BLOOMINGTON — A Bloomington mother of three is sharing her story after losing $1,400 to a tech support scam.
Serene Coons was doing homework when her screen went black, and a pop-up message told her to call a phone number.
“I called them and I was speaking to a foreign guy; he sounded foreign,” said Coons. “He told me my computer was being hacked, my ID number. He showed me everything on my computer, what was going on."
The man identified himself as a technician for Microsoft.
"He downloaded some info on my computer, which I thought it was a program to get rid of hackers — you know, like software,” said Serene. “The way he was talking to me, he sounded like a professional.”
Serene spent $1,400 before she realized she was a victim of a tech support scam.
She filed a report with the Better Business Bureau Serving Central Indiana.
"We saw consumers in Central Indiana reported losing more than $5,000 in this con,” said Jennifer Adamany, spokesperson for the BBB Serving Central Indiana. “The scammer will pose as a tech support employee of a well-known computer company — often it's Microsoft, Comcast, Dell even Norton."
Typically, the scammers try to sell you services or software to protect your computer. In reality, they’re trying to get access to your personal information.
The scam can begin as a call, text, email or pop-up message on your computer.
"If you come across a pop up warning screen on your device, simply disconnect from the internet either hardline or WiFi, turn off your device, restart it and do an antiviral and malware scan yourself,” said Adamany. “If you don't have that, take it to a trusted local business to have them look at it."
WRTV reached out to Microsoft who told us, “Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer. If you didn't ask us to, we won't call you to offer support."
Serene Coons is more careful with her computer now and bought some anti-virus software to prevent future attacks.
“I kicked myself,” said Serene. “I felt really horrible.”
Tips from the BBB to spot this scam:
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you are absolutely certain it is the representative of a computer support team you initiated contact with.
- Legitimate tech support companies don’t make unsolicited phone calls. A popular way for thieves to get in touch with victims is through cold calls. The callers often claim to be from a tech company. Scammers do and they can spoof official looking phone numbers, so don’t trust Caller ID.
- Look out for warning screens: Nearly half of tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim’s computer screen. This pop up will have a phone number to call for help. Instead, disconnect from the internet and Wi-Fi connection by shutting off the device and restart it with an antiviral scan.
- Be wary of sponsored links. When searching online for tech support, look out for sponsored ads at the top of the results list. Many of these links lead to businesses that scam consumers.
- Avoid clicking on links in unfamiliar emails. Scammers also use email to reach victims. These messages point consumers to scam websites that launch pop-ups with the fake warnings and phone numbers.
If you are a victim of a tech support scam, the BBB says:
- Contact the bank immediately to report the incident and describe exactly what happened.
- Take the laptop, tablet, mobile device or computer that was infected to a trusted local business and have it checked out.
- Remove any software that authorized remote access to the device.
- Change all of the passwords used to access bank accounts, social media and other websites that contain personal information.
- File a report with BBB Scam Tracker and with law enforcement authorities, such as the FTC .