New Twist on Scam Tech Support Calls Installs Viruses on Victims’ Computers - BBB Tips
It’s classic scam: a fake tech support caller claims he needs access to your computer to fix a non-existent bug. But a new twist involves the caller actually installing a virus on victims’ computers.
How the Scam Works:
You get a telephone call from someone claiming to be with tech support from a well-known software company. Microsoft is a popular choice. The callers often have strong accents but use common names such as “Adam” or “Bill.” The scammers may know your name and other personal information, which they get from publicly available phone directories. They might even guess what computer operating system you’re using.
The caller tells you that your computer is sending error messages, and they’ve detected a virus on it. He says only a tech support employee can remove the virus, but first you need to grant him access to your machine. If you give the OK, the caller will run a scan of your files and actually point out how the virus has infected the computer. The scammers then offer to remove the virus…. for a fee. Of course, they need your credit card details first.
Here’s the twist. Those who allowed the caller remote access to their computers, whether they paid for the virus to be removed or not, reported difficulties with their computer afterwards, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Some said their computers would not turn on or certain programs/files were inaccessible. Some victims even reported taking their computers for repair, and the technicians confirmed software had been installed.
What to do if “Tech Support” Calls?
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate representative of a computer support team with whom you are already a customer.
- Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from tech support.
- Take the caller’s information down and report it to your local authorities or the FTC.
- If you did allow a caller to access your computer:
- Change the passwords for your computer, email and online banking/credit card accounts.
- Be sure to run a virus scan
- Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report if you shared personal and banking information with the scammer.
For More Information
See Microsoft’s advice on avoiding tech support call scams.
To find out more about scams, check out the new BBB Scam Stopper.
BBB Scam Alert: Watch Out for Malware Disguised as Sudoku Generator
A scam that promises unlimited Sudoku puzzles is extra tempting this time of year as you slowly start to get back into your work groove.
How the Scam Works:
You receive a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that promises to automatically generate Sudoku puzzles. However, when you open the file and try to create a new puzzle, you get a message that you need to “enable macros” by disabling the software’s security setting.
If you do so, you will allow the malware to run on your computer. It will scan your system and send an email with details about your machine, according to computer security blog Naked Security.
What are Macros?
If you perform a task repeatedly in Microsoft Excel (or another Microsoft Office program), you can speed up your work by automating the task with a macro, a series of commands. However, macros are also a common way for scammers to sneak malware onto your computer.
Back in the 1990s, scammers frequently used this trick until Microsoft set all its software to automatically block macros. This adjustment forced scammers to abandon this technique and find new ways of fooling users. With this new malware, scammers hope that today’s Excel users have forgotten all about macros.
My File is Asking me to Enable Macros. Is This a Scam?
It can be hard to know when to allow macros in your Microsoft files. Follow these tips to ensure you don’t accidentally allow a virus to run on your computer.
- Whenever you open an Excel workbook that contains macros, you can verify their source before you enable them. Just look for the digital signature, an electronic stamp of authenticity.See Microsoft’s page on macro security for more information.
- Set your macro security level to control what happens when you open a workbook that contains a macro. You can choose to run macros based on whether they are digitally signed by a developer on your list of trusted sources. (To find this setting, go to the Tools menu, Macrosubmenu. Then, click the “Security Level” tab in the “Security” dialog box).
- Watch out for macros in other Microsoft software. This scam involves Excel, but if this technique works, scammers will produce similar tricks using Power Point and Word Documents.
For More Information
Learn more about macros on Microsoft’s support website.
Hiring a Snow Removal Contractor - BBB Industry Tips
The Better Business Bureau of Eastern Michigan receives hundreds of complaints every year about snow removal contractors not complying with their agreements. If you plan on hiring a snow removal contractor instead of shoveling yourself, the Better Business Bureau recommends the following:
- Get several estimates. Prices can vary widely and are usually based on the amount of work involved in clearing your property. Remember that the least expensive estimate is not always the best choice.
- Ask the contractor about additional charges and price options. Beside the quoted price, there may be some additional charges during large storms.
- After the snow reaches a certain depth, some snow removal contractors charge by the inch, so you’ll want to find out how the company calculates these charges. Other contractors may offer a fixed price for an entire season, regardless of the amount of snow (or lack of snow).
- Make sure that you are aware of which services you are getting.
- Find out exactly what is included in the estimate.
- Are the walks and steps included?
- What about the cost of sand and/or salt?
- Will the company clear only after the storm, or during the snowfall as well?
- If the contractor has to come back more than once during the same storm, is there an additional charge?
- Ask for references, and check them out.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau for a Business Review on a contractor you are planning on hiring.
- Do not agree to the terms of the contract over the telephone. The contractor should provide you with a written agreement.
- Before signing the agreement, find out who is responsible for damages such as cracked driveways or broken gates.
Your expectations of your snow removal contractor should be realistic. Keep in mind that a snowstorm makes traveling difficult for you and the contractor and that during major snowstorms, it may take longer for the contractor to reach you and perform the contracted work.
National Courtesy Month - Does Your Business Have What it Takes?
A warm smile and a kind gesture can brighten even the gloomiest of days. When working with customers, it’s always important to recognize the integral part of quality service. September is just wrapping up, but there is still time in National Courtesy Month. The Better Business Bureau is encouraging business owners to recognize the importance of proper business etiquette for when it comes to dealing with customers.
The trust that’s established between a customer and a business is not only the foundation for a successful business transaction, but makes for an overall healthy business relationship between the business and the customer. The customer needs to feel that they have been heard and that they have received the time and patience from the business.
Some BBB tips for business owners and managers:
Lead by example. Employees take their cue from management. Make sure that all senior staff are aware of how they treat their staff. Their staff can become the face of the business and it will be important that the positive interactions they receive from their management reflect in their daily interactions with customers.
Always greet your customer with a warm welcome. When a customer comes to your business, make sure to address them by name and with a friendly welcome. Customers pick up on your attitude and will quickly judge your business accordingly. A warm welcome invites the customer to stay a while and encourages them to do business with you.
Go the extra mile. Thank you notes, birthday cards, and personalized coupons are a great way to show your appreciation to your customers. If a customer makes a request for something special, do everything you can to say yes.
Give the customer the benefit of the doubt. Whether it’s online or in person, customers can and will complain at some point during your business’ lifetime. Make sure you know how to handle even the most disgruntled complaint. Give your employees guidelines on what to say and how to act. Respond consistently and timely if the complaint is online. Outsiders will see and appreciate your attempt to resolve, even if the disgruntled customer does not.
Seek out feedback. Ask your customers and fellow employees, “How are we doing?” Make an honest effort to resolve and execute any suggestions. Keeping customers and employees happy is the key to success for any business. Feedback allows for a great pat on the back and time to reflect on what needs to be changed.
Tips on Hurricane Relief Donations
In the wake of Hurricane Isaac and other storms threatening coastal regions of the U.S., this season, BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers the following tips to help donors Americans decide where to direct donations to assist hurricane victims:
Be cautious when giving online.
Be cautious about online giving, especially in response to unsolicitedspam messages, and emails and social media posts that claim to link to a relief organization. If you want to give to a charity involved in relief efforts, go directly to the charity’s website. In response to hurricanes Katrina and, Rita, and the Asian tsunamis, the FBI and others raised concerns about websites and new organizations that were created overnight, allegedly to help victims.
Rely on expert opinion when it comes to evaluating a charity.
Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they may not have fully researched the relief organizations they list. The public can go to www.bbb.org/charity to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are Accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
Be wary of claims that 100 percent of donations will assist relief victims.
Despite what an organization might claim, charities have fund raising and administrative costs. Even a credit card donation will involve, at a minimum, a processing fee. If a charity claims 100 percent of collected funds will be assisting hurricane victims, the truth is that the organization is still probably incurring fund raising and administrative expenses. It may use some of its other funds to pay these costs, but the expenses will still be incurred.
Find out if the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas.
Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.
Find out if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups.
Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider “avoiding the middleman” and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region. Or, at a minimum, check out the ultimate recipients of these donations to see whether they are equipped to provide aid effectively.
Gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations.
In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need – unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly. Ask the charity about its transportation and distribution plans. Be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.
AT&T Customers, Don’t Fall For Fake Bill Emails
A few months ago, scammers attempted to trick Verizon customers into opening fake bill notices. Get ready AT&T customers! Now it’s your turn.
How the Scam Works:
People nationwide (both AT&T subscribers and not) are receiving fake emails that are almost identical to the real alerts many AT&T customers get to remind them of their monthly payments.
This phishing scam is notable for its painstaking replication of AT&T emails and the large bill amounts (many are near or above $1,000). See this sample email for a perfect example.
Spot This Scam:
You can spot a fake email by the large bill amounts and by hovering over the links. When you place your mouse on a link, the destination URL will appear. Check whether it leads to AT&T’s website or, in a scam email, to a third party site.
See BBB.org’s complete scam directory for more information about breaking scams in your area.
Is Money Tight? Don’t Ignore Your Retirement Plan!
During challenging economic times, it can be tempting to forego contributions to your retirement account, or even to pull money out of an existing account to cover other expenses. Some plans allow you to withdraw money for certain hardship reasons (to prevent eviction or foreclosure, for instance), but there can be some pretty tough financial consequences for tapping or ignoring your retirement plan.
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation offers the following good reasons to keep your retirement savings intact (note these rules are regarding U.S. laws):
1. Tax Liability—Unless you’re over the age of 59 ½, you will not only have to pay income taxes on the amount you withdraw, but you will also be subject to a 10% tax penalty. In most cases, your employer will withhold 20% in federal taxes, so the amount you receive will be significantly lower than the amount you requested.
2. Opportunity Costs—The repercussions of withdrawing funds from your 401(k) could be enormous in terms of lost growth opportunity. For example, let’s assume you are 30 years old, and have a 401(k) balance of $20,000. If you leave that money alone, and your account averages a 6% rate of return over the next 32 years, your balance at retirement will be $129,068 when you’re 62—even if you do not make any additional contributions during that time. If you take it out, you’ll have nothing. Even if you have a shorter time horizon, you will forgo significant savings opportunities by taking money out of your 401(k). For a 45-year-old, that $20,000 will grow to $53,855 in 17 years.
3. Opening Assets to Creditors—Under the Bankruptcy Abuse Protection and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, your creditors cannot touch your 401(k) balance or similar retirement savings account—even if, as a last resort, you file for bankruptcy protection. Balances in traditional and Roth IRAs are also protected up to a limit of $1 million. But if you take money out of your retirement plan through a loan or a hardship or regular withdrawal, your creditors can go after that sum.
Another warning: watch out for products that allow you to withdraw your retirement funds and reinvest them elsewhere. FINRA warns that 72(t) withdrawals from an IRA and 401(k) debit cards can deplete your retirement savings and damage your retirement security.
It’s best to look at other ways to save or borrow – tightening your belt on expenses, taking advantage of employer match programs to keep funding your IRA or 401(k), contributing pre-tax dollars to a retirement plan, etc. You may also be able to borrow from your 401(k) without actually taking a withdrawal; this would reduce your tax burden and would likely come with a lower interest rate than a bank loan. Check with your plan administrator on whether or not this option is available.
Delete that Text! You Didn’t Win a Target Gift Card
Cell phone users nationwide are receiving suspicious text messages that claim to be from Target. The texts tell consumers they won a drawing for free gift card… and all they have to do is click a link and enter their address and phone number.
Unfortunately, the gift card drawing is fake. And the texts are just a way to collect personal info for shady advertisers.
About the scam:
Fake gift card website.
The text messages vary, but all contain an offer of a gift card, a URL to visit and PIN to enter on the website. A typical example is below:
“Your entry in our drawing WON you a free $1000 Target giftcard! Enter “917” at www.target.com.tgrz.biz to claim it and we can ship it to you immediately”
The text’s URL leads to a website that is branded with Target’s colors and its mascot dog Bullseye. You are asked to enter the PIN and an email address. Then, you are taken to a form and instructed to fill out your name, cell number and mailing address.
One recipient reported completing the form and receiving a second PIN in return. The confirmation message instructed her to wait for a follow-up text and enter that new PIN at the website address she received. The text turned out to be promoting a horoscope website, and no mention was made of the Target gift card.
See BBB.org’s complete scam directory for more information about breaking scams in your area.
Scams Can Pop-up Anywhere - Even During Your Summer Vacation
A recent FBI analysis shows criminals overseas targeting travelers through pop-up windows that appear when they connect to the Internet from their hotel room. Reports indicate that phony computer updates are popping-up that may contain malicious software. But when the traveler downloads the ‘update’ they are instead infecting their computer.
BBB and the FBI recommend the following advice for summer vacationers who are traveling abroad:
- Perform software updates on laptops before traveling
- Be cautious before downloading anything on a hotel Internet connection, only use secure connections for data transfer
- Check the author or digital certificate of any update to determine if it corresponds to the software vendor
- Download software updates directly from the software vendor’s website if the update is necessary during travel
BBB also recommends two things you can do to prevent falling victim to phishing scams:
- Install good anti-virus software on your computer including frequent, automatic updates
- Never click on links or attachments found in unsolicited emails or pop-ups
Any person who believes they may have been a victim of this attack should contact their local FBI office and report the incident to IC3, which links complaints together to refer them to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
When sightseeing or traveling, BBB recommends you watch for these other common scams:
- Credit card call scam. You receive a call from the front desk at the hotel you are staying at. You are told that your credit card has been declined and you are asked to provide another credit card. Without thinking, you give the caller your credit card information over the phone.
- Family member call scam. You receive a call in your hotel room telling you to call a specific number to get details on a family member in distress. Unknowingly, you call the Caribbean or Africa, charging hundreds of dollars to your phone bill.
- Diverting your attention to scams. The thieves could spill ice cream on your shoes and/or squirt mustard, ketchup or water on you. They “help” you clean up and at the same time another thief will snatch your handbag, wallet or suitcase. They may also bump you and at the same time pick your pocket. Keep your wallet close to you and hang onto your purse.
- Police uniform con. Crooks in police uniforms approach you and show a phony badge. Next, they request to see your wallet for identification or to check the wallet for counterfeit money. If you hand over your wallet, it is gone forever!
- Fellow traveling victim. This “victim” approaches you and says he has just been robbed and needs money to eat, travel, and get another passport. Don’t be pulled in by the act and hand your money over to the con artist.
- “Your tire is flat” scam. The vehicle pulls alongside you and points at your tire. Resist the temptation to pull over until you are in a safe place. Otherwise, you may be robbed of your money and valuables.
- Credit card rip offs. Refrain from using your debit card abroad. You can be held liable for up to $500 of fraudulent charges. Plus it could take up to 10 days or more for the bank to refund the remaining amount of your money.
For detailed information on scams targeting travelers in foreign countries, read the article Travel Scams.
The Summer Months Ring an ‘Alarm’ for Consumers
BBB tips for selecting and installing a home security alarm system
The number of consumers searching home security system dealers continues to increase year to year, according to Better Business Bureau. Inquiries are especially high during the summer months, when families are planning their summer vacations and looking for ways to avoid leaving their home vulnerable to thieves.
But, finding a reliable dealer can be tricky. Over the past 12 months, BBB has received hundreds of complaints against home security system dealers and operators.
Many complaints to BBB allege consumers were continuously billed after canceling service or unaware their contract would automatically renew. There were also issues with faulty equipment.
More than a dozen complaints involved companies selling door-to-door. In this case, many times consumers felt pressured or deceived into buying or upgrading their current home security system.
In a matter as crucial as the security of your family and your home, consumers need to be especially careful in deciding on the type of alarm system to use and who will install it. BBB encourages consumers to follow these tips in finding the right home security system:
· Be wary of door-to-door alarm sales. Don’t be pressured into buying something you don’t want or need. A trustworthy company will let you check out the offer and compare bids from several installers.
· Check out the “free” alarm system offer. Many times salespersons will deceive consumers with a “free” offer. And while the equipment may be free, there is typically an installation charge and a monthly monitoring fee.
· Check licensing. Most states require any company who provides security services in the state to be properly licensed.
· Verify who will monitor your system. Ask if the same company you are signing a contract with will be the ones to monitor your system. If not, make sure you obtain the name, address and phone number of this company and review its BBB Business Review through bbb.org.
· Study the contract carefully. Confirm such information as; the installation price, monthly fee, length of contract, cancellation process and timeframe. Make sure the contract includes all information promised or agreed upon.