Despite a series of recent law enforcement actions against bogus computer tech support firms, the Consumer Fraud Task Force is warning that the scams are continuing to victimize residents of Missouri, Illinois and the nation.
The Task Force suggests that consumers exercise extreme caution when contacted by callers who claim they can repair home or business computers remotely for an advance fee. The Task Force also suggests that consumers searching the Internet for computer repair companies make sure they are contacting a reputable business.
In many cases, the scammers use the name of a legitimate, well-known company like Microsoft to trick consumers into paying them money and giving up control of their computers. Consumers often report that the scammers install viruses or malware on their computers, or continue to take money from their accounts even after an initial payment.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that while exact numbers are unknown, it appears that the numbers of complaints involving tech support scams have more than doubled in the past year.
In recent months, several consumers have contacted Better Business Bureau (BBB) about the scheme.
A couple from St. Louis said they lost $395 to thieves who called and promised to fix their computer, but instead disabled it and then demanded a second $395 payment.
A consumer from High Ridge said she paid $669 to what she later learned was a bogus tech support company.
Several people who said they were called and told their computers had been compromised or were malfunctioning did not own computers.
The FTC has been involved in several recent law enforcement actions against phony tech support businesses.
In November, the FTC and law enforcement in Florida obtained a federal court order temporarily shutting down a massive tech support scam that allegedly bilked $120 million from consumers.
A month earlier, a federal court shut down a New York-based business the FTC said made $2.5 million selling bogus computer services to consumers. The FTC claimed that scammers cold-called consumers masquerading as representatives of Microsoft or Facebook.
The Task Force offers the following advice for avoiding tech support scams:
• Never give control of your computer to anyone who phones you unexpectedly or who you do not know.
• Know who you are calling or emailing. Understand that tech support scammers can have their contact information listed on the Internet. Many pay to have their information higher in Internet search results. Never wire cash or provide credit card or banking information to anyone you do not know.
• Do not rely on caller ID to authenticate a call. Phone numbers can be spoofed.
• If you feel you have been scammed, contact the FTC, your state's attorney general and BBB.
The Task Force is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.
The group has tackled predatory payday loan offers, tax scams, timeshare reselling fraud, credit repair and foreclosure scams, bogus sweepstakes, Internet sweetheart scams, home remodeling, air duct cleaning schemes and a variety of other issues.