You Know Those Pop-up Ads On The Computer? Be Careful As Tech-support Fraud Is Growing

(ABC NEWS)- You know those pesky pop-ups advertising tech support for your computer? Be careful. The FBI highlights tech-support fraud as a growing trend in the agency’s latest report on cybercrime.


The most common type of online crime stems from internet transactions — the failure to either deliver goods or services ordered or to pay for them, according to the FBI’s 2017 Internet Crime Report released this week.


Another cybercrime that continues to be prevalent is what the FBI calls “confidence or romance fraud,” when perpetrators build trust with victims, then persuade them to send money or personal or financial information.


Tech-support fraud is a widespread scam, with criminals constantly changing their tactics to continue the fraud, the FBI report said. The perpetrators may use anything from pop-up ads, phone calls and search-engine advertising to lure victims, and may pose as security, customer service or technical support personnel offering help with issues ranging from software-license renewal to computer viruses.


“Some recent complaints involve criminals posing as technical support representatives for income tax assistance, GPS, printer, or cable companies, or support for virtual currency exchanges,” the FBI report said.


The FBI received nearly 11,000 complaints related to tech-support fraud in 2017 with claimed losses of nearly $15 million, a 90 percent increase in losses over 2016.


The most common cybercrime is failure to either deliver or pay for goods or services purchased online. More than 84,000 such crimes logged by the FBI in 2017.


For cybercrime overall, the states of California, Florida and Texas had the highest numbers of victims and losses in 2017, And older Americans were the most common victims, with those over 60 losing $342 million to cybercrimes last year, the FBI report said.


The United States is not alone with this problem. Canada, India and the United Kingdom also reported significant levels of cybercrime.


Overall, internet crime in the U.S. alone caused losses of $1.4 billion dollars, but one security expert said such crimes are likely underreported.


“There’s probably another percentage of people who’ve never reported the incident because they didn’t know that there was an outlet that they could go to,” Sam Kassoumeh, chief operating officer and co-founder of security ratings firm, SecurityScorecard, told ABC News.


Confidence fraud and romance scams caused victims to lose about $211 million in 2017 alone, the FBI report said. One version of this is when a criminal romances someone online, asks for money and then never talks to that person again. Think the MTV reality show “Catfish” but with a monetary loss.


Kassoumeh told ABC News about an international scam like this in which a network of perpetrators would go online, befriend women and start online relationships with them. The scammers would tell the women they want to buy an item that can’t be shipped to wherever they supposedly are, and then manipulate their victims into unwittingly serving as intermediaries for theft and fraud through the use of prepaid shipping labels and stolen credit cards.


The FBI also highlights a practice called business email compromise, which led to the highest amount of losses, over $600 million, in 2017.


In these cases, scammers target businesses, often through customer support.


Kassoumeh said such fraud is up now because more businesses are working with outside vendors, creating greater opportunities for cybercriminals.


“That creates a larger surface area to manipulate the people inside of a company. There are more companies to take advantage of,” he said. “Third-party providers store some of the most sensitive critical information, think about how many companies in the U.S. use Amazon, or Microsoft or Google as hosting providers.”


The FBI reported that it receives over 800 complaints a day for cyber-related incidents and more than 250,000 complaints each year, a number that is growing every year.

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