With many people forced to work from home and isolate away from friends and family over the past couple of years, the acceptance of screen sharing technology into our daily lives has increased dramatically. Unfortunately, so have screen share scams.
Zoom – a relatively niche program before the global pandemic and extended lockdowns – saw its user base explode with the rise in remote working and video conference calling. 10 million “daily video participants” in December 2019 very quickly rose to 300 million “daily video participants” by April 2020.
When it comes to screen sharing, it’s important to note that there are two slightly different meanings to the phrase. Screen sharing, and remote access. Both can be used by scammers.
The first kind of screen sharing involves a program like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Discord, and allows a person to share their screen with one or more other people anywhere else in the world. While this is generally lower risk, it can still cause issues if the person sharing their screen broadcasts sensitive/private information, like logging into a bank account, or displaying their login details/password for a shopping site. Scammers are smart and will orchestrate a situation to get this information out of victims.
The second kind of screen sharing involves remote access software like AnyDesk, TeamViewer or LogMeIn. These are legitimate programs often used by credible companies like BT, Virgin Media, and Which? to provide hands-free technical support without needing to send a piece of equipment off to be examined, or without requiring a visit from a technician. Remote access screen sharing is considerably more dangerous as it gives a stranger full control of your computer, laptop or phone. If a fraudster gains access this way, they may be able to install spyware/malware, and access any of your files, data and accounts.
A screen sharing or remote access scam occurs when a fraudster contacts their victim claiming to work for a widely known company like Amazon, Sky, PayPal or even a bank. They often claim that unusual activity has been detected, the victim is entitled to a refund, and that they need access to the victim’s computer/phone in order to help. This is very similar to an impersonation/phishing scam or an investment scam.
They will ask their victim to install a screen sharing or remote access program (we find they often recommend AnyDesk) so that they see – and in the worst cases, take control of – their victim’s device in order to “help”. After they have access, they proceed to gather as much information as possible and in many cases install malware to maintain access even after the screen sharing program has been closed.
The scammer’s aim is to steal their victim’s money, whether that’s from banks, shopping accounts or by opening credit cards and taking out loans using the compromised information.
The FCA are warning current and would-be investors to be careful after research indicated that 47% of participants said they wouldn’t find it strange if asked to download software/an app to access their device.
Screen sharing investment scams work in much the same way as general screen sharing scams, but with the aim of tricking the victim into believing that they are making an investment. Victims may not even know that they have been defrauded until months down the line when the victim attempts to withdraw the money, they believe they have earned.
Many fraudsters and criminals use platforms like Facebook Ads and Google Ads to target victims using advertisements that look incredibly real. In fact, these adverts are often based on legitimate companies, offering investment opportunities in areas like cryptocurrency (including Bitcoin), foreign exchange (forex) and property.
Once a victim has clicked on the ad and has submitted their details, the fraudster makes contact, likely via phone, and claims to work for the investment company. They state that the would-be investor needs to download specialist software to begin investing, directing the victim to install the program/app and to give the caller remote access to the screen/device.
In many cases, after installing the software, the fraudsters are free to access any files, apps or accounts registered on the device, allowing them to drain bank accounts and pension funds.
Protecting yourself from scammers can be a difficult task but there are several red flags which can help.
The very first and most important thing you can do after discovering a fraudster has access to your device is to terminate the connection and stop them from doing any more damage. You can click to stop sharing, you can close the program, or to be extra safe, you can turn off/unplug your internet.
What you do next depends on the type of connection the fraudster had to your device (if in doubt, treat the situation as if they had full control of your device).
If you have been the target of a scam – whether that’s an investment scam or impersonation fraud – then you are not alone. There were almost 7,000 investment scam cases and more than 33,000 impersonation fraud cases reported in the first half of 2021 alone.
Fraud Expert Manager at CEL Solicitors, Chloe Roche advises, “If you have lost money to fraud or a scam, your first point of contact should be your bank. If they refuse to help, or if they are unwilling to give you back the full amount you have lost, then tell CEL. Our dedicated fraud team are experts in helping recover money lost to criminals.”