Columbus, OH - Each year, one in four North American households are scammed. Because money loss and identity theft can happen to anyone, BBB encourages community members to protect and inform others by reporting any scam-related experiences to BBB’s Scam Tracker. In March, consumers reported losing a total of $53,232.
BBB analyzed 78 Scam Tracker reports from March 2017 to shed a spotlight on four scams affecting our Central Ohio community:
Can You Hear Me?: 18 different consumers reported getting calls asking “Can You Hear Me?” or other questions attempting to get a “yes” answer. Once the consumer says yes, their affirmative may be recorded and used at a later time to say they agreed to a payment or a product. Fortunately, none of the consumers lost any money.
BBB recommends screening your calls and only answering numbers you recognize. If the call is important, there will be a voicemail. If you receive any calls asking “Can you hear me?” or any other questions that seem to be fishing for a yes, hang up immediately.
Publisher’s Clearinghouse Imposter Scam: A 64 year-old Columbus, Ohio woman reported losing $50,000 to a Publisher’s Clearinghouse Imposter scam. She received a call claiming she had won the "Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes", but the caller asked her to pay various fees including storage fees, bank holding fees and IRS fees. She took out cash advances on her credit cards to pay these fees, but has lost the money. BBB has called and emailed her for more information.
BBB urges any consumer who receives letters claiming to be from Publisher’s Clearinghouse to call Publisher’s Clearinghouse directly to confirm that the letter is real. It is also helpful to know the contest rules. Winning entrants will be contacted by Publisher’s Clearinghouse and asked to sign an Affidavit of Eligibility form within 30 days of being chosen as the winner or else another entrant will be accepted. Furthermore, Publisher’s Clearinghouse will never send out winning notices through email or over the phone, but instead will notify winners by mail or in person.
Finally, be wary of any requests for money after being notified that you’ve won, especially when Publisher’s Clearinghouse says “winning is always free”.
Tech Support Scam: A 60 year old Columbus, Ohio man recently reported that he lost $1,500 to a tech support scam in the fall of 2015. He received a telephone call from a man claiming he was with Barewire, a tech support company. The caller said Barewire would like to give him $200 for being a loyal customer, and to login to his bank account on his computer so they could pay him. After giving the caller information, the scammer took over his computer and told him they would take all the money out of his bank account if he did not wire $1,500 to China.
BBB wants consumers to beware of the following tech support scam red flags:
You receive a call from someone claiming to work for Microsoft or another prominent company. Most big tech company’s employees will not call customers who haven’t asked to be called and will never reach out to you if you don’t request it first. This is true for almost all other big tech companies, as well.
You see a pop-up notification on your computer, but it’s not from a program you installed. Scammers make tech support scam pop-ups look like they’re coming from your computer, but they’re actually ads that are displaying in your internet browser. Don’t click on pop-ups that aren’t system alerts from your machine.
You’re offered a “free security scan,” or a pop-up says a free security scan already has found a virus on your machine. Many antivirus software providers offer free trials of their software, programs cannot scan your computer before you’ve installed them. If you haven’t installed the security software, any claims about that software scanning your computer are a scam.
They want you to give them access to your computer. Remote access programs make it possible for people to “take over” computers that are far away from them in order to help fix them. However, just like you wouldn’t physically hand your machine to someone you don’t know and trust, you shouldn’t give access to your computer to someone you don’t know or didn’t hire.
Spyware Scam: A Columbus, Ohio senior citizen reported that a flash message popped up on her computer saying it was full of Zeus malware and needed to be cleaned. A toll free number appeared on the screen to clean the malware, and when she called it, gave the scammers access to her computer. She ended up paying them $432 for a “contract” that was not legitimate.
To avoid malware, BBB encourages consumers to be sure that their machines have updated protection. Be wary of opening any email attachments, even if they seem to be coming from someone that you know. Also be aware of pop-ups claiming that you have a virus. It is always better to be safe and bring the laptop to a tech specialist instead of calling someone you don’t know. Finally, treat phones and tablets like your desktop or laptop computers. Make sure they are protected as well, and only download apps from the official Apple Store or Google Play Store. Malware often masquerades as fake apps.
Media Contact: Kip Morse
Since 1912, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2015, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. BBB serving Central Ohio was founded in 1921, and serving 21 counties in Ohio, is one of 113 local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico.