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Stay safe online – avoid internet pop-up scams

Delia Rickard
2nd May, 2017

The internet has become a part of our everyday lives, yet consumers are too often unaware of the very real and pervasive threat of online scams. Delia Rickard, Deputy Chair of the ACCC, talks about the latest online scam in Australia – internet pop-ups.

Known as ‘remote access’ scams, pop-up windows appear when someone is surfing the internet. Pop-up windows are used as a ploy to get unsuspecting victims to call a fake support line – usually a 1800 number. The scammer will then ask for remote access to their victim’s computer to “find out what the problem is”. Once a scammer has remote access to your computer they can install malicious software, steal your personal data, con you into paying for a ‘service’ of your PC, or sell you unnecessary software to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.

These scammers are very convincing and sound like they’re the real deal when talking about tech issues. The pop-ups they create to lure people in look legitimate and are often made to imitate trusted websites for brands like Microsoft and Apple.

Scamwatch has already received an average of 300 reports a month about this scam in 2017, with more than $41,000 lost in total. Australians aged over-45 are most likely to encounter and lose money to this scam.

These pop-ups can often seemingly freeze your computer and clicking the close button on your browser often doesn’t work. This tricks people into thinking there really is a problem and calling the fake support line for help.

What to do if you’re targeted by an internet pop-up scam

  • Your first and best line of defence against this scam is to not call that number and close the pop-up if possible. If you do call the number, never give a stranger—no matter how legitimate they sound—remote access to your computer.
  • Affected users can close the pop up manually through Windows Task Manager (for PC users) or by using the Activity Monitor (for Mac users). If this fails to work, users can also shut down and restart their computer.
  • If you think you’ve been caught by this scam, call your bank immediately and let them know what happened to protect your personal bank and/or credit card details. If your credit card was charged for sham software or servicing, you can try to get your money back.
  • Read up on scams in the ACCC’s Little Black Book of Scams which tells you how to spot and avoid scams, and help keep you one step ahead of scammers. This Little Black Book has recently been updated to include new trends we’re seeing from scammers, including remote access scams.
  • People can report or find out more about suspected scams to the ACCC Scamwatch – visit scamwatch.gov.au, or follow on Twitter @scamwatch_gov.

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