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Beware of tech-support scams, warn state, feds

To a computer, poetry or simple sentences can be just as hard to crack as a complicated password. Even better: People are less likely to forget them.
To a computer, poetry or simple sentences can be just as hard to crack as a complicated password. Even better: People are less likely to forget them. AP

It’s the kind of scam that seems aimed at the less tech-savvy among us.

It’s the computer “tech support scam,” and it’s becoming increasingly common, authorities say.

It works like this: The scammers contact you via phone or email claiming to be technicians with companies such as Apple or Microsoft, or send “pop-up” messages telling you that your computer has a virus or other issue they offer to fix.

They may ask for remote access to your computer or try to sell you software you don’t need. They may offer free “security scans” or direct you to fake websites.

Here are other tactics they may try, says the Federal Trade Commission:

  • They may use lots of computer jargon to sound authoritative.
  • They may try to trick you into using malware that gives them access to your computer files.
  • They may ask you to enroll in a computer maintenance program.
  • They may try to get your credit card information to bill you for worthless services.
  • They may direct you to a website that requires you to provide credit card or other personal data.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said his Consumer Interest Division has been getting “an increasing number of reports of these fraudulent attempts,” so consumers need to be alert.

“Arming consumers with knowledge is the best way to stop this crime, which uses high pressure fear tactics to induce panic in victims,” Marshall said in a news release Wednesday.

He recommended residents consider these tips from the FTC:

  • Hang up if you get an “urgent” call from someone claiming to be tech support, and don’t rely on caller ID. Criminals on caller ID can disguise themselves to look like a legitimate company.
  • Ignore pop-up messages telling you to call tech support. Legitimate security software pop-ups may advise you to update an operating system, but they don’t tell you to call a telephone number.
  • If you believe you have a computer problem, call your software company or other tech support yourself, using contact information from the company or from documents you got with the computer. Never call a number from a pop-up or possibly fake caller ID.
  • Never give away passwords or cede control of your computer to a stranger who calls or emails.
  • Regularly scan for malware using a trusted software tool.
  • Anytime you have to share a password, change it afterward.
  • If you discover you bought fake services with a credit card, call the credit card company and see if you can stop any payment. Report the scam to ftc.gov/complaint.

Consumers can contact the FTC at 1-877-382-4357, or call the Alabama Attorney General’s office at 1-800-392-5658.

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