What has happened?
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned consumers about tech support criminals posing as virtual currency support staff.
What does this mean?
The bureau's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has issued a notice about tech support scams, saying that this "continues to be a problematic and widespread scam".
IC3 said that, in 2017, it received about 11,000 complaints related to tech support fraud, with losses amounting to almost $15 million, which represents a 86% increase from 2016.
According to IC3, criminals often pose as a security, customer or technical support representative offering to resolve an issue such as a compromised email or a virus on a computer.
As this type of fraud is spreading, the fraudsters are also now pretending to be government agents, even offering to recover supposed losses.
The criminals are also increasingly targeting virtual currency investors, "with individual victim losses often in the thousands of dollars".
The scams generally follow this pattern: the victims contact a fake support number posted online; the fraudulent support person then asks to access the victim's virtual currency wallet before transferring its content to another wallet "for temporary holding maintenance".
However, the virtual currency is never returned and the fraudster stops all communications.
"Criminals who have access to a victim’s electronic device use the victim’s personal information and credit card to purchase and transfer virtual currency to an account controlled by the criminal."
IC3 recommended the public remained vigilant, reminding that "legitimate customer, security or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact".
It also advised to resist pressure to act quickly and ensure that all security software is kept up to date.
"Individuals who receive a pop-up or locked screen, should shut down the device immediately. Ignore any pop-ups instructing to not power off or restart the computer. Victims who reported shutting down the device and waiting a short time to restart usually find the pop-up or screen lock has disappeared," the notice stated.
Finally, anyone who believes they are a victim should file a complaint with the IC3, irrespective of the amount at stake.
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