“Click the Link” Online Scams

Image with a keyboard and the word LINKS

Phones and computers are a huge part of our daily life and have become a common target for fraud. Have you been browsing online or shopping when, all of a sudden, you get a pop-up claiming that your device was hacked? Has someone ever called you from a well-known company saying they found a problem with your computer? These may have been part of what is called a “Tech Support Scam”.

Who should be on the lookout for Tech Support Scams?

There is a stereotype out there that these scams focus on the elderly, but in truth anyone with a computer can be targeted. Everyone needs to be familiar with what these look like in order to protect themselves.

So how do these scams usually play out?

Typically, a pop-up will show up on a website you are visiting that will say something like “Your computer is infected with (7) viruses!” The pop-up will include instructions, often telling you not to shut down your computer or close your browser. Sometimes they will include a phone number to call tech support or a link you can click to run a protection software. The pop-up will tell you what information is at risk, such as credit card numbers and other private data.

If you call the phone number provided, a tech support specialist might ask you to grant remote access of your PC. Once you do so, they will often lock down some of the computer’s functions and claim they need you to pay a service fee for them to reinstate those functions. Victims of these scams often state that this is the point they realized something was wrong, but some don’t notice the red flag and pay the scammers. At this point, the person you are on the phone with has had access to your computer and its sensitive data for several minutes.

These scams use realistic and frightening situations to trick you. Devices can actually be compromised, and that can make it hard to separate the legitimate claims from the fraudulent ones. So how can you protect yourself?

First, slow down. – If you come across a concerning pop-up online, take the time to think before acting. Scammers will try to use fear and urgency to manipulate you into doing what they want, and by rushing you they hope to take away your ability to think critically. If you feel rushed, that’s a good sign that you should slow down. You can always reach out to PSCU for advice if something seems fishy.

Do your own research. – It’s important not to assume that you can tell what’s legitimate at first glance. Scammers get more and more sophisticated every day and can make their handiwork look more professional than ever. Take a moment to look up your own information before trusting what the pop-up says. If the source claims to be Microsoft or Apple, look up those companies’ contact information yourself instead of using what is listed by the pop-up.

Don’t click. Don’t call. Don’t pay. – Most of these scams can’t do anything unless they trick you into taking action. If you see a pop-up or email saying you need to click a link to fix the problem, do not click that link. If it gives you a tech support phone number, do not call that number. The phone number is provided to make you think, “They gave me tech support’s number and tech support answered. This sounds real to me.” Do not fall for this. Above all, do not give anyone access to your computer, do not give them any personal information, and do not pay them anything.

Report it. – Let us know if someone has tried to scam you this way so that we can ask some questions about any information exchanged and assess what kind of risk you might be in. If the scammer succeeded in getting some of your personal information, we may need to take steps with your account to ensure it stays secure. Also, reach out to any other financial institutions you bank with. It is a good idea to consult a real tech specialist after this happens as well to make sure your computer hasn’t been compromised.

Finally, you can report this activity to the Federal Trade Commission to assist them in their investigations of these crimes. https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/

The FTC also has a lot of helpful information on their website to help you spot these and other common scams.


-Article by Robbie Boswell, Branch Manger Public Service Credit Union