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Tech support scheme takes new angle

Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota is once again noting an uptick in reports of the tech support scam.

Generally, this scheme is perpetrated over the phone: homeowners or business owners receive calls from “technicians” saying there’s a problem with their computer. But these supposed experts are only interested in collecting credit card information or gaining remote access to users’ computers.

A newer wrinkle to this scheme involves pop-up messages telling people their computer has been infected by a virus and they need to call the number on their screen for assistance.

“These pop-up messages are often dramatic, using capital letters and exclamation points, in order to get people’s attention,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB. “We’re advising people not to panic and not to listen to whatever the message is saying.”

Based on complaints in BBB files, it appears some of these pop-ups direct people to contact companies that may provide some type of technical support.

However, if these companies – as many customers allege – are the ones who make such warnings appear on users’ screens, via adware or malware or spyware, as a means of gaining new business, that’s a problem.

“We’re once again reminding people that when there’s a problem with their computer, they call the experts; not the other way around,” Badgerow said. “And simply because you receive a pop-up saying your computer has a virus that may not always be the case.”

No matter if you’re confronted with this scheme via a phone call or a pop-up message, it’s important to avoid allowing unknown parties to gain remote access to your computer.

According to Microsoft, anyone given such access to someone else’s computer can install malicious software, steal personal information, take control of the computer or direct customers to fraudulent websites where they are asked to enter their credit card information.


BBB offers these tips to avoid the tech support scam:

Don’t trust cold calls. Remember, computer firms don’t call you about a problem – you call them. If a caller claims there’s a problem with your computer, hang up.

Protect your computer. All computers should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.

Don’t let pop-ups panic you. Remember, pop-up messages can’t always be trusted. Look for an ‘X’ to close out the screen. If you’re concerned your computer has a virus, call an expert. Research businesses for free at

Address the issues. If you’ve allowed unknown individuals to gain remote access to your computer, contact a computer expert. If you’ve supplied your financial information and suspect fraud, contact your bank or credit card provider immediately.