies in hopes of getting them resolved quickly. According to data from Zippia – The Career Expert, there are over 245,335 technical support representatives currently employed in the United States. It’s a booming industry! Unfortunately, too often, convenience and speed to resolution are the driving factors for consumers, and they do not take the time to make sure that they are dealing with a legitimate tech support company

As a result, scammers have taken advantage of this and created fraudulent support methods in order to gain access to the data the users are intending to share with the companies. This type of scam can be initiated through emails, texts, calls, or posts containing links or other information attempting to gather their victims’ data. Once that data is given up, the scam is complete, frequently with the victim initially being unaware of what has happened.

According to data from the FBI, in 2021, 23,903 people reported losing more than $347 million dollars due to tech support scams, which is a 137% increase in losses from the prior year. Support fraud often targets the elderly, as they can be especially vulnerable when it comes to fraud stemming from technology issues as they may feel less confident of their technical skills

Graph from Statista

It’s also important to note that when considering this data, many victims of this fraud do not report it as they do not realize they’ve been scammed, don’t understand how to report, or are humiliated and would rather not go to the proper authorities. The actual number of victims is presumed to be much higher.  

A classic form of support fraud is virus/phone call scenarios. Pop up ads claiming that viruses have been identified on your computer and then routing you to these tech support scammers are a very common practice. These scammers will often impersonate well known technology companies in order to further the scam and gain the trust of their victim. They might ask for social security information, bank information, or even passwords to various accounts you own.

Pop Up Claiming that your PC is infected

Another example is scammers posting their “support links” in various social media support groups online. Oftentimes these groups are created specifically for those dealing with real tech issues seeking out advice. Scammers comment these links under the guise of being helpful, when they ultimately are seeking their victims out in these groups. This newer version of tech support scam is often coupled with crypto currency, whether that be scamming to gain the victim’s cryptocurrency accounts, or attempting to get payment from them through cryptocurrency itself. 

Scammers posting in Support Groups

In cases of social media support links similar to the one above, it will redirect you to a page where you are directed to fill in your information. It is important to note that things like Google Docs forms will NOT be used for customer service purposes, especially for the large companies they are often attempting to impersonate. This should immediately be a red flag for the consumer.

A growing trend linked to Tech Support Scams is technology refunds.  In these cases, an email claims that a technology company is about to charge your credit card for services from Microsoft, Geek Squad, PayPal, Coinbase, Amazon, or other companies.  A telephone number is provided for you to call to dispute the charge, which leads to the same scammers who run other Tech Support Scams.  DarkTower did a recent deep dive on this type of fraud – please see “Remote Control Phishing By Telephone” for more information!

One might be asking, how can I protect myself from these fraudsters impersonating tech support?  The most important thing to do is become educated on how these people operate their scams. Being able to recognize the steps, verbiage, and methods being used are the absolute best ways to protect yourself. As with most fraudulent internet postings, examining the color/size of the company logo the support group is claiming to represent, examining the verbiage and grammar of the communication, as well as the overall method of distribution are key factors to note when determining if something is fraudulent. Following the company’s official website’s guide to support is ultimately the best way to get the help you need, while keeping yourself safe. Always type the URL in your browser instead of clicking an emailed link.