By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Could your elderly grandma be the victim of tech support scams? According to the Federal Trade Commission, she very well could be.
The FTC just issued a fine of $7.5 million against Parmiit Singh Brar, a known tech support scammer, for taking advantage of U.S. citizens—specifically targeting the elderly. Though he will only pay about $136k, he has been banned from offering tech services for life.
Tech support scams
So what did Brar do? He worked with two companies: Avangatee Services and Genius Technologies. The scam started in September 2015, and it continued until he was finally caught just recently.
Brar was taking huge sums of money from people, mostly the elderly, for things like “internet repair,” “computer security,” and “computer support.” Some of these people paid tens of thousands of dollars. The victims remain unnamed, but many were paying upwards of $25,000.
Have any of your loved ones been paying to fix a seemingly excessive number of computer issues? If so, it’s possible it was all a scam.
Brar’s case came to light when a few caregivers or relatives of the victims noted that they were missing money. For instance, in March 2017, a Michigan police officer contacted Brar and demanded $29,998 for a customer who had become a victim of his scam.
How tech support scams work
The scam worked like this: A telemarketer would contact a victim either via an internet pop-up or phone call. They would make up a story about how the victim’s computer was broken or in trouble, and then the victim, now worried, would pay to fix the problem.
Most of the time, the telemarketers would say that they were from a well-known company, so the victims believed that they could be trusted. The telemarketer would then attempt to gain access to the victim’s computer and look for personal data. If the victims seem like they might be gullible, they would receive further calls. More technical problems were invented, and more cash would be paid out.
In total, it is believed that these scammers took millions of dollars from the victims. Brar was the U.S. contact point for arranging the payments.
The FTC on tech support scams
The FTC has been focused on tech support scams like these for years, especially the ones that target older people—those who are more susceptible to the cons. Since 2013, there have been more than 500 cases. One such victim was Judy Smith of Oklahoma. She paid for someone to install a security product and update her computer’s software.
“They came into my computer, they downloaded it, and said if you ever need any help, just call us,” Smith said.
But when she tried to later pay her bills online, the bank blocked her from using their site.
“They wouldn’t let me because I had bad things in my computer that I thought were safe,” Smith continued.
The IT expert was actually part of the many tech support scams. He installed malicious programs that could remotely access her computer. These key-loggers recorded everything she did online, everything she typed, and then sent that info back to the scammers so they could determine relevant ways to scam her again.
So are the FTC’s efforts to prevent tech support scams actually working?
On one hand, the FTC is now going after these companies, but not many have been charged with criminal penalties as most are located abroad. Until more scammers end up in prison, the FTC’s efforts probably aren’t much of a deterrent.
How to protect yourself against tech support scams
Any time a popup appears or the phone rings and there’s an urgent message regarding a virus, update, repair—or really any pressing issue—think it through before you click a link, make a phone call, or give up any data. Don’t just trust someone because they say they’re from Apple, Microsoft, or another major company.
Tell your loved ones, especially those who are most likely to fall for such tech support scams, and inform them as what to look out for. Be wary of other scams that regularly trip unsuspecting citizens up. And make sure you use Hotspot Shield on both your mobile and desktop device to keep your private data secure.