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Fake tech support scams aren’t going anywhere. In fact, recent data shows this type of social engineering attack is on the rise—with phony tech support calls, emails, and pop-ups peddling the digital equivalent of snake oil to unsuspecting internet users around the world.
While many people have grown wise enough to spot the warning signs of the typical tech support scam, a significant percentage fall victim, and exploiting their naivety can prove quite profitable for cybercriminals. A recent report from Microsoft describes a growing global problem: 153,000 reports were received from Microsoft customers involved in tech support scams in 2017, leading to a 24 percent rise in tech scams reported by Microsoft from the previous year. Those who lost money forked over an average of $200 and $400.
“It doesn’t require a great deal of technical knowledge to carry out a support scam, so it’s easy to see why criminals are choosing to jump into this field,” said Marcus Moreno, Supervisor of Threat Research at Webroot. “All that’s is needed is gaining the user’s trust and knowing more than they do about their computer. Whether criminals pay websites to host their fake support banners, or they proactively reach out to you, it doesn’t take much expertise.”
Due to the lucrative nature and relative success rate of these social engineering tactics, tech support fraud continues to propagate. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received around 11,000 cases of tech support scams in 2017, with victims claiming nearly $15 million in losses. That’s a shocking 86 percent increase from 2016!
The IC3 report also noted new variations of the typical tech support scam, with attackers resorting to posing as law enforcement to re-target previous victims by offering phony recovery assistance in exchange for a fee. Tech support scams are also turning to target cryptocurrency users, where the stakes can be higher, netting potentially thousands of dollars from a single victim.
Cold calls? Hold the phone!
The number one thing to keep in mind is that major tech companies—whether that’s Microsoft, your security software provider, or your device manufacturer—will never call you out of the blue. Beyond attempting to dupe a victim out of a fee for fake support services, cybercriminals can also try to gain remote access to your computer to steal personal information and install malware that can carry on the attack after the phone call has ended.
It’s also important to know that tech support scams also appear in the form of malvertising, such as pop-ups that can be found even on legitimate websites. These scam ads try to trick users with various fake system errors or malware infection warnings. Thousands of websites were recently discovered to be infected with malicious ads that lock users’ browsers and display a fake infection warning, according to SC Magazine. Web-based threats like this highlight the importance of keeping your devices updated and secure, as well as practicing safe browsing habits.
Visit our Cybersecurity Education Resources to understand more about common tech support scams and how to avoid falling victim. There you can also find blacklists of URLs and phone numbers known to impersonate Webroot and target our customers.