It’s not a new scam, but this is the first time we have blogged about Remote Access Tool Scams. So, what are they, what do you need to look out for, and how can you protect yourself against them?
More than £50 million was lost last year to scams where victims are tricked into handing over control of their computer or smartphone to criminals.
New data from Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, reveals that 20,144 people fell victim to scams where they were persuaded to grant criminals remote access to their device. Victims reported losing a total of £57,790,384 - an average loss of £2,868 per victim.
Detective Chief Inspector Craig Mullish, from the City of London Police, said:
"While remote access tools are safe when used legitimately, we want the public to be aware that they can be misused by criminals to perpetrate fraud. We often see criminals posing as legitimate businesses in order to trick people into handing over control of their computer or smartphone.
“You should only install software or grant remote access to your computer if you’re asked by someone you know and trust, such as a colleague in IT, a friend or family member, and never as a result of an unsolicited call, browser pop-up or text message.”
So, what are remote access tool scams?
These types of scams involve criminals misusing remote access software to connect to a victim’s computer over the internet.
The scam will often begin with a browser pop-up statin that your computer has been infected with a virus, and that you should call the technical support number to get it fixed.
The scammer may also phone you and pretend to be a staff member from a large telecommunications or computer company. They may claim to be from a technical support service provider or from your bank, claiming they need to connect to your computer in order to cancel a fraudulent transaction on your account.
Whether you phone them or they phone you, they will tell you that your computer has been sending error messages or that it has a virus. They may mention problems with your internet connection or your phone line and inform you that this has affected your computer's recent performance. They may claim that your broadband connection has been hacked.
The caller will request remote access to your computer to ‘find out what the problem is’.
The scammer may try to talk you into buying or downloading unnecessary software or a service to ‘fix’ the computer, or they may ask you for your personal details and your bank or credit card details.
But how do they get in?
Well, Remote Access Tools (also known as Remote Administration Tools and Remote Desktop Software) are programs that allow an individual in another location to fully control a device remotely via an Internet connection.
RATs provide the user with system access as though they had physical access to the device. Through this connection the user can access files, add or remove programs, operate the device’s camera, control its peripherals, lock physical access to the owner and switch it on and off.
Although often used to install malicious software, RATs are generally intended for legitimate use, for example enabling IT technicians to fix issues on work computers. RAT-enabled frauds usually involve the social engineering of victims to obtain control of their device to, for example, steal sensitive identity data or access online banking to steal funds.
How to protect yourself from this scam
Only install software or grant remote access to your computer if you’re asked by someone you know and trust, such as a colleague in IT, a friend or family member, and never as a result of an unsolicited call, browser pop up, or text message.
Remember, a bank or service provider will never contact you out of the blue requesting remote access to your device.
If you believe your laptop, PC, tablet or phone has been infected with a virus or some other type of malware, follow the NCSC’s guidance on recovering an infected device.
Protect your money by contacting your bank immediately on a different device from the one the scammer contacted you on.
Report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.
To see how this scam might work, watch this short video.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to email@example.com. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).