Ninety year old widow, Phyllis Weisberg, never thought she’d be a victim of a tech support scam. Phyllis thought she was receiving help, but instead was defrauded of $20,000 when cybercriminals withdrew the money from her bank account. As it is common in these types of scams, Phyllis has not been able to recover her money, so she is now trying to help warn others.
Tech support scams are fraudulent activities that prey on unwitting victims by using scare and high-pressure tactics. Through phone calls, pop-ups, texts, or emails, a scammer pretends to offer technical support services and tries to fool victims into paying for fake services or providing remote access to their computer. Scammers often pose as representatives from a recognised organization (financial institutions, utility companies, technology providers, or virtual currency exchanges), offering to resolve issues related to a compromised email or bank account, a virus on a computer, or even a software license renewal.
In the last year, tech support scams have been on the rise. In the US, Avast observed that attacks targeting consumers have increased by 251% when comparing December 2021 (4.95% risk ratio) to January 2021 (1.41%). According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)’s 2020 report, 66% of victims are over 60 years of age, and they represent 84% of the losses, for a total of over $116 million.
“They warned me not to discuss the issue on the telephone with anyone, because these bad guys could hear all my conversations. They sent me an address and asked me to send a wire with money. I went to the branch closer to home. A very young fellow asked me the questions the scammers told me he would ask and I responded in the way they asked me to. I had all the answers programmed for me,” Phyllis said. “My first reaction was total embarrassment that I would do anything that stupid. It took me quite a while to realize I wasn’t the only one who was being taken advantage of. All I can do now is warn others and just hope that this will at least help one other person avoid going through this,” she continued.
“Tech support fraud is increasingly common and targets some of the most vulnerable individuals. Scams are about psychological manipulation and a key piece of this is getting people into an isolated reality which gives the attacker greater opportunities of control. We are talking about professional scammers. They go in day after day and do nothing but tech support scams,” said Emma McGowan, Privacy and Security Expert at Avast.
What to do if you think you’re being scammed
- Stop everything right away, hang up, shut down your computer
- Call someone you trust right away
- If you’ve given payment information, call the financial institution right away
- Get technical help from legitimate companies that you verify
- Contact your local police and file a complaint with the FBI
“Above all, people should remember that whether it’s a phone call or a website, legitimate tech support won’t ever proactively seek them out to fix an issue. If in doubt, don’t engage, give access to your devices, or share any personal information. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t hesitate to be vocal. Protect yourself and learn how to report financial fraud if you suspect you’re a victim,” explained McGowan.
Empowering older adults to feel safe and confident online
Avast has partnered with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) to help empower older adults on how to make the most of the Internet safely and protect their personal cyber security. Together they developed educational content to make privacy and security easy and simple for people of all ages, including articles, guides, webinars and videos on topics such as phishing scams, strong passwords, sweetheart scams, digital health and tech support scams.
“Last year, Avast carried out a comprehensive study with YouGov which found out that 82% of people aged over 65 in the US have received a phone call from someone who was trying to scam them and 37% are quite or very afraid of getting scammed online. 78% have held back from doing something online, because of concerns about their online security and/or privacy, and 28% do not feel like they understand how to protect themselves from online threats. It is imperative that we provide knowledge and tools for older adults to feel safe and confident online,” added Emma McGowan.
“There are simple steps older adults can take to be safe online,” said Ramsey Alwin, President and CEO of the National Council on Aging. “Through our partnership with Avast, we are empowering older adults with trusted information on everything from how to avoid sweetheart scams to how to identify phishing and keep their passwords safe.”
Avast (LSE:AVST), a FTSE 100 company, is a global leader in digital security and privacy, headquartered in Prague, Czech Republic. With over 435 million users online, Avast offers products under the Avast and AVG brands that protect people from threats on the internet and the evolving IoT threat landscape. Avast digital security products for Mobile, PC or Mac are top-ranked and certified by VB100, AV-Comparatives, AV-Test, SE Labs and others. Visit: www.avast.com.
About the YouGov Research:
Avast ran a survey among 16,147 online users in 17 countries around the world. The survey was commissioned to research institutions YouGov and Forsa and run as a representative survey among over 1,000 people in each region, apart from Austria and Switzerland, where Forsa surveyed over 500 people each.