Computer scam catches 1,700 victims in France - how to avoid it

The scam starts with an email, and ends with a fraudulent subscription

The scam begins with an email and ends with ‘signing up’ to fraudulent software
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An email scam that has caught out 1,700 people in France pretends to ‘block’ your computer and signs you up to an expensive monthly subscription to stop it happening again, it has emerged.

How does the scam work?

The scam begins with an email with a link. Once clicked, a message appears on the computer, falsely telling the reader that the machine has been ‘blocked’, and you must call an assistance number for help.

Calling the number puts you through to a so-called ‘technician’. In reality, this person is a scammer - and in the case of this scam, likely speaking to you from Tunisia - and they pretend to ‘fix’ your computer. 

In fact, there was nothing wrong with your computer in the first place, and this scammer has actually taken control of your computer, and is pretending to install a ‘scam protection’ service on it. 

They do not ask for money for this so victims may not believe that anything fraudulent has taken place.

However, they do suggest to the victim that they sign up for the paid software so the problem does not happen again. Likely in a vulnerable position due to what has happened, the victim may say yes, and agree to sign up for a subscription costing more than €100 per month.

This money does not go towards any subscription. It is sent straight to the scammers, and the victim is none-the-wiser.

How to avoid becoming a victim

  • Do not click on any links in any emails or texts that you do not recognise.

  • Be critical and alert to any out-of-the-blue message that tells you your computer has been ‘blocked’ or is affected by ‘malware’, and you must call someone to fix it. This is likely not true.

  • Only use anti-virus software that you have purchased separately yourself, independent from an email, phone call, alert, or message.

What if I accidentally fall victim to a scam?

If you believe you have been scammed, the government advice is:

  • Inform your bank immediately. Try to stop any transfer if it has not yet been made. Otherwise, ask for the funds to be returned. Your bank may require a copy of your complaint in order to investigate your request (see below).

  • Keep any proof. Keep the messages you receive (e-mails, etc.), the details of the fraudster and any other information you may need to lodge a complaint.

  • Lodge a complaint with the police station or gendarmerie, or in writing with the public prosecutor at your local court, providing all the evidence you have.

  • For further advice, you can contact the Interior Ministry’s free Info Escroqueries platform on 0 805 805 817 (free call). It is open from 9:00 to 18:30, Monday to Friday.

You can check if you may have been scammed by using a tool - the ‘Diagnostiquer un Incident’ service - on the website page here.

Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the turquoise ‘Démarrer un diagnostique’ button to begin. This service could give you an idea of whether something was a scam or not. If in doubt, follow the steps listed above.