Federal Trade Commission

Consumers Losing Millions to Tech Support Scams

“That was enough right there to just make your blood run cold,” Mac Estes said.

Sharon and Mac Estes of Crest Hill were getting ready for dinner when they answered a phone call and received the scare of a lifetime. The couple said the caller, who purported to be a computer security expert, claimed people had hijacked their computer’s IP address and were using it to produce and distribute child pornography. 

“That was enough right there to just make your blood run cold,” Mac Estes said. 

Mac said he turned on the computer and immediately saw a security alert on the screen. That’s when the couple said the caller offered to remove the hackers’ access to the computer. But he would need remote access to help. 

Sharon was hesitant and wanted to take the computer to someone she knew.

“He just jumped on me for that,” Sharon said. “He was really pouring it on saying ‘you don’t have time do anything else right now except follow my directions.’” 

Sharon and Mac allowed the caller, who identified himself as Steve Smith, access to their computer, despite their suspicions.

“He was very believable and he was very cunning,” Sharon said.

The couple gave the caller $900 for the repair work. But they soon realized he used their own computer software to dupe them into believing he was fixing their laptop. Instead, they said they later found out he had added malware on their computer.

“We’ve just been very cleverly scammed,” Sharon recalled.

Fortunately, the Estes’ bank was able to cancel the payment and the couple closed their bank account. They also had their laptop professionally wiped clean and they changed their cell phone number.

The Federal Trade Commission said it received 143,000 complaints about tech support scams last year. The FTC also reports the scams cost consumers $55 million.

Rachel Tobac of SocialProof Security teaches consumers and companies how not to fall victim to cyber scams. She urges consumers to be “politely paranoid” when they receive a similar robocall or warning. 

"If they call you, make sure you email them. Call them back. If you just hang up a lot of times you can keep yourself safe," Tobac said. 

Meanwhile, Sharon and Mac told NBC 5 Investigates they are speaking out to help others.

“It was a horrible, unnerving experience,” Sharon said. “I want people to be alert and aware of the fact that they can play on your emotions. They can play on your fear factor.”

You can report tech support scams to the FTC here and the Illinois Attorney General here.

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