When good geeks go bad. In the guise of being the ‘good guys’ tech support scammers are preying on the old and unsuspecting like the proverbial wolf pack.
A typical ‘tech support scam’ plays out something like this. You are blissfully grazing on the Web when suddenly literal alarm bells start ringing. Suddenly a series of pop up messages appear on your screen warning that your computer has been affected by a myriad of viruses. The call to action is plain. Urgently call Microsoft (or another tech supplier) and the problem will disappear.
Tech support scammers prey on people’s fears of being hacked. In a world of phishers, scammers, and other predators this is a bona fide concern. Which makes the trickery of the tech support scammers even more insidious.
Feeding the Fear
As well as persuading their victims into paying for computer repairs that they do not actually need, scammers add insult to injury tricking the victim into helping them hack their computer.
A common tactic is to make a popup appear on the victim’s computer which displays a fake computer virus warning, urging the victim to call a telephone number to get technical support to fix the ‘problem’. The scammers will often pretend to be from Microsoft, Spark, Vodafone, or other recognisable IT companies and use their logos in the message to make the victim trust them.
Once the victim calls the fake ‘helpline’, the scammers usually try to trick them into installing software that will enable remote control of the victim’s computer. They tell the victim they need this installed to potentially remedy the ‘problem’ only to then have this open hacking entrance well and truly opened.
As well as losing money and having their privacy invaded, many of the victims are subjected to severe verbal abuse by these scammers.
Targeting older people
Statistics from around the world show that tech support scams are the type of cybercrime most reported by older people. There have, however, been numerous cases of younger people becoming victims of tech support scammers. Meaning anyone and everyone needs to be cautious. Older people who are not necessarily fully computer literate make the easiest prey, so they are the ones that need being looked after by family, friends and whanau.
When geeks get loose
Like most cybercriminals, tech support scammers are trying to steal money. However, as well as causing immediate financial losses, some tech support scammers will use remote access software to install spyware on the victim’s computer. Mainly with the goal of stealing all their personal information. This can lead to far worse consequences for the victim as the scammers can use the personal information to perform identity theft. The worse situation is them taking out lines of credit under the victim’s name and causing long term financial consequences. In addition to causing financial losses, the scammers often become so abusive and cruel that they cause emotional distress or even a state of clinical shock in their victims.
Are tech support scammers all lacking in manners?
No, there are many kinds of scammers. Some scammers with more advanced IT skills will politely chat with the victim, covertly hack their computer, and use software to secretly steal banking credentials. In this case, the victim may never know exactly how they were hacked, only discovering the crime when they are contacted by their bank or the police.
However, scammers with weaker technical (and even social) skills tend to use more bullying tactics to trick their victims into performing actions like installing malware (malicious software), surrendering bank details, authorising credit card payments, or buying gift cards.
This bullying will typically be aimed at undermining the victim’s confidence and making them feel stupid. The reason for this abusive treatment is that the scammers are trying to cause an emotional response that will prevent the victim from thinking clearly.
Even those who normally are alert and vigilant can let their guard down. Particularly if they believe they are talking to someone from a reputable company such as Microsoft. Pride may mean the target does not want to appear stupid by not following instructions.