Prepayment trick, fake internet service providers, and more tech support scams: Internet Scambusters #1,056
Internet service providers (ISPs) are already taking a big chunk out of our wallets every month, without us risking even more losses through scams.
In this week's issue, we'll explain how the three biggest ISP scams work and the steps you should take to protect yourself.
We also have news of the gigantic bill paid by American consumers to scammers last year.
Let's get started…
Three Big Internet Service Scams That Could Cost You Dearly
Who wants a cheaper internet service? Everyone, right? And faster, yes? And safer?
You get the picture.
And now, with the launch of new services to access the web - like 5G cellular and satellite networks, with more to come - maybe our wishes will come true. Increased competition among internet service providers (ISPs) should hopefully drive down prices.
But not yet. Unless you listen to the scammers.
They're busy calling, emailing, and texting consumers right now with promises of drastically lower prices, faster services, and all sorts of other promises they'll never deliver on.
Here are the three biggest internet service scams to be on guard for.
1. The Pay First Scam
Most often, these fraudsters claim to be from your existing ISP and offer to reduce your monthly subscription if you pay for several months upfront. They make these calls at random, even to non-subscribers. If you say you're not a subscriber, they might switch track and offer you a new cut-price service from the company they're pretending to represent.
Of course, as scammers, they want you to pay by an untraceable method - gift cards. But these sneaky crooks know that might arouse your suspicions, so they say the company has partnered with a gift card issuer to help reduce prices.
Action: No ISP operates this type of program, so you can safely hang up on anyone who offers you this type of deal. Even if you think it may be legit, you should still hang up and call your ISP independently to check it out.
2. Fake and Free
Scammers sometimes set themselves up as an internet service provider, supposedly offering cut-price or even free internet access
They may invent a name that's similar to an existing ISP - a big risk now that more companies are entering the fast web world and legitimately trying to persuade people to switch from their existing provider.
The crooks may also set up bogus but convincing websites. Mostly, they do this as a phishing trick - they want to steal your confidential financial account information so they can drain your accounts or max out your credit card before you discover they don't really exist.
They've also been known to use Wi-Fi hotspots - devices that effectively piggyback onto legitimate network providers. These can be slow and unreliable but good enough for the crooks to get access to your computer and steal information directly or upload malware.
Action: Don't be fooled by a name that sounds familiar. Do your research! And don't sign-up until you know for sure you're dealing with a legitimate ISP with an established reputation.
3. Bogus Tech Support
As well as pretending to be from Microsoft, Apple, or a computer maker, imposters claim to be from your local internet service provider. They say they've identified unusual or malicious activity on your PC or even across their entire network. And they want access to your computer to check things out and remove any malware.
In the main, they want to install ransomware - a piece of software that locks up your PC until you pay the ransom.
Action: Because the victim does have a direct relationship with the ISP and may even be aware that their web activities are routed via that ISP, it's quite easy to fall for this one. But ISPs usually don't monitor their users' activities and they certainly don't seek access to your computer. Just ignore the crooks.
There's another issue that may not always be a scam, which we've touched on before - hidden or junk fees. This happens when an ISP promotes a headline price but then adds on all sorts of additional fees including equipment rental charges. You end up paying considerably more than you thought.
There is a legitimate way for low-income consumers to get financial support of up to $30 a month toward ISP fees. It's called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), introduced in January by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
It's a replacement of an earlier $50 program that was allegedly being abused by scammers and some ISPs.
The new program could still be open to abuse if scammers use it as a come-on to lure in victims. Avoid this by learning about the program directly from the FCC here.
This Week's Scam Alert
$8.8 Billion Fraud Bill: New figures from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reveal that US consumers lost $8.8 billion to fraudsters in 2022. That's 30 percent up on the previous year.
Investment-related scams accounted for the biggest chunk of this - $3.8 billion, which is double the 2021 figure. Imposter scams came second, followed by online shopping, lottery/sweepstakes scams, and business/job opportunity frauds.
Behind the numbers, a quarter of all losses came via scams on social media, and 1.1 million people reported being victims of identity theft.
The actual figures are likely higher because many victims don't report their losses, out of embarrassment.
These figures underline the scale of scams and frauds. You simply can't be too careful or too skeptical of any activity that involves either handing over money or providing your personal, confidential information.
That's it for today - we hope you enjoy your week!