Social engineering attacks use deception and manipulation to trick people into revealing sensitive information or performing actions that compromise their computer security. One common type of social engineering attack is called the “help desk scam.”
Older adults are often targeted by help desk scammers because they may be less familiar with technology and more trusting of strangers. However, falling victim to a help desk scam is not necessarily a sign of weakness or cognitive decline. It is a result of being exploited by a skilled and malicious actor who knows how to manipulate human emotions and behaviors.
The attack starts with an email, text message, or a phone call. The message will claim that they have detected a problem (such as a computer virus or improper credit card charge) and that you need to act immediately to fix it. Communications will look professional and can contain reputable company logos and toll-free numbers. The attacker’s goal is to get you on a phone call where they pretend to be a help desk worker. The attacker then tries to get the victim to install malicious software, reveal personal information or transfer funds.
Here are some tips on how to identify this type of scam:
- Do not be fooled by logos, caller ID, or toll free inbound numbers. Attackers have easy access to these tools and will use them to look legitimate.
- You will not ever receive an unsolicited inbound call or email from a legitimate help desk support organization.
- Never call a phone number from popup alerts on your phone or computer.
If you think you may have fallen victim to this type of attack:
- Disconnect your computer from the internet and scan it for malware.
- Change your passwords and enable two-factor authentication for your online accounts.
- Contact your bank and credit card companies and alert them of any fraudulent transactions or activity.
- Monitor your credit reports and identity theft protection services for any signs of identity theft.
- Seek support from your family, friends, or a professional counselor if you feel distressed by the experience.
Help desk scams are a serious threat that can cause financial loss and emotional distress. If you or someone you know has been affected by a help desk scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. You are not alone and you are not to blame. The best thing you can do is to get help and take steps to protect yourself from further harm. By educating yourself and others about the risks and signs of social engineering attacks, you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim and empower yourself to respond effectively.