Work in the contemporary world is increasingly computer-based, giving scammers ample opportunity to exploit people.
So much of life today involves technology. Some may criticise the dominance of technology and the pervasiveness of screen-time, but it is emblematic of the lives we lead. Whilst technology has undoubtedly bettered our lives, its capabilities to share and collaborate also benefit scammers who seek to deceive and cheat people for money. Therefore, we must be aware of some of the more malicious scams currently in circulation so that we can protect ourselves as best possible.
Having our computers run smoothly and quickly is something we can almost take for granted. The idea that it might not be functioning properly can fill even the most tech-savvy with dread. Yet, what happens when you receive an alert informing you that a virus has been detected on your computer and to resolve this you need to contact the support line? In all likelihood, it is a scam.
As with so many scams, its effectiveness lies in its simplicity. Few among us are skilled enough to be able to rid a computer of a virus, meaning the natural inclination is to contact tech support. The process can begin with any of a pop-up window when browsing the internet, an email informing you of a virus or even a phone call. This type of scam is most common with Microsoft devices and 2020 saw scammers impersonate Microsoft and Zoom employees the most. However, the arrival of an email or phone call from someone claiming to be a Microsoft should immediately rouse suspicions. On their page dedicated to protecting from scams, Microsoft provides the following information:
‘Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer. Any communication with Microsoft has to be initiated by you.’
This is accompanied by the instruction:
‘If a pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, don’t call the number. Error and warning messages from Microsoft never include a phone number.’
Upon calling the fake tech support number, the engineer will ask to connect with your computer remotely through software such as TeamViewer. Having downloaded the remote access software, your screen will go blank, leaving the scammer free to explore your computer. However, there is another troubling aspect to remote access software as the scammers will email a contract, often sent via DocuSign, to not only prove that remote access to the computer was willingly granted but also allows them to hold onto the money in case of a dispute.
With the screen blank, nothing prevents the scammer from searching the computer for personal information such as bank details. Rather than aiming to steal the bank details, it is more common for scammers to request a fee for removing a non-existent virus from your computer. Once the payment has been received, they vanish.
Refund or overpayment scam?
Another form of scamming that comes under the general rubric of a tech support scam is the refund or overpayment scam. What connects them is that the scammer will again look to gain remote access to the computer before going about their business. As can happen with the tech support scam, it begins with a cold call informing you that you are owed a refund and this can be collected by talking with a member of the refund team who will guide you through the process. Once this is underway, the scammer will again ask for remote access to the computer, allowing them to control proceedings from their end.
At this point, the would-be victim will be asked to login into online banking so that the refund can be carried out immediately. Essential to ensuring the success of the scam is the victim being aware of the balance of their account as the scammer will then pretend to transfer them an amount greater than the promised refund. For example, if the refund is said to be for £300, the transferred amount could be £1,300. Before the fake transfer happens, the victim’s screen will again be blackened. Then, to make it appear as if a transfer has taken place, the scammer will edit the HTML so that the victim is made to see that an excess amount has been placed in their account.
Here, scammers prey upon the trust and honesty of the victim, assuming that the victim will notice that too much money has been returned to them. The victim cannot, however, simply return the money via transfer as this could alert their suspicions. Instead, they are asked to purchase the amount owed in gift cards that the scammers can then redeem.
The format has proven very successful. Between 2017 and 2020, the amount lost in scams involving gift cards has tripled. Part of what allows this to happen is the authenticity of the calls. To do this, scammers will pretend to transfer the victim to different members of the team who specialise in that particular process. As is the case with an automated introduction that asks you to ‘press 1’, the different members of the refund team lull the victim into a false sense of security, thus allowing scammers to shamelessly cheat their victims out of money.
What can only be repeated when it comes to scamming is that being taken in by a scammer is nothing to be ashamed of. Scammers are skilled and will go to almost any lengths to convince you to part with your money. However, by remembering the details of these scams, you can potentially prevent yourself from falling victim to them.
Perhaps most important is to never provide bank details over the phone or on an unverified link. This has appeared in the form of texts from delivery services such as Royal Mail or Hermes, claiming that there is an outstanding delivery charge of £2.99 that needs to be paid before the parcel can be delivered. The link provided will take you to what appears to be an authentic website that will ask for all of your bank details, including the account number, sort code and CVV number. If you have fallen victim to this, contact your bank to cancel the card connected to the account and then be on the lookout for a cold call at a later date.
You cannot protect yourself from everything, but certain details are found in multiple scams. If these elements can be identified, the calls can be terminated immediately, thus dealing a major blow to scammers. Although it will never be a foolproof methodology, it will go a long way to stopping scammers in their tracks.
About the Author: James Hingley
James Hingley is a contributing Features Writer with extensive expertise in International Relations, Politics and Culture.
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