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This week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning about tech support scams that are conning people into giving away access to their financial accounts through remote desktop software. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the report is the bureau’s admission that the numbers are probably higher than what they reported.

Good to Know: Make sure you don’t fall prey to one of these Facebook Marketplace scams.

How the Tech Support Scam Works

The Boston Division of the FBI issued the warning about tech support scams, but it’s clear that people across the world should heed the warning and that it shouldn’t be confined to the New England region of the United States.

The bureau is seeing the scams evolve, with more people falling for them and more money being lost. In essence, that’s what the scammers are doing, warning people of fraud, but it’s really a scam using a scam.

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Image source: Unsplash

The hackers pose as tech company tech support reps and call, email, or text victims, offering to help with their compromised email or bank account, deal with a computer virus, or renew a software license. They convince victims to move funds to gain control over their computers, finances, or both.

Fictitious support sites are created, and victims are asked to wire or transfer their money out of their bank accounts or brokerage firms and into cryptocurrency exchanges – or even transfer their money to a crypto wallet to “safeguard” it.

The hackers are also asking victims to install free, remote desktop software that allows them to “monitor, manipulate, and perform actions” on the targeted computers. This includes opening cryptocurrency accounts that are used to liquidate the victims’ finances.

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Image source: Unsplash

“Cybercriminals are constantly coming up with new ways to rip off unsuspecting consumers, and this latest tactic has resulted in staggering losses. In some cases, we’ve seen victims lose their entire life savings, which is why we are urging everyone, especially our aging family members and friends, to heed this warning,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division.

“Anyone who is a victim of this type of intrusion should report the compromise to us to help prevent these predators from victimizing others and potentially from re-victimizing you.”

Staggering Scam Numbers

There still isn’t much that’s new with these scams – other than the numbers affected. The FBI says that in the last five years, there has been a steady increase in losses realized in a variety of tech support scams. In 2021, 23,903 people nationwide reported losing more than $347 million collectively to tech support scams. This is a 137 percent increase over the previous year – let that sink in – 137 percent.

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Sadly, nearly 60 percent of victims are over 60 years old. This age group has experienced 68 percent of the losses. In the Boston Division, 809 victims reported that they lost more than $7.5 million collectively, which is nearly a 50 percent increase over the previous year.

Astonishingly, the FBI believes the numbers behind the tech support scams are actually much higher, assuming that older people are less likely to report the fraud, as they don’t know how to report it, are embarrassed, or don’t even realize that they have been scammed.

Although, this isn’t solely a generational thing. Young adults are still prone to falling prey to Internet scams, too.

Three Scams, Three Losses

The FBI offered up three examples of the tech support scams. In the first, a Maine couple experienced a $1.1 million loss after acting on a pop-up alert. It warned that their computer had been breached. They were told to call someone who was posting as a Fidelity Investments rep and download software so that Microsoft and Fidelity could monitor the activity. They were told to wire their retirement account funds to Coinbase and take out a home equity loan for “safekeeping.” Once they did, not surprisingly, they lost contact with the scammers.

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Image source: Unsplash

Around $1 million was lost by a New Hampshire woman who received a pop-up alert explaining she’d been hacked. She called a support number and was advised that her bank accounts had been compromised, and child porn was downloaded to her computer. She was asked to download remote desktop software to help and buy gift cards so that the money could be converted to bitcoin to protect her assets. Next, she was advised to empty the rest of her retirement account and deposit it into bitcoin machines.

A Rhode Island woman lost considerably less, only $200,000, after receiving a pop-up alert that said her iPad was compromised. She was told to download a remote desktop app and that her ID was used to buy child porn. She was transferred to a “Fidelity” rep and told not to divulge that child porn was found on her computer so that it wouldn’t be tied to her social security account. The woman was further told that “Fidelity” would send her money to a fake account to prevent additional fraud and that the money would be returned to her within 48 hours.

If you believe that you have been hit with a tech support scam or any other scam, follow this list of four things you should do immediately.

Image credit: Unsplash

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