Beware of tech support scams

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- We all know how frustrating it can be trying to call and speak to a “real live person” in the technical assistance department at a big name company, and now, scammers are taking advantage of that.

Tech support schemes are one of the newest cons the feds are cracking down on these days.How do the scams work? And how can you protect yourself?

3 On Your Side investigates.

Their facebook page is colorful, inspirational, and popular too, with more than 170,000 followers.

It's also vulnerable to hackers, who replaced wholesome posts on the  “Sisters in Christ” Facebook fan page with adult content.

“We just immediately panicked," said Teresa Citro.

Worried about the site’s reputation, Citro searched online for “Facebook phone tech support” and found several numbers. She called the first one that popped up.

The person who answered said for $129 they’d rescue their page from the hackers, and keep them out.

“They also were supposedly putting on some kind of a device so that we couldn't be hacked again,” said Citro.

Turns out she wasn’t talking to Facebook. In fact, the social networking giant doesn’t even offer “phone tech support”.

“This was undoubtedly a scam," Facebook said. "And the feds say they’ve received thousands of complaints about similar “tech support scams.”

Colleen Robbin is an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission.

“The goal is to get consumers to pay hundreds of dollars for unnecessary computer repair services,” explained Robbin.

The FTC recently launched a major tech support scam crack down, filing complaints against several companies based mostly in India.

“It was very interesting how persuasive the defendants were in trying to trick consumers," Robbin said.

The FTC says scammers rely on two different schemes.  They  either cold-call you claiming to be major companies like Microsoft, Norton, MacAfee and Dell, or they lure you into calling fake online tech support listings, like the one Teresa fell for.

In both instances, the scammers try to convince you to give them remote access to your computer.

We tried calling some of the "Facebook tech support”  listings ourselves and they sounded convincing.

Producer: “You can only help me by getting in my computer?”

Tech support operator: “I can just help you out only if you allow me to get into your computer ma'am. Ma’am, you can trust me, okay, we just work for Facebook.”

Once in, they try to sell you repair services, or scare you by telling you it’s riddled with viruses and malware.

Kevin Haley is with Symantec.

“But there's nothing wrong with your computer and they're not going to fix it for you," said Haley.

That’s exactly what Teresa learned. The support line she called didn’t help her at all. She disputed the $129 fee and reported the phone listing to the search engine she used, 

Now Teresa hopes she’s inspiring others not to fall for this tech support scheme.

“I never expected that I wasn't speaking to Facebook because they answered the phone call with ‘this is Facebook technical support,’" she said.

Experts say don’t use online search results to find a company’s tech support number.  Go to the company’s website directly and look for that contact information.

Never give control of your computer to a third party that you are unsure about. And if someone calls you claiming you have a computer problem, hang up.

If you’ve been ripped off by a tech support scam, be sure to report it to the FTC.