Local computer expert, businessman warns of tech support scams

Local computer expert, businessman warns of tech support scams

Local computer expert and business owner Keith Culotta of Computer Dimensions in Beaumont contacted The Examiner after reading our recent reports of scams affecting the community to express his concern about a tech support scheme.

According to Culotta, he gets calls about the scam “every day,” some precautionary and others from people who just paid for telephone “tech support” wondering whether or not they did the right thing.

“Some of these folks have been charged up to $500,” Culotta wrote of the victims of the tech support scam, recently warned of by the Federal Trade Commission.

April 6, the FTC released an alert on tech-support themed telephone scams. In these schemes, fraudulent callers claim to be from legitimate technical support organizations and offer to fix computer problems that don’t exist, the FTC reported. 

“Users should not give control of their computers to anyone who calls offering to ‘fix’ a problem,” warned the FTC alert.

Culotta explained the scam is usually initiated by a dialog box that appears on the computer screen after the user clicks some innocuous looking link.

“It will be difficult or impossible to get rid of the message saying your computer has been infected, or some kind of a serious problem has been detected,” said Culotta, and added that the message instructs the user to call the number on the screen. “This window appears to be from a major manufacturer like Apple, HP or Microsoft. When the user calls the support number, it initiates a support session that can last over an hour.”

The “tech” on the other end of the line, who is in reality a scammer working a con or phishing for info, eventually asks to remotely control the computer. They then demonstrate that the computer has a host of problems needing to be solved, an easy trick once they’re in control.

“It appears the ultimate goal is to get the customer to turn over their credit card information in order to pay for the services being performed,” Culotta related. “The remote tech probably also looks for any sensitive information conveniently laying around. A file on the Desktop named ‘My password list’ would definitely be a bonus find. Many customers also end up with adware, spyware, and other malware being installed during the session.

“This same trap can also sprung by a user calling a decoy number found after doing an Internet search for a legitimate manufacturer. Not all search results can be trusted.”

Culotta said he and others at Computer Dimensions tell callers who inquire about the scam the same thing.

“Several times a day, one of us here can be heard saying to a caller, ‘Don’t click the link. It’s a scam,’” said Culotta. “Sometimes we’ll have to tell a caller to get with their credit card company to reverse the charges. Some users that did reverse the charges later received a call from the scammers threatening some kind of action if they were not paid for their work.”

This call can be a difficult one for the victim, Culotta said, because they did see an hour’s worth of “work” being done.

“What is not apparent is that the problems they were being shown were manufactured by the scammer,” he cautioned. “The scammer will even display the computer’s normal, but cryptic looking system logs, and declare them evidence of infection.”

Microsoft warns, “Cybercriminals often use the names of well-known companies, like ours, in their scams. They think it will convince you to give them money or your personal information. … We do not send unsolicited e-mail messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information or fix your computer.

“If you receive an unsolicited e-mail message or phone call that purports to be from Microsoft and requests that you send personal information or click links, delete the message or hang up the phone.”

To avoid being a target, remember what Culotta says: “Don’t click the link. It’s a scam.”

To report scammers, contact the FTC or the BBB.

Stop scammers before they strike again

The Better Business Bureau’s “Scam Stopper” and “Scam Tracker” websites offer updated information on trending scams and provide targets and victims of cons a central hub where they can report fraudsters to stop them before they strike again.

BBB Dispute Resolution Director Jay Sheppard suggests people visit the Scam Stopper website to learn about popular scams in Texas and around the nation. The website has information on categories such as top scams, the science of scams, who gets scammed and more. The information could save readers from becoming victims. There is also a link to the Scam Tracker website where people can report fraud and attempted fraud. The Scam Tracker maps scam reports so users can see where fraud is most prevalent and what types of con games swindlers are running all around the country.

Visit the Scam Stopper website at www.bbb.org/council/bbb-scam-stopper/, or report a scam on Scam Tracker at www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us.

For more information, call the BBB at (409) 835-5348.