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It can be alarming when you’re working on your computer and a box pops up, claiming your IP address has been compromised. The Better Business Bureau has seen an increasing number of these cons reported to BBB.org/ScamTracker.

The pop-up will ask you to call a number to resolve the issue. When you call, a “technician” will tell you your IP address is being used by shady individuals. In some reports, scammers claim child pornography websites are using your IP address, and you could be held responsible for their actions. In a second version of the scam, you simply receive a call out of the blue from someone making similar claims.

In both cases, scammers say they work for a reputable company and can fix the problem, but you’ll need to pay a fee and give them remote access to your computer first. Red alert! The claims are false. If you believe them, scammers will make off with your money and gain access to any personal information stored on your computer.

And the costs are huge. Microsoft has estimated tech support scams bilk 3.3 million people a year, at an annual cost of $1.5 billion — an average loss of more than $450 per victim. And those numbers are probably on the low side, since many victims never realize they’ve been conned. To avoid becoming one of them, follow some basic precautions.

BBB says the best way to avoid being a victim of this scam is to never give control of your computer to a third party unless you know it is the representative of a computer support team you contacted. It’s important to know that legitimate tech support companies don’t call out of the blue.

Look out for warning signs as well. Nearly half of tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim’s computer screen. This pop-up will have a phone number to call for help. Instead of calling, shut down your computer and restart it. This can help avoid viruses or people getting remote access to your computer.

If you believe that you may be a victim of this tricky scam here are a few things the BBB suggests you do:

  • Contact your bank immediately.
  • Take your computer to a trusted local business and have it checked out.
  • Remove any software that authorized remote access to your computer.
  • Change the passwords you use to access your bank and other sensitive sites.

If you have been a victim of a tech support scam, help other consumers avoid falling into the same trap by filling out a report at BBB.org/ScamTracker.

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