'Tech Support' scams accelerate

You never know how much you need your computer until you can't use it. Don Poenitsch and his wife just got their laptop out of the repair shop after Don got conned. He's one of the latest victims of the "Tech Support" scam I've warned about numerous times over the years.

"I can't even get into my Boeing total access or the Air Force access for my pay," Don explained.

He says the scammer sounded knowledgeable, claimed to be with Microsoft and stated he'd discovered a virus on Don's computer. The caller also claimed he had the fix for the computer virus and instructed Don to type in a few words.

Within seconds the guy had remote access to Don's laptop. After a few minutes, Don got a bad feeling and hit delete.

As soon as he told me what happened, I had him try to log on to the laptop. Don was surprised to discover he'd been locked out of his own device. I instructed him to get the laptop to a good computer repair shop right away. The technicians at PC Techs & Parts told him they're getting as many as 10 "Tech Support" scam calls every week.

"You're lucky that he didn't do anything bad while he was in there," said PC Techs owner Wendy Rawley. "He just put a password on so you couldn't use it anymore."

Rawley says the fact that Don cut the scammers connection to his computer quickly likely helped him avoid more extensive problems.

Repair shops across the country are removing malicious software and viruses planted by imposters claiming to be tech support specialists. It's believed most of the scammers are in India. They place tens of thousands of random calls daily, not only across the United States, but across Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

The scammers are known to cover their trails with dozens of domain names and phone numbers. Their only goal is to hijack your computer and charge your credit card for the so-called fix. The Federal Trade Commission has issued numerous alerts and even made sweeping arrests. Microsoft even has a warning on it's website, but the scam persists.

"It's just extorting money from people. That's the whole goal," Rawley said.

It cost Don just over $100 to get his computer cleaned out and operating again. Now he knows it could have been much worse. At least he was able to walk away with a clean computer, a free software upgrade, and future help from technicians he can trust. Thousands of other "Tech Support" scam victims lose hundreds of dollars to the scammers, and also lose the important data stored in their computers.

I helped Don find a reputable computer repair shop near his home, by checking the local customer ratings in in the Fall/Winter issue of Checkbook magazine. Since so many people are getting taken by the tech support scam and need a good repair shop, Checkbook is sharing its subscriber-based Computer Repair Shop ratings with KOMO viewers for the next two weeks. The information will be accessible until June 10, 2014.