The Times West Virginian

September 22, 2013

Computer tech-support scam circulates around country

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — As a computer tech-support scam circulates around the state and country, consumers should be careful and alert.

The Better Business Bureau of Canton Regional and Greater West Virginia provides educational kits and information to both consumers and businesses on a variety of different scams.

The Better Business Bureau is a nationwide organization with approximately 113 divisions across the country. The local division services 52 of West Virginia’s 55 counties and 12 counties in Ohio, and has office locations in Charleston and Canton, Ohio.

The entity reports on businesses and charities, and helps consumers and businesses settle disputes. Companies can join the Better Business Bureau and get accreditation through the organization.

The agency rates businesses from A-plus to F based on their history with the Better Business Bureau, including the number of complaints filed against the company, how it has responded to complaints and other factors.

“This scam has kind of been going on for the past few months,” Amanda Tietze, vice president of the West Virginia division and public relations, said of the tech-support scam. “It’s been circulating across the country.”

She said the local division found out about this scam from other Better Business Bureaus across the country that had been informed by consumers.

After receiving numerous telephone calls from people in the state about the same situation in June or July, the West Virginia division distributed a press release. Recently, the division has been hearing from numerous individuals about the scam circulating locally again and has been working to warn the public, Tietze said.

These callers claim to be tech-support employees with well-known software companies, oftentimes using the name of Microsoft, and tell the consumer that they are receiving error messages showing that the person’s computer has a virus, she said.

The scammers say that only a tech-support employee can remove the virus, but they need the individual to grant permission for them to access the machine.

Tietze said once the consumer authorizes this action, by logging onto a website so the caller can control the computer, the crook runs a scan of all the files and points out a particular virus that has been found. In order for the virus to be removed, the person has to pay a fee.

This news creates alarm and panic with the consumer, who may believe this is the only person who can remove the virus and feels he has no choice but to pay the money. So the person provides his credit card information, when there was actually no virus from the start.

“It actually does not fix their computer,” Tietze said. “The tech-support person is actually putting a virus on the person’s computer instead.”

She said the past 12 months has been the first time the Better Business Bureau of Canton Regional and Greater West Virginia has seen this particular scam. But there are always scams that are very similar in nature, involving a crook pretending to be someone else and asking for personal information, but with different twists.

Tietze explained that Microsoft doesn’t monitor individual computers or the associated software, and the company will not call a person to say it has detected a virus. If a customer knows there is an issue, he should contact Microsoft.

“You should not release control of your computer to an unknown source,” Tietze said.

The only time consumers should grant this permission is if they have hired their own personal computer technician to look at the problems.

“Also, as with other scams, you should never give out your personal account or credit card information to any unknown individuals that contact you through the phone,” she said.

While Tietze isn’t aware of people in the state who have become victims of the tech-support scam, individuals across the country have allowed the so-called computer technicians to acess their computers and reported those problems.

After taking the machine to a real technician, the consumer found out that software had in fact been installed on the computer.

If persons receive strange calls from random people asking for personal information, they should gather the name and contact information of the caller if possible. This data is helpful to the Better Business Bureau and other authorities that are trying to track where these scams are generating, Tietze said.

She encouraged any individuals who are suspicious about any offers or phone calls to contact the Better Business Bureau, which is typically aware of the scams that are circulating.

The West Virginia Office of the Attorney General recommends that consumers don’t give out their personal information over the phone or the Internet. If a person realizes that he has been scammed, he should change the passwords on his computer, email and other online accounts, and be sure to run a virus scan.

In addition, the victim should keep a close eye on his credit report to see if there are any signs of identify theft. He can also fill out a complaint form and send it to the Attorney General’s Office, which will forward the information to the Federal Trade Commission.

For more information or for assistance, contact the Better Business Bureau at 1-866-228-1820 or visit www.cantonbbb.org. People can also call the West Virginia Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Anti-Trust Division at 1-800-368-8808 or go online to www.wvago.gov.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.