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The Deal with Tech Support Scams

The calls are often along the same lines: A "technician" claiming to be from a well-known company, like Microsoft, tells you your computer is infected with a virus. He throws around some technical jargon, often walking you through some benign activities like opening a Web browser or some computer utility.

He may ask you to perform a series of tasks that cause you to unknowingly allow the cyber criminals remote access to your computer and the personal data stored on it. You may also be tricked into installing malware (malicious software) that could steal your personal information.

Then he claims to have identified the problem and demands payment to fix it with software updates, service contracts, specialized PC cleaning software and other solutions. He offers to accept credit card payments over the phone, and may request payments via Western Union or Money Gram or direct you to fraudulent websites set up to collect personal and financial information.

Scammers have updated age-old scare tactics for modern consumers. And this particular type of scam, which the Federal Trade Commission and Microsoft issued warnings about, is still making the rounds. Watch a video AARP produced on the tech support scam, here.

"These scammers may sound credible at first, but what they really want is access to your computer, and ultimately, your money," Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. "Never give a caller access to your computer or any financial information before verifying they are legitimate."

How to avoid the scam

The Attorney General's Office offers tips on how to avoid this and other scams:

Never give control of your computer to someone who calls you out of the blue.
Be vigilant in safeguarding personal information.
Do not provide Social Security Numbers, banking, or credit card or other financial information to anyone who calls, no matter who they say they are.
Never give out passwords.
Protect personal computers with legitimate and updated security software.
Have a reputable computer technician remove any software that may have been added by the scammers.
Change passwords.
Contact your financial institution.
Monitor bank and credit card account activity.
File a consumer complaint with the Attorney General's Office.

You can sign up for the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or by calling 800-646-2283. By joining the AARP Fraud Watch Network, you'll receive alerts and notifications about new scams as they emerge. File a consumer complaint with the Attorney General's Office at www.atg.wa.gov.