When Computer Tech Support is a Scam 

By Crystal Baldwin

Computer tech support scammers are imposters that immediately gain trust by using well-known company names like Norton, Microsoft, or Apple, or by expressing a desire to help fix a daunting problem. Ranking third among the scams with the highest dollar loss, $695,240, in Vermont in 2021, this scam is historically successful due to its ability to establish a sense of familiarity and legitimacy garnered by the scammer’s suggested affiliation with a company and their technical prowess. 

Scammers claim an account renewal payment has been processed or antivirus protection is needed. May claim to be Norton, Microsoft, or Apple. Contact CAP: 1-800-649-2424 ago.vermont.gov/cap
Computer Tech Support Scam Alert

In the computer tech support scam, you are contacted by phone, pop-up or email on your computer. The message spikes your anxiety and drives your response to be reactive. Tech scammers may claim, “There is a virus on your device,” “Your security subscription has been automatically renewed,” or “You have been charged for a year’s subscription of antivirus.” In the communication, a link or phone number is included, which you are urged to contact immediately to rectify the issue.  

While in reaction mode, you call, hoping to resolve the issue. During the call, the scammer will try to persuade you to give remote access to your device to fix the problem, and sometimes will ask for immediate payment for their services. In scenarios where a refund is requested, they facilitate what appears to be a transfer of funds by walking you through steps to log into your own online bank account. Utilizing their program and ability to freely roam on your computer while they have remote access, they disguise the origin of the funds transfer, which is in actuality a transfer of funds between your own bank accounts.  

Tech support scammers further escalate the call, using high tones of voice, demands of urgency, and call on your empathy to help solve a problem they created. The scammer’s tactics pull the recipient of the scam further into reaction mode. While in reaction mode, responses are based on impulse and with little additional collective data. Once a person has more information, through the process of asking questions and seeking out resources, the ability to think critically and problem-solve the issue comes back online.  

For this scam and consumer transactions generally, you can apply the SLOW method to disrupt the unpredictable reaction response by substituting a planned response instead. At the onset of the first communication, start with SLOW as a strategy to help you take steps to verify. 

Slow down! Log the Contact. Make One Call to a primary contact. Who cares? Reach out to CAP at 1-800-649-2424.
Stop scams with SLOW

S – Slow down – scammers pressure you to react urgently. Don’t! Instead, take a breath and find your calm by doing what is immediately natural to you.   

L – Log the contact – write down the information of the email, or phone call. If they are on the phone, you can tell them you will call them back, even if you don’t intend to. Then, disengage. 

O – One call – make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member and discuss the incident. It works best if you have pre-established who this will be; someone you can trust no matter what. The contact is a sounding board, who will ask questions and help you get curious about the interaction. Some questions might include:  

How do I know the contact is who they say they are? –What proof is there? Where can I verify their contact information that is not part of the communication I received? –Was my credit card charged? What other parties can I contact that might know more about this? How can I be sure this is not a scam? 

W – Who cares? Contact another party or organization in your life who cares. The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) can help you identify scams and report them: 1-800-649-2424 and ago.vermont.gov/cap 

Know what to watch out for in computer tech scams, so you can avoid them: 

  • Be wary of pop-ups and unexpected emails/phone calls.  
  • Watch out for security warnings and account renewals. 
  • Don’t trust contact information, like links, URLs and phone numbers provided in unexpected emails. 
  • Never click on links or provide remote access to your computer from an unknown email or source. 
  • If you received an email or pop-up message, you cannot click out of, don’t engage. Instead, shut down, restart, or unplug your device. 
  • If you get a call from “tech support,” hang up.  
  • Be careful when searching for tech support online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate phone numbers listed on the internet.  

In the age of the internet and free flowing technology scammers hope to capitalize at every turn. You can prevent scams by practicing SLOW in all your consumer transactions now—and commit to being a primary contact for others. Everyone can help stop scams by following a scam prevention plan and sharing scam knowledge with your community.  

SCAM ALERT: BEWARE OF “COURIERS” COLLECTING CASH IN FAMILY EMERGENCY SCAM

BURLINGTON – Attorney General T.J. Donovan is warning Vermonters about a new variation of the family emergency scam in which scammers are demanding that cash be handed over in person to a “courier.” By presenting a fake emergency in which their loved one needs help getting out of trouble, scammers pressure panicked family members, including grandparents, into acting before they can realize it’s a scam. Until recently, scammers took a hands-off approach in collecting money, demanding gift cards, wire transfers, or virtual payments. Now, the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) is receiving reports that scammers are enlisting “couriers” to collect cash directly from unsuspecting family members at their homes to resolve the fake emergency. Vermonters who receive these calls should resist the urge to act immediately and take steps to verify the caller’s identity.  

Scam Warning: In-person courier money retrieval scam. Slow down. Take steps to verify. Never give money to parties you cannot verify.

These scenarios are designed by scammers to be emotional and high pressure. If you are presented with this type of scenario—pause; hang up the phone; and call a friend or family member to verify. Do not give money to someone coming to your home. Instead, call local law enforcement and the Consumer Assistance Program to identify and report the scam.

Attorney General Donovan

While the family emergency scam has long plagued Vermonters, CAP is raising awareness about the spread of “couriers” coming to Vermonters’ homes to collect cash. CAP has received 216 reports of family emergency scams since the beginning of the year. In the last week, CAP has received 4 family emergency scam reports from Vermonters who were told that an individual or a “courier” would retrieve cash from them at their homes—3 of these scams resulted in monetary loss. Common elements of this scam include:

  • Claims of a “gag order” being in place which requires secrecy.
  • Cash is needed to pay for a “bond” or a “bail bond agent.”
  • A loved one was involved in a “car accident,” sometimes related to traveling for a COVID-19 test.

CAP has found that scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their contacts and appear to be using internet searches and public social media profiles to research the locations of family members. By searching telephone numbers and addresses on the internet and scanning popular social media sites, scammers can learn about familial relationships, ages, and geographic locations. Scammers then use this information to make the scam seem credible.

CAP advises Vermonters to slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed. Use the SLOW method in urgent situations:

S – SLOW DOWN. Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Take time to regain your calm.
L – LOG THE CONTACT. Write down the phone number of the contact and disengage.
O – ONE CALL. Make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member, and discuss the incident.
W – WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
Slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed.

S – SLOW DOWN. Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Take time to regain your calm.

L – LOG THE CONTACT. Write down the phone number of the contact and disengage.

O – ONE CALL. Make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member, and discuss the incident.

W – WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.

If you or someone you know has lost money to this scam, contact law enforcement and report the scam to CAP at 1-800-649-2424. Learn more about family emergency scams by watching CAP’s Avoiding the Family Emergency Scam video and reviewing steps to verify at https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/family-imposter/.

Reference: https://ago.vermont.gov/blog/2022/06/02/scam-alert-beware-of-couriers-collecting-cash-in-family-emergency-scam/

Grandchild Imposter Phone Scam Alert

The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) has received scam reports from Vermonters who have reported receiving calls from scammers claiming to be grandchildren or lawyers representing loved ones in an emergency and that money is needed.

Grandchild Imposter Scam Alert: Hang up the phone! Call a family member or friend to verify. Don't send cash, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or wire transfers. Report scams to cap at ago.vermont.gov/cap/stopping-scams
Grandchild Imposter Scam Alert

When contacted by someone who asks for money, a gift card to be purchased, funds to be wired, or for any other financial transaction, take steps to verify the identity of your loved one in distress.

  1. Slow down. The scammers urge you to act urgently; don’t.
  2. Write down the phone number of the caller and hang up.
  3. Call your grandchild or any other person who can verify their whereabouts and well-being.
  4. Call another person in your life who cares about you. 
  5. Call CAP at 1-800-649-2424.  We care and can help identify scams.
SLOW DOWN: Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Don't! LOG THE CONTACT: Write down the info of the contact and disengage. ONE CALL: Make one call to a primary contact and discuss the incident. WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
Stop scams with the SLOW Method.

Even if you have not been contacted by this scam, now is a great time to connect with loved ones to create a scam action plan in preparation for the likely receipt of scam calls. Consider creating an uncommon family codeword or pin number that you agree to not publicize or share with others. Make a phone tree of reliable contacts to call if a scam like this is received. Learn more about family emergency scams on CAP’s website: ago.vermont.gov/family-imposter. Act now to prevent future loss.

Help CAP stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.

If you have lost money to this scam, contact the money transfer company right away! Report the scam to the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.

For more information on the Attorney General’s efforts to support and protect older Vermonters, visit the webpage of the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative.

2021 Scams with Loss Reported to the Consumer Assistance Program 

Reports of scams to the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) totaled 5,154 in 2021, up just slightly from the previous year’s 5,021 reports. As imposter scams are of ongoing concern in Vermont, CAP recently distributed a video imposter scam prevention project, highlighting three concerning imposter scams with high dollar loss: the Romance Imposter scam, the Family Emergency/Imposter Scam, and the Business Imposter Email Scam.  We work in partnership with the Community of Vermont Elders (COVE), FAST of Vermont and local community partners to provide referrals and resources to victims of scams. In addition, CAP connects with service providers and local community organizations to provide training and scam prevention presentations.   

As highlighted in the prevention project, taking steps to verify can help individuals avoid scams. A simple verification process to follow for all scams is the SLOW Method

S – SLOW DOWN 
Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Don’t! 

L – LOG THE CONTACT 
Write down the info of the contact and disengage. 

O – ONE CALL 
Make one call to a primary contact and discuss the incident. 

W – WHO CARES? 
Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424. 

CAP reminds Vermonters to never give out personal information or make payments to parties you cannot verify. Scammers will ask for payment in all forms, including wire transfer, cryptocurrency, cash, peer-to-peer payment, money order, check, credit/debit card, and gift cards. If you have sent money to a scammer, follow recovery steps now

Vermonters can help stop scams by sharing information with community members and by reporting scams to CAP to support educational outreach. To report scams, complete CAP’s online scam reporting form or call 1-800-649-2424. 

Top 10 Scam Types with Incurred Loss in Vermont by Total Loss Amount: Romance Imposter, $1,203,457: Financial Advisor/Investment Imposter, $820,233: Computer Tech Support, $695,240: Sweepstakes/Lottery/Contest/Prize, $439,685: Business Email Imposter, $388,295: Legal Authority Imposter, $197,011: Claims Order Made/Package Delivery, $129,818: Fake Website, $83,461: Buy/Sell Listing, $60,376: Phishing-Bank Representation, $51,436.
Top 10 Scam Types with Incurred Loss in Vermont by Total Loss Amount
Scam with Loss data according to reports to the Consumer Assistance Program in 2021

Computer Tech Support (Traditional) 

The scam: You receive a phone call, pop-up, or email on your computer claiming to be from Norton, Microsoft, Apple, or another well-known tech company. They will make claims such as your electronic device has a virus, your device security subscription has been automatically renewed, or stating you have been charged for services you did not receive or ask for. You may be prompted to click a link or call a number to contact. They will try to persuade you to give remote access to your device to fix the issue, and sometimes will even ask for immediate payment for their services. 

 How to spot the scam: Legitimate tech support companies do not display communications to their customers as random pop-ups on your device. Tech support will not call you to warn of security incidents; that your account has been renewed for a subscription you do not recognize; and will not send you random links, often shortened, with instructions for you to click on URLs. 

What to do: When contacted about a supposed business relationship, take steps to verify, especially if you do not remember signing up for services. Never click on links or provide remote access to your computer from an unknown email sender or pop-up message on your device’s screen. If you received a pop-up message you cannot click out of, shut down, restart, or unplug your device. If you get a call from “tech support”, hang up. Also, be careful when searching for tech support online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate phone numbers listed on the internet. 

Fake Website/Online Listings 

The scam: Fake websites or phony listings on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist draw you into a purchase that’s likely too good to be true. This scam can also appear in online rental listings, and as a buyer offering well-over the selling price for an item. As a seller, the fake buyer sends a fake check or pays with a fraudulent credit card and asks you to advance funds to another fake vendor, causing you to be out the funds. 

How to spot the scam: Be skeptical of unrealistic offers. Watch out for requests for money in any form (gift cards, wire transfers, cash) when not made in person. Scammers likely will not want to talk on the phone or meet in person. Heed warnings in user reviews and other online commentary. 

What to do: Playing it safe online takes a bit of detective work to determine legitimacy of an offer. Investigate the person/profile of the seller. If their profile is new and they have no friends and photos, they are likely a scam. Research new websites you are considering doing business with by looking up online reviews and state business registrations, taking note of how long the company has been operating. Perform online searches of the business with “scam” and “complaints” to see if issues generate. Complete your transactions in cash and preferably a safe place in-person. 

Romance Imposter  

The Scam:  Scammers connect usually through social media and pose to be someone you trust and care for. After the trust has been developed, they claim they are in an emergency to convince you to send them money or will ask you for a favor. Scammers impersonate a love interest and play on your fears to have you send money urgently.  

How to spot the scam: Use reverse image searches to look up images of the person; if ther are many results, the contact may be using someone else’s image and is a scam. Video chat on your terms and at random times. If they are typically unavailable, they may be scamming someone else.  

What to do: consult with your close in person contacts and reach out to an organization in your life who cares. They may spot something you don’t. Never send money to someone you have not met in person.  

Computer Tech Support (Claims Order Made/Package Delivery) 

The scam: A variation of the traditional Computer Tech Support scam (see # 3 below). You receive an automated phone call, text message, or email claiming that you have been charged for an online order, have an outstanding balance on your account, or are sent an item you did not order. The scammer then instructs individuals to call a number provided in the scammer’s communications to get a refund or to resolve the charge. At this point, they will ask you to provide your card number to “confirm your account” or prompt you to provide them remote access to your computer. As soon as the scammer has remote access to your device, they can access every single document, file, and transaction you have saved to your device. 

How to spot the scam: Companies will not call with tech support unless you requested that they contact you. If you receive a package that you do not recall ordering, check your statement history to see if you have been charged. Packages without a return address are highly suspicious. 

What to do: Hang up the phone immediately and do not call back. If you receive an email or text regarding a package delivery or order that has been made, do not click on any links. Mark the email as “Junk” or “Spam”. Furthermore, never allow remote access to your device to unknown parties. If you are concerned about charges made to your accounts, log in to your account directly and contact your financial institution. If you receive a package that you did not order, mark it return to sender and give it back to the mail carrier. 

Sweepstakes/Lotteries/Contest/Prize 

The scam: You will be notified by phone, email, or mail that you won a prize or a quantity of money. In some cases, you will even receive a realistic-looking check – but it is fake! You are instructed to pay fees and give your financial and personal information to claim your prize. They often use a legitimate sweepstakes name, like Publishers Clearing House. 

How to spot the scam: Legitimate sweepstakes and contest businesses, like Publishers Clearing House and Mega Millions lottery, will contact you in person if you win a major prize. For prizes under $10,000, the notification is done through certified mail by overnight delivery services (FedEx, UPS). They will not contact you by phone, nor require a payment or processing fee to release your prize. 

What to do: If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s not true. You don’t need to pay fees or give your financial information in order to claim a prize. 

Family/Friend Emergency/Imposter 

The scam: Scammers pose to be someone you trust and pretend to be in an emergency to convince you to send them money or will ask you for a favor. These scammers pose as grandchildren, friends, relatives, and close contacts and seem like the real deal. Scammers impersonate people you love and play on your fears to have you send money urgently. After the initial call, you may be told a lawyer, parole officer or courtroom may contact you for further information. 

How to spot the scam: Contacts come in as calls or emails or online messages. Sometimes it’s someone you haven’t heard from in a while. They require urgency and ask for secrecy. You may not be allowed to speak to your loved one on the phone. 

What to do: Take steps to verify. Check out if they really are who they say even if they sound like a loved one. Slow down your response and contact someone you trust to verify if there is an emergency. You can also choose a “code word” with friends and family to verify the person is who they claim to be. If they don’t know the word, they are not your friend or family member. 

Phishing-Bank Representation 

The scam: You receive an email or phone call claiming to be from a bank. Emails might claim that your account is in danger or has been suspended, or that your card is on hold due to suspicious activity. The email also includes links to phony websites. Phone calls may claim that there has been fraudulent activity involving your account, and the scammers demand personal information about you and your account. 

How to spot the scam: Scammers mask their actual identity by changing the sender name to the name of the financial institution. Look at the email address before opening the email. You will often find an account not affiliated with your bank. Similarly, scammers can spoof phone numbers of financial institutions. If you answer a call that appears to be from your bank and they ask for your personal and/or account information, hang up and call your bank directly on a number you trust to verify their attempt to contact you. 

What to do: Do not reply to the email or click on any links or attachments included in the message. If you receive a call, hang up the phone. To correspond directly with your bank or financial institution, use verified contact information, such as information listed on your statement. 

Financial Advisor/ Investment Imposter  

The scam: Scammers are spoofing websites and using fake social media accounts to obscure their identities. Scammers also pose an imposter friend with an investment tip.  Investors should always take steps to identify phony accounts by looking closely at content, analyzing dates of inception and considering the quality of engagement. To ensure investors do not accidently deal with an imposter firm, pay careful attention to domain names and learn more about how to protect your online accounts. 

How to spot the scam: Beware of fake client reviews. Scammers often reference or publish positive, yet bogus testimonials purportedly drafted by satisfied customers. These testimonials create the appearance the promoter is reliable – he or she has already earned significant profits in the past, and new investors can reap the same financial benefits as prior investors. 

What to do: The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) recommends investors independently research registration of investment firms.  

No More Surprise Out-of-Network Medical Bills

By Crystal Baldwin

The Consumer Assistance Program’s (CAP) top consumer complaints of 2021 ranks health/medical concerns fourth among the primary problems reported by Vermont consumers, with issues including billing and charge disputes. While the Consumer Assistance Program provides informal mediation on medical billing disputes involving providers, there are several resources available to consumers to resolve medical billing disputes, particularly if a regulated business, such as an insurance provider is involved. In the medical billing realm, consumers have earned more protections just this January through the Federal No Surprises Act, aka the “No Surprises Act” or the “No Surprise Billing Act.”

The No Surprises Act prevents surprise medical bills and has changed how unanticipated out-of-network bills can be assessed. The intention of the act is to remove the surprise that accompanies receiving large unanticipated bills after receiving health care services. There is a lot to know and there are already a number of resources to help you understand the act and your rights more thoroughly, including information on Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services websites. 

The No Surprises Act gives some medical billing control back to the consumer.

No More Surprise Medical Bills: 5 Things To Know about the No Surprises Act Taking Effect in 2022 – From HHS.gov

Key information you should know about this new law:

Who does it cover?

People covered under group and individual health plans.

What does the law provide?

Protection from receiving surprise medical bills for most:

  • Emergency services
  • Non-emergency services from out-of-network providers at in-network facilities
  • Services from out-of-network air ambulance service providers

It…

  • Bans surprise billing in private insurance for most emergency care and some instances of non-emergency care.
No Surprises Statement
No Surprises Statement
  • Requires that uninsured and self-pay patients receive key information, including overviews of anticipated costs and details about their rights.
  • Bans surprise bills for emergency care and requires that cost-sharing for these services–like co-pays—always be based on in-network rates, even when care is received without prior authorization.
  • Bans surprise bills from certain out-of-network providers if you go to an in-network hospital for a procedure; cost sharing for certain additional services during your visit will generally be based on in-network rates.
  • Requires providers and facilities to share with patients easy-to understand notices that explain the applicable billing protections and who patients should contact if they have concerns that a provider or facility has violated the new surprise billing protections.
  • Requires most providers to give a “good faith estimate” of costs before providing non-emergency care for people who do not have health insurance or pay for care on their own.
  • Protects against “Balance Billing” abuse. Balance billing is when a provider bills for the difference between the provider’s charge and the allowed amount.
  • Prohibits a preferred provider from balance billing.
  • Prevents air ambulance services from imposing cost-sharing greater than the in-network cost.

When might the law not apply?

While there are many protections in place, a patient may agree to balance billing for certain non-emergency situations, however this must be disclosed in writing and utilize a specific “Surprise Billing Protection Form.” By signing the form, patients agree to give up their federal consumer protections, agreeing to pay more for out-of-network care.

This notice and consent waiver for balance billing is NOT permitted for:

Code Blue sign in hospital
  • Emergency services
  • Unforeseen urgent medical needs arising when non-emergent care is furnished
  • Items/care related to emergency services
  • Diagnostic services including radiology and lab services
  • Out-of-network provider services when in-network providers cannot provide necessary such service

Surprise bills may continue to be issued by the following facilities:

Newborn and mother
  • Birthing centers
  • Clinics
  • Hospice
  • Addiction treatment facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Urgent care centers (by circumstance)

What if you receive a surprise bill?

There is an independent dispute resolution process for payment disputes between plans and providers as well as new dispute resolution opportunities for uninsured and self-pay individuals.

For remaining questions about the law, visit: cms.gov/nosurprises

What about medical billing disputes not covered under the law?

For those bills that still are not covered, there are some important resources still available to consumers:

Dispute Resolution ResourceIssue
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid ServicesMedicare billing disputes
ERISAPrivate-sector/work place health benefit insurance plan disputes
Insurance Division of the Vermont Department of Financial RegulationHealth insurance billing dispute
Patient Financial Assistance Program of the provider, such as the program available at UVMMCChallenges paying valid medical bills
State Health Insurance Program (SHIP):Help understanding health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid
Vermont Health Care Advocate (HCA) HelpLine:
1-800-917-7787  
Assistance obtaining free and lower-cost health coverage. Advice and support in solving medical billing problems, including Medicaid. Assistance deciphering health plan coverage.

As described in CAP’s blog a few years back, Navigating Health Care Can Be Tough, click the blog for even more helpful resources. Contact CAP for assistance resolving provider billing disputes.