INDIANAPOLIS — A south side woman is warning fellow Hoosiers after she lost hundreds of dollars to a growing scam targeting computers in Central Indiana.
Paula Ground, a disabled senior, works from home to make ends meet.
So, when she got a pop-up message on her computer saying Microsoft locked her computer due to malware and spyware, she was worried.
"I was panicked because I was supposed to be working, so I was just like ‘let's get this taken care of so I can work,'" Ground said.
Ground called the number on her computer screen, and tech support told her they could remove the malware for $399.99.
“They told me they were giving me a discount because I’m a senior,” Ground said.
Ground quickly learned it was a tech support scam, which is where the scammers pose as a popular computer company’s tech support to try to get into your computer and empty your bank account.
"I went to the bank and said you gave them your bank account information, we can't do anything," Ground said.
Microsoft is the fifth most impersonated organization in the country, according to the BBB, with government agencies, Publishers Clearing House and the BBB among the top impersonated.
It’s such an issue, they have their own digital crimes unit that tracks down the cyber-criminals and works with law enforcement to shut them down.
The Better Business Bureau serving Central Indiana says the scam works because the pop-up messages look so authentic.
"They will use a Microsoft logo, the Apple logo, and it looks real,” Tim Maniscalo, CEO of BBB Serving Central Indiana said. “You might think, in this day and age you never know who is watching, maybe something is wrong with my computer— and that's what they're betting on."
Call 6 Investigates tried calling the “tech support” number and a man we could barely understand told us Paula Ground’s refund was on the way.
Ground isn’t holding her breath for her $399.99 refund, because many of these scams originate overseas.
Thankfully, a rehab center is helping her get a new computer.
"I feel really gullible and stupid that I fell for it,” Ground said. “I know I'm not stupid but it feels that way."
Ground wishes she had just ignored the message or restarted her computer.
She hopes by sharing her story it will save others from falling victim.
"I just want people to know it's happening and not to fall for it," Ground said.
Tips to protect yourself:
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you know it is the representative of a computer support team you contacted.
- Legitimate tech support companies don’t call out of the blue. A popular way for thieves to get in touch with victims is through cold calls. The callers often claim to be from a tech company. But remember, scammers can spoof official looking phone numbers, so don’t trust your Caller ID.
- Look out for warning screens: Nearly half of tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim’s computer screen. This pop-up will have a phone number to call for help. Instead of calling, shutdown your computer and restart it.
- Be wary of sponsored links. When you search online for tech support, look out for sponsored ads at the top of the results list. Many of these links lead to businesses that scam consumers.
- Don’t click on links in unfamiliar emails. Scammers also use email to reach victims. These messages point consumers to scam websites that launch pop-ups with the fake warnings and phone numbers.
If you are a victim of a tech support scam:
- Contact your bank immediately.
- Take your computer to a trusted local business and have it checked out.
- Remove any software that authorized remote access to your computer.
- Change the passwords you use to access your bank and other sensitive sites.
- File a report with BBB Scam Tracker and with law enforcement authorities, such as the FTC.
Microsoft’s tips to protect against tech support scams
· Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer.
· Any communication with Microsoft has to be initiated by you.
· If a notification appears with a phone number, don’t call the number. Error and warning messages from Microsoft never include a phone number.
· Download software only from official Microsoft partner websites or the Microsoft Store. Be wary of downloading software from third-party sites, as some of them might have been modified without the author’s knowledge to bundle support scam malware and other threats.
· Use Microsoft Edge when browsing the internet. It blocks known support scam sites using Windows Defender SmartScreen (which is also used by Internet Explorer). Furthermore, Microsoft Edge can stop pop-up dialog loops used by these sites.
· Turn on Windows Security real-time antivirus protection in Windows 10. It detects and removes known support scam malware.
· Microsoft technical support will never ask that you pay for support in the form of Bitcoin or gift cards.
Tips from the Federal Trade Commission:
If You Get a Call or Pop-Up
- If you get an unexpected or urgent call from someone who claims to be tech support, hang up. It’s not a real call. And don’t rely on caller ID to prove who a caller is. Criminals can make caller ID seem like they’re calling from a legitimate company or a local number.
- If you get a pop-up message that tells you to call tech support, ignore it. There are legitimate pop-ups from your security software to do things like update your operating system. But do not call a number that pops up on your screen in a warning about a computer problem.
- If you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly – but don’t use the phone number in the pop-up or on caller ID. Instead, look for the company’s contact information online, or on a software package or your receipt.
- Never share passwords or give control of your computer to anyone who contacts you.
If You Were Scammed:
- Get rid of malware. Update or download legitimate security software and scan your computer. Delete anything the software says is a problem.
- Change any passwords that you shared with someone. Change the passwords on every account that uses passwords you shared.
- If you paid for bogus services with a credit card, call your credit card company and ask to reverse the charges. Check your statements for any charges you didn’t make, and ask to reverse those, too. Report it to ftc.gov/complaint.