FBI: Tech Support Scammers Using Remote Desktop Apps for Fraud

July 6, 2024
Justin Lumiere

Tech support fraud is on the rise, with scammers pretending to be from reputable companies like Apple or Microsoft to trick users into believing their devices or accounts have been compromised. These scammers often create a sense of urgency by claiming that the user needs to pay to fix the issue, leading to significant financial losses for victims.

The FBI's Boston division received over 23,000 complaints about tech support fraud in the past year, resulting in estimated losses of $347 million. Victims of tech support fraud are predominantly older individuals, with almost 60% of victims over 60 years old experiencing 68% of the losses.

Scammers use various tactics, including pop-up messages on devices and convincing victims to install remote desktop apps, to gain access to victim devices and steal funds. Anecdotes provided by the FBI's Boston division highlight how victims have lost significant amounts of money, such as a couple in Maine losing $1.1 million to scammers.

The FBI advises the public to be cautious and not respond to unsolicited tech support messages or demands for payment through cash, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. To stay safe, users should avoid calling numbers displayed in pop-up messages, as legitimate tech support services do not initiate contact in this manner. Additional tips for spotting internet scams are available in the FBI's bulletin.

Tech Support Fraud Statistics
StatisticValue
Number of Complaints23,000
Estimated Financial Loss$347 Million
Percentage of Victims Over 60 Years Old60%
Percentage of Financial Losses by Victims Over 6068%
Notable Loss Example$1.1 Million (Couple in Maine)
Aggregated Losses from Scams Involving Couriers$55 Million

Current Scamming Tactics

The FBI issued a warning about technical support scammers who are now asking victims to mail them cash as part of their fraudulent schemes. Scammers convince victims of fraudulent activity, offer refunds, and then deposit extra money into victims' accounts, later requesting the extra money to be returned. Instead of traditional methods like wire transfers or cryptocurrency, scammers are now asking for cash sent via shipping companies to a business address that will accept packages.

The reason for the switch to cash is unclear, but it may indicate challenges in receiving money by other means without detection. The FBI advises not to interact with unsolicited messages, download software from unknown sources, allow unfamiliar individuals to control your computer, or send cash in the mail. Investing in a security suite is recommended.

gray and black laptop computer on surface

Remote Access Scams

Scammers are using fake emails to trick individuals into downloading legitimate remote desktop software that gives them full control over the victim's computer. The scam starts with a fake email pretending to be from the victim's bank, claiming there is an issue with their account that needs investigation. The scammers offer to help fix the non-existent issue by having the victim download the remote desktop software.

Once the victim allows access, the scammers can request passwords and login information to gain access to financial accounts and sensitive data. Tips to avoid falling victim to this scam include being suspicious of unexpected emails, verifying the source of the email/contact, never giving control of your computer to unknown individuals, and never sharing personal login information with anyone.

FBI's Recommendations

The FBI has observed an increase in scammers using courier services to collect money and valuables from victims of tech support and government impersonation scams. Scammers target vulnerable individuals, including many senior citizens, coercing them to liquidate their assets into cash or precious metals for protection. Scammers impersonate tech support workers, U.S. government officials, technology companies, or financial institutions to deceive victims into believing their financial accounts are compromised.

Victims are instructed to convert assets, send funds to metal dealers, or meet couriers in person to retrieve money or precious metals, with promises of keeping assets secure. The FBI has seen an uptick in such scam activity, resulting in significant financial losses for victims, with aggregated losses exceeding $55 million. Tips to protect against scams include avoiding sharing home addresses, meeting strangers, clicking unsolicited links, and downloading software at the request of unknown individuals.

Victims are urged to report scammers to the FBI and provide detailed information about the criminals and their methods to help prevent further victimization. Previous scam warnings include "phantom hacker" scams and impersonation of financial institutions' refund payment portals, targeting older individuals with estimated losses amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

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