National Trading Standards has warned consumers about increasingly prevalent scams where cyber criminals pose as technical support staff before locking their victims’ computers.

The watchdog’s eCrime Team has seen a sharp rise in the number of the schemes, particularly those involving fake printer helpline numbers in adverts on search engines and social media.

When a victim calls a number seeking help, the scammer convinces them to allow them to access their computer remotely, at which point they use this access to steal personal information, including banking details, infect the system with malware or lock it and demand a ransom.

The cyber criminals behind the scams, which have risen by 47 per cent since 2014, often pose as support staff from well-known technology brands in an attempt to fool consumers.

“This printer helpline scam is particularly pernicious because it encourages victims to unknowingly contact the fraudsters of their own accord,” said Mike Andrews, lead co-ordinator of the National Trading Standards eCrime Team.

“While victims expect they will receive help with their printer problems they have in fact been lured into a trap and find themselves at risking of losing money, important personal information and also have their computer security compromised.”

Tech support scams have been a growing problem for consumers in recent years. Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, even went as far as banning third-party support adverts on its service after a spike in malicious advertisements designed to fool users.

Tech support scammers have been known to use tricky methods to get potential victims’ attention, including exploiting bugs in HTML5 to create pop-up windows that are impossible to close.

Consumers who have fallen victim to a support scam are advised to report it to Action Fraud. For more information, see the National Trading Standards website.

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