Scammers now targeting smartphone and tablet users

SCAMwatch, run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), is warning consumers to beware of scammers targeting their smartphones and tablet devices with the computer virus scam.

This scam has caught out many Australians in recent years, with victims receiving a call out of the blue from a ‘technical specialist’ claiming that their computer has a virus. The caller convinces the victim to provide them with remote access to their computer, claims that their security has been compromised, and then offers to fix it on the spot – for a fee.

In a new twist, scammers are claiming to be able to fix similar viruses on people’s smartphones or tablets. As with the previous version, the scammer will ask you to grant them remote access to your computer, however they will also ask you to connect your mobile device to the computer so that they can access the device through it.

Don’t let your guard drop by a sense of urgency – these scammers are well-versed at applying high pressure sales tactics to incite fear and anxiety that your device has been compromised and must be fixed immediately. In fact, the only way that you risk your device’s security is by providing access in the first place. If you hand over your money, your device will not receive the promised protection.

Ask yourself: why would a business call and offer to fix your computer unless you contacted them in the first place? If you store personal information on your phone, tablet or computer, keep it out of the hands of scammers – never provide remote access to a stranger.

How the scam works

You receive a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be a technical support specialist, who informs you that your computer, smartphone or tablet has been compromised by malicious software.

The caller may claim to represent a reputable business such as Microsoft, Windows, Telstra or Bigpond. They may also sound like an expert as they use technical jargon.

The ‘technician’ will ask you to provide them with remote access to your computer so that they can run a scan. If they claim the virus is on your smartphone or tablet, they will ask you to connect the device to your computer so that they can access the device through it.

If you provide them with access, they will claim that the scan has indeed detected a virus, and any information stored on the device has been compromised.

The ‘technician’ will then claim that they can restore your computer’s security on the spot – for a fee. They will offer to install anti-virus software on to your device for a one-off payment that typically ranges from $100 to $300.

If you hesitate to agree, the caller will be very persistent and try to evoke a sense of urgency by claiming that anything could happen to your device if you don’t fix it now.

To pay, they will ask for your credit card or banking details, or to transfer them money.

If you provide remote access to the caller, only then are your compromising your device and personal information. If you hand over your money, your device will never receive the promised security software.

Protect yourself

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming there is something wrong with your computer or mobile device’s security, just hang up.

Never give a stranger remote access to your mobile device or computer.

Do not give out your personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you initiated the call and the phone number came from a trusted source.

Make sure your computer is protected with anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a good firewall - but only purchase the software from a source that you know and trust.

If you think your mobile device or computer’s security has been compromised, seek out help or advice from a qualified and reputable technician.

If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

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