Tech support scams: what to watch out for in 2023

Leading proactive threat detection company ESET takes a look at how scammers try to help victims fix a problem on their computer that never really existed

ESET, a leading proactive threat detection company, analyzes fraud known as the “tech support scam” that offers people a fake technical support service seeking to “solve” non-existent problems. By using various social engineering strategies, these criminals successfully trick large numbers of people that there is a problem with a system, into handing over their money or sensitive data, such as passwords and financial details.

In the United States nearly 24,000 people reported losing nearly $348 million to tech support scams in 2021, representing a 137% increase in losses from the previous year, the FBI says. However, this would not capture the magnitude of the problem, since many victims are reluctant to file the corresponding complaint. Meanwhile, separate research by Microsoft in 2021 states that three-fifths of global consumers had encountered this type of scam in the previous 12 months and “one in six fell for it”, often losing money on the process.

“The silver lining to all of this is that this is a cybercrime that can be prevented with a good dose of user awareness. By detecting the early warning signs, people can avoid falling victim to this scheme, saving a lot of time, money and possibly tears in the process”, says Camilo Gutiérrez Amaya, Head of the ESET Latin America Research Laboratory.

Tech support scams have evolved significantly over the past decade. The first cases involved cold calls from fake tech support agents who were usually based in India and claimed to work for Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, or another technology company, including well-known security vendors. In this way, scammers would call people out of the blue and, in a more or less random fashion, try to convince them that their computer had a problem that needed to be fixed immediately for a fee. The success of these attempts were largely based on finding victims with little knowledge of how computers really work, and came to be supported by websites and Facebook pages offering “help” to users of specific products.

Over time, deceptive ads, fake pop-ups, fake support websites, and attacks involving malware-like programs began to emerge. In this way, alerts were displayed on people’s computer screens trying to convince them that something was wrong with their machine. Scams became more sophisticated and took a turn: they began luring the victim into calling the scammer (often after visiting a shady website), instead of scammers cold-calling people in a largely random way.

With information from Press Release

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