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Tech Support Scams: Another Cyber Risk For Family Employers Emerges

Office Depot and OfficeMax stores in Seattle and Portland were caught using questionable malware scanning software that falsely told customers there was a virus on the brand-new PCs they purchased. The store then sold them unneeded virus protection software for as much as $180.

According to the news channel that investigated, the computers in question had never been connected to the Internet and were diagnosed as malware-free by another security firm.

Officials at Office Depot, which operates OfficeMax, announced that the stores would stop using the misdiagnosing software. In 2013, Support.com, the organization that sells the software, and its partner AOL paid $8.5 million to settle a lawsuit, alleging they "misrepresented the results of free malware scans and then charged fees to fix the non-existent infections." Dan Goodin "Office Depot caught claiming out-of-box PCs showed 'symptoms of malware,'" arstechnica.com (Nov. 21, 2016).


Commentary and Checklist

Tech support scams have become one of the most common, and successful, forms of identity theft and phishing.

The scammers either call on the phone or use malware to generate a pop-up on your computer, claiming they are with tech support at a well-known computer company such as Apple or Microsoft and that they have detected a virus on your computer. They then convince you to pay them money or give them access to your computer to “fix” a virus that was never on your computer in the first place.

Staff and family employers are susceptible to tech support scams, just like everyone else because these scammers don’t care who they target. However, this scam is particularly dangerous because the cyberthieves play on legitimate fears of getting a computer virus and use the threat of a virus to create a sense of urgency.

Family employers can protect their computers and their pocketbooks by staying vigilant for tech support scams and training staff to do the same. It is important to make staff aware about these scams so that they do not panic and give a scammer money or computer access out of fear that they downloaded a virus onto their employer’s computer.

Follow this advice to avoid tech support scams, and train staff to do the same:

  • Never download software or pay for support in response to external notification that you have a computer virus.
  • Never give out passwords, credit card numbers or bank account numbers in response to a pop-up or telephone call claiming you have a virus.
  • If you receive a call from someone who claims to be tech support, hang up and call the listed number for the company to ask about the call-remember, cybercriminals can falsify caller ID to make it look like they are calling from the real company when they are not.
  • If you think the virus message could be legitimate or you notice signs of a virus, disconnect from the internet immediately and take your computer to a trusted computer technician for inspection.
  • Visit your computer technician, change your passwords and call your financial institutions immediately if you think you fell victim to a tech support scam.
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