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BBB: Be cautious with computer support services

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(KTVI) - The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers to be extremely skeptical of callers offering computer support services after thieves used the ploy to steal more than $300 from a St. Louis County couple.

Christ Thetford explained to Elliot Weiler, the couple said the thieves had tried to take an additional $1,200 from their bank account, but were unable to complete those transactions.

While the couple said they were relieved they did not lose more, they remained angry that they were duped.

The husband and wife said an unknown caller with a thick accent phoned their home in Overland last week and offered them a $313 lifetime plan to clean their computer and keep it operating efficiently. After the couple gave the caller an identification number from a debit card, they discovered that the men had not only taken the $313, but a total of $1,578 from the account.

“My faith in people has flown out the window,” the husband told BBB shortly after realizing he had been scammed.

The case is among the most recent in the St. Louis area involving callers posing as representatives of technical support firms. The Federal Trade Commission has issued several warnings about the schemes, saying the thieves’ tactics “have one purpose: to make money.”

While it is unclear exactly how many people have fallen victim to similar calls, the FTC has said they are aware of more than 40,000 complaints connected to what are generally called “tech support scams.”

FTC said it has received dozens of complaints from the St. Louis area.

Often, callers say they represent well-known companies like Microsoft, but other times they say they are affiliated with more generic, unfamiliar firms. Sometimes they claim they have been alerted that the consumer’s computer has been infected, or they promise to protect the computer from future problems. The goal is to obtain access to banking information so they can withdraw money from consumers’ accounts.

Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the St. Louis region has seen an increase recently in customer inquiries about the scheme. in recent weeks. “These people are devious and relentless, offering to protect your computer from viruses and malware,” Corey said. “But they are actually wolves in sheeps’ clothing. Not only are they not interested in helping you, their goal is to take you for as much as they can get.”

The Overland woman said she and her husband initially were contacted the afternoon of March 25 by a caller who said he was in New York and represented a company called PC Clean-Up. BBB could find no information on the company.

The woman said they had only recently activated their computer and thought the program sounded like a good idea. She said her husband gave another representative access to his computer and gave him identification numbers from a VISA debit card to pay what they thought was a one-time fee of $313.

The woman said the man called again that night and asked for her husband’s driver’s license number, which he supplied. At that point, the woman said she strongly suspected something was wrong.

The next morning they discovered that not only had the $313 payment been taken from the account, but also subsequent amounts of $499, $397 and $370.

They contacted police and their bank. The bank later told them that the final three charges were pending, and the money was back in their account.

In recent days, she said, the men have continued to call. The couple has not answered.

The woman said that she is retired. Her husband is an Air Force veteran, receives military disability benefits and works part-time.

“We’ve been through hard times before,” the woman said shortly after the learned of the loss. “We’ll get through this.”

She said she wants to warn others of the pitfalls associated with computer tech calls. “I just want this to stop,” she said.

In October 2012, the FTC announced a major international crackdown on tech support scams. At that time, a U.S. district court judge ordered a halt to six alleged tech support scams, pending further hearings, and froze their assets.

At that time, the FTC said that most of the suspect operations are based in India and target English-speaking consumers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

BBB offers the following tips to avoid tech support scams:

  • Don’t turn over control of your computer or give your computer password to someone you don’t know.
  • Do not give banking, credit card or other personal information to a strange caller.
  • If a caller notifies you that he or she has detected a virus or other threat to your computer, hang up.
  • If you have any concerns about your computer, contact your security software company directly and ask for help.
  • If you do pay for tech support services, pay with a credit card in case you need to challenge the charge. Do not send money via a wire service.
  • Check BBB Business Reviews by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.