Thanks to a heads-up from a savvy consumer who recognized it as a scam, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin is warning Rhode Islanders about a resurgence of the "tech support scam."
In this recent twist on a persistent scam, consumers have been receiving unsolicited phone calls from individuals claiming to be from technical support of a virus protection software company. The scam then works like this: the caller claims the consumer's computer virus protection software is outdated or that their computer has "corrupt files" and needs to be fixed. The caller convinces the consumer to provide remote access to their computer and walks them through a series of steps to allegedly correct the computer issue; however, the scam artist is actually installing malware or other software to allow them to remotely control the consumer's computer. The scam artist then tries to charge the consumer an exorbitant fee to "fix" the computer.
In some cases, the caller even gave consumers a legitimate-looking number to call back that was associated with a company called "PC Technozone Services." Claiming the technical problem was fixed, the scam artist sent an agreement contract that asked for credit card information. When the consumer questioned the payment, the caller locked the consumer's computer and refused to unlock it unless payment was made.
"Many consumers have virus protection software installed on their computers, and that software does need to be updated periodically to protect against the latest viruses. Fake antivirus software is one of the more persistent Internet threats, because these scam artists prey upon a reasonable concern of consumers – making sure the information on their computer is secure. But these scam artists aren't trying to help you protect your computer, they're trying to pick your pocket," said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. "It is important for consumers to remember: if you get an unsolicited phone call asking for your credit card or other personal information, be very wary. The best thing to do is just hang up."
Attorney General Kilmartin suggests the following tips to protect from these telephone tech support scams:
• Do not purchase any unsolicited software or services. If you're concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly and ask for help.
• Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
• Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the "service." If there is, hang up.
• Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
• Never give your password on the phone. No legitimate organization will call you and ask for your password.
• Do not rely on caller ID to authenticate a caller, as criminals may "spoof" caller ID numbers. They may appear to be calling from a legitimate company or a local number, when they're not even in the same country as you.
• Take the caller's information down and immediately report it to the Consumer Protection Unit at the Office of Attorney General at 401-274-4400 (Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) or email at email@example.com.
About the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit
The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning unfair and unlawful business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If groups of people are victimized by a deceptive trade practice, this office may file in the Superior Court a civil investigative demand, which is a formal investigation. In appropriate cases, a lawsuit to stop the illegal business practice may be initiated.
Apart from carrying out its statutory responsibilities, the Unit also provides information and referral services to the general public. Consumers are directed to the appropriate governmental or private agencies for help in answering specialized questions or resolving disputes that are not within the Unit's jurisdiction.
The Consumer Protection Unit is available to speak to community groups on how to prevent being a victim of identity theft and other scams. For more information, please visit www.riag.ri.gov or call (401) 274-4400.