Over the last year, Fraud.org has received dozens of complaints involving scammers who requested remote access to consumers’ computers. In 2021, the median loss reported to Fraud.org from such scams was $1,100. In a typical scenario, scammers pose as tech support and request control of the victim’s device. The victims are often told that this is necessary to remove a virus or update software. This is the first tell-tale sign of fraud. No legitimate tech support service should reach out proactively to ask for remote access to your computer. In other cases, consumers may be responding to a scary pop-up message on their computers (often the result of malware) that demands hundreds of dollars to remove a virus or resolve some other computer problem.
Handing over control of your device is one of the worst things you can do when it comes to cybersecurity. By providing remote access, you expose yourself to identity theft, financial loss, and material harm. The hacker could access confidential information (such as your Social Security number, bank account information, and passwords), breach other devices on your network, or drain your bank accounts. In more sensitive industries, such as healthcare and governmental fields, malicious actors could exploit remote access to shut down critical infrastructure.
Once you allow someone else to take control of your computer, you can never be sure what they are doing with the device. After gaining remote access, a common scam involves the fraudster manipulating the consumer’s device to appear as if the scammer accidentally deposited a large sum of money into the victim’s bank account. In reality, they never deposited a single cent. When they transfer the money out of the victim’s account, they are actually draining the victim’s own funds while making it appear as if they only reclaimed their “accidentally deposited” money. Once a scammer gains remote access, they can also easily install malware without the victim’s knowledge, causing even greater harm to the user.
To reduce your risk of falling victim to these scams, consider the following tips:
- Do not give anyone the ability to remotely access your personal device. Generally, once you have relinquished control of your computer, it is very difficult to regain complete security.
- Double check tech support’s identity. If someone reaches out to you, don’t immediately believe that they are who they say they are. It’s best for you to be the one who initiates software help requests via a trusted and verified website.
- Double check software updates’ validity. Scammers are known to suggest that they need remote access to install and update. A simple online search of the software update should return announcements of the update by the manufacturer, if it is a genuine update as well as instructions on how to install it.
- Don’t trust time-sensitive demands. Legitimate tech support and software updates will not pressure you to act within minutes, especially when remote access or payment is involved.
- Get help in person. Although this is not always possible (especially during a pandemic), visiting your manufacturer’s local storefront for tech support is a much safer way to verify that you’re dealing with a professional.
Be an ally in the fight against fraud!
If you suspect that you or someone you know has become a victim of a remote access scam or any other fraud — report it at once. You can file a complaint at Fraud.org via our online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can investigate and help put fraudsters behind bars.