Microsoft has said that roughly 3.3 million Americans will fall victim to PC support scams in 2015. Such scams typically involve a victim being "cold called" by someone who claims to work for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, or another tech giant, often telling them their PC is riddled with viruses.
Those that fall for the scam usually have to pay a few hundred dollars to fix one or more bogus issues on their PC. By the end of 2015, more than $1.5bn (£1bn) will have been stolen by gangs behind this type of con, Microsoft predicted.
Courtney Gregoire, a senior lawyer in Microsoft's digital crimes unit, said in a blog post: "We have seen a huge spike in these tech support scams," adding that, "by granting remote access to your computer from a fraudster, you are putting your personal information at risk."
Microsoft claims that since May 2014, they have received over 175,000 customer complaints regarding fraudulent tech support scams; as a result Microsoft struck back at scammers last year with a civil lawsuit in federal court and is now working closer with AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.
Microsoft is currently hosting more than 300 members of the AARP at its Redmond campus for a revealing discussion on how con artists work. Led by Frank Abagnale, AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Ambassador - and identity theft expert famously portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Hollywood movie Catch Me If You Can - the presentations will arm attendees with the knowledge and information to spot a scam in its tracks.
But the most important tool to stop scammers in their tracks ultimately, is you. Microsoft points out in the blog post a few things to consider when being "cold-called".
- Do not purchase any software or services.
- Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the “service.” If there is, hang up.
- Do not 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.
- Take the caller’s information down and immediately report it to your local authorities.
- Do not provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support.
Finally, the post also points out that "Microsoft, and other trusted partners, do not cold call you and ask for remote access or for your credit card or payment information," and that, unfortunately, older people are often the target for scammers because they are not tech-savvy.
If you have a family member or friend that you think might fall for a PC scam con artist, maybe it's a good time to warn them about the dangers they pose.