Low angle shot of laptop viewing the keyboard.

This holiday season will likely see more shoppers going online to do their shopping. But as more people go online, the FBI is warning that more scammers are online too.

In Alaska, the FBI is particularly seeing an increase in technical support scams.

These scams tend to have a formula. It often starts with an e-mail or pop-up on your screen, sometimes even a phone call or text message, telling you your device or account has been compromised. Often, they will tell you that you need to act now to avoid further monetary loss.

William Kilgore is a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI. He said that these scammers depend on urgency and fear.

“The tech support itself is playing the role as a savior, so to speak, as somebody that can help them out of this problem.”

-William Kilgore, FBI

The tech support scammer will ask for your passwords and account information. That gives them access to your private information and finances which they can then steal from. Agent Kilgore says often they’ll ask for payment for services in the form of gift cards or money transfers that can be emptied immediately and are difficult to trace.

Most often, it’s the elderly who fall victim to these scams. They’re less comfortable with technology and don’t recognize the warning signs, explained Kilgore.

“We need to remember that legitimate tech companies will not make unsolicited phone calls, they will not request remote access to your device through a third-party application. They will not ask for account passwords. And especially this one, they won’t ask for payment via gift cards or prepaid cards.”

Although Kilgore is specifically tracking technology scams, he knows they aren’t the only scams out there. The pandemic has more people at home looking for work which can mean more people vulnerable to scams. In particular, Western Alaskans have reported on social media that they’ve received texts or calls from someone looking to hire them for shopping help.

Kilgore says the same rules apply.  

“Bottom line: if it’s unsolicited emails, unsolicited text messages, unsolicited pop-ups on your screen… all of those are indicators of fraud.”

Installing an anti-virus software can be a good preventative measure. Scammers will often scour the internet looking for vulnerabilities.

In some cases, the scammer will try to use email addresses or names that sound familiar to you. But often there might be grammatical mistakes, or the email will be from a free account like Gmail or Yahoo, rather than a registered corporate account.

If you aren’t sure if something is legitimate, Kilgore has some simple advice. Get in touch with the provider of the service you think might be compromised.

“You know, when I call people as part of my job, a lot of times they’ll ask me, ‘Well, how do I know you’re FBI?’

And I tell them to do just that. I tell them, ‘You go and look up the phone number for the local FBI office, call them and ask to speak to me and they’ll transfer.’ ”

Kilgore recommends Western Alaskans speak to their families, especially with Elders, what technical support fraud looks like and how to know the warning signs.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, you should report the incident immediately to local police.

Image at top: As the pandemic drives more people online, more scammers are looking for targets. Photo: Jenn Ruckell, KNOM, 2014.

1 Comment

  1. Ramon Gandia on December 3, 2020 at 2:52 am

    Usually these scams have a link to their website. You read the link, it says “Microsoft.com”. But if you hover the mouse pointer over it, will say something different, like “bigscamsite.cn” or something like that.” Don’t click on it.

    On my eMail (I use Mozilla Thunderbird) I have it set so links and images from an external site don’t open up. There is a link instead and I can do the hover maneuver on it. If I don’t like the looks of that link, I don’t open it. It could be malware.

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