How to Avoid and Recover from Remote Access Scams
Also Known As Remote Access Scams
Remote access scams try to convince you that you have a computer or internet problem and that you need to buy new software to fix the problem.
Normally, most people would never let a stranger use their computer, as it would be easy for that stranger to steal your private files, your money, or your identity.
However, remote access scams prey on peoples’ fear, or lack of technological understanding to impair their judgment, allowing these criminals to manipulate them and making them more likely to commit the grave error of giving a scammer access to their device.
Learning how to recognize these scams can help you avoid them, and if you’ve already fallen victim to one, there are ways to fix your computer and protect your data going forward.
To find out how you can protect yourself and mitigate the damage of remote access scams, read on.
In a remote access scam, a scammer attempts to persuade (manipulate) you into giving them remote control over your personal computer, which allows the scammer to do any number of things, including to defraud you of your money and stealing your private information.
Remote access scams are often related to tech support scams, (such as: Dell Computer or Apple tech support) and typically starts on the phone with either a cold call from a fake tech support specialist telling you your computer is infected with malware or a scary-looking pop-up ad that says there’s a problem with your computer and gives you a phone number to call for help.
These fraudsters may also try to convince you to give them remote access to your device by telling you they have money to give you that they can only deliver by connecting to your computer, as seen in the recent FTC refund scam that’s been making the rounds. Another very recent refund scam includes asking you to display your online bank account, and putting a fake deposit on your account statement. The scammers then lead you to believe that they made a typo on the fake refund issued and ask for a gift card as a refund to them.
Once the scammer convinces you to give them remote access, they’ll ask you to install a program such as ‘LogMeIn,’ ‘TeamViewer’ or ‘GoToAssist,’ which allows someone from another computer to operate your computer as if they were sitting right in front of it.
Normally, these programs are used for legitimate tech support and worker collaboration purposes, but they can also be used by fraudsters for criminal purposes.
While the scammer is connected to your computer, they will basically try to defraud you. As part of this scam, the criminal will make it seem like your computer has a problem and that they’re fixing it, but really they’re just running programs (apps) that look very technical. Some examples include using the Command Prompt tool to generate ominous messages, or opening Temp files in Notepad and claiming that the random characters that show up are a sign of corruption.
They will then offer to fix the problem for a fee of a few hundred dollars, pretend to repair your computer, and take your money, possibly using any credit card or bank details you give them to make additional fraudulent charges in the future.
While a scammer has remote access to your computer, it’s highly likely that they will install spyware or malware on your device, as well. This can be even worse than just scamming you out of money, as undetected malware can allow hackers to steal your identity, gain direct access to your banking accounts, including your passwords and financial information, over and over again, even if you get new passwords and account numbers they may still be able to see them.
How This Scam Works
Typically the scammer will phone you and pretend to be a staff member from a large telecommunications or computer company, such as Apple or Microsoft. Alternatively, they may claim to be from technical support from your internet service provider.
They will tell you that your computer has been sending error messages or that it has a virus. They may mention problems with your internet connection or your phone line and say this has affected your computer’s recent performance. They may claim that your broadband connection has been hacked.
The caller will request remote access to your computer to ‘find out what the problem is’.
The scammer may try to talk you into buying unnecessary software or a service to ‘fix’ the computer, or they may ask you for your personal details and your bank or credit card details.
The scammer may initially sound professional and knowledgeable—however, they will be very persistent and may become abusive if you don’t do what they ask.
- You receive a phone call out of the blue and the caller claims to be from a large telecommunication or computer company, or a technical support service provider.
- They tell you that your computer is experiencing technical problems and they need remote access to sort out the problem.
- They ask you to buy software or sign up to a service to fix the computer.
- They ask for your personal details and your bank or credit card details.
- The caller is very persistent and may become abusive.
Understand These Scams
Steering clear of remote access scams becomes pretty simple once you realize a few key facts.
- First, tech support specialists from companies and government departments never cold-call people, so if you receive a call purporting to be from some kind of computer tech support, it is almost definitely a scam.
- Even if your caller ID says the call is coming from a source you recognize, it’s easy for scammers to spoof their calls to falsify their location.
- Legitimate computer companies don’t put their phone numbers on security warnings and advise people to call them, preferring instead to use diagnostic and repair programs as a first line of defense.
- If you see a pop-up or virus warning on your computer advising you to call a number, it’s a scam.
- Some of these pop-ups have code that make them hard to close, so if a pop-up is staying stubbornly open, you can force your Internet browser to close by hitting Ctrl + Alt + Delete and opening the Task Manager if you’re using Windows, or Command + Option + Escape if you’re on a Mac. Or just turn the computer off.
- Finally, and most importantly, never give remote access to anyone you don’t know, as doing so lets them bypass a great deal of your cybersecurity and access anything on your device.
- Never give an unsolicited caller remote access to your computer.
- Never give your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.
- If you receive a phone call out of the blue about your computer and remote access is requested – hang up – even if they mention a well-known company such as AT&T, Verizon, Telstra, TMobile, Apple, Microsoft, etc. These companies do not request credit card details over the phone to fix computer or telephone problems.
- Remember that you can still receive scam calls even if you have a private number or have listed your number on the Do Not Call Register. Scammers can obtain your number easily from commercial lists.
- Make sure your computer is protected with regularly updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a good firewall. Research first and only purchase software from a source that you know and trust. We recommend Malwarebytes or Bitdefender – you can find them from Google.
- If you have fallen victim to a scam or you receive a lot of unsolicited emails and phone calls consider changing your email address and phone numbers.
What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed
If you’ve already been victimized by a remote access scam, there are still ways you can recover from it.
Contact the financial institution associated with any payment method you gave the scammer, such as your credit card issuer or bank, and tell them about the fraud.
While it may be difficult to recover funds taken directly from your bank account, it’s often quite easy to dispute credit card charges related to fraud, and credit cards generally have better security features for customers. You should also file a complaint with the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/?orgcode=SCARS, as your report will help them track down and build a case against the scammers.
Fixing any damage done to your computer can be more difficult, as digital threats are constantly evolving to escape detection. The safest approach is to wipe your hard drive and do a clean installation of your operating system, but this is a drastic and time-consuming measure – we recommend taking your computer to a local computer repair center (such as BestBuy stores).
If you have a Windows computer, an easier but still effective option is to use the System Restore feature to roll back your computer to a point before the scam, which can undo malware that the scammer installed. If that isn’t an option for you, at the very least you can install and run a legitimate malware cleaning program on your computer, such as Malwarebytes or Bitdefender (never use Kaspersky which is a Russian made product), and hope it can get rid of the malware. While whichever solution you chose is working, you may also want to disconnect your computer from the Internet in case the scammer left a remote access program to let them reconnect to your system.
After your computer is clean, you should reset all of your passwords, and possibly install some kind of ad blocking software to keep from getting any more scam pop-ups.
Remote access scams can seem devastating, but if you know what to do and act fast, they aren’t so difficult to manage.