BOSTON (WPRI) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning of a tech support scam that has already cost more than 800 New Englanders millions of dollars.

The FBI said the scammers, who pose as customer or support representatives from reputable tech companies, typically reach out to potential victims by call, email or text.

The fraudsters convince their victims that one or more of their personal accounts have been compromised, according to the FBI, and offer to help them resolve the issue.

The FBI said victims are often asked to wire or transfer funds out of their bank accounts to cryptocurrency exchanges. The scammers also request their victims install a free remote desktop software, which allows them to “monitor, manipulate and perform actions within the victims’ computers.”

Nearly 24,000 people have already been victimized nationwide, according to the FBI, including 809 New Englanders who have collectively lost $7.5 million.

“Cybercriminals are constantly coming up with new ways to rip off unsuspecting consumers, and this latest tactic has resulted in staggering losses,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of FBI Boston. “In some cases, we’ve seen victims lose their entire life savings, which is why we are urging everyone, especially our aging family members and friends, to heed this warning.”

The FBI said 521 victims were from Massachusetts and 65 were from Rhode Island.

In one instance, a Rhode Island woman reportedly lost $200,000 after browsing online and receiving a pop-up alert that stated her iPad had been compromised.

The woman was then told her account had been used to purchase child pornography and instructed to download a remote desktop application, according to the FBI.

The FBI said the tech support representative told the woman not to disclose what was purchased on her account. She was then told the charges on her account would be canceled and her money would be sent to a dummy account to “prevent additional fraud.”

The tech support representative asked her to make three separate wire transfers to the dummy account and reassured her the money would be returned to her within 48 hours.

The FBI said there’s been a 137% increase in tech support scams over the last year, with reported losses topping $347 million and more than half of the victims being over the age of 60.

“The reported losses are most likely much higher because older Americans are less likely to report fraud due to the fact that they either don’t know how to report it, are embarrassed or don’t know they have been scammed,” the FBI explained.

The FBI said legitimate tech support representatives will never initiate unsolicited contact with customers, nor will they demand payment via cash, prepaid gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency.

“Anyone who is a victim of this type of intrusion should report the compromise to us to help prevent these predators from victimizing others, and potentially from re-victimizing you,” Bonavolonta said.

The FBI suggested people take the following precautions:

  • Do not answer unsolicited calls, texts or emails from tech support representatives.
  • Ensure your computer’s anti-virus, security and malware protection is up to date and settings are enabled to reduce pop-ups.
  • Be cautious of customer support numbers obtained via online searching, since phone numbers listed in a “sponsored” results section are likely optimized.
  • If a pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, do not call it. Legitimate warning messages should never include phone numbers.
  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers typically urge the victim to act fast to protect their devices or accounts.
  • Do not give unknown, unverified persons remote access to your devices or accounts.
  • Do not download or visit a website that an unknown person may direct you to.
  • Do not trust caller ID readings, since scammers often spoof names and numbers to appear legitimate. Let unknown numbers go to voice mail and do not call unknown numbers back.
  • Never trust any company-tech or otherwise-requesting personal or financial information.

Those who believe they’ve already fallen victim should take the following steps:

  • Scan your computer for viruses and check for potentially malicious software installed by the scammers. Consider having your computer professionally cleaned.
  • Contact your financial institutions immediately by using the number on the back of your bank card or by visiting the institution in person.
  • Change all of your passwords if the scammer had access to your device.
  • Expect the scammers to continue attempting to contacting you. The scammers often share their victim database information.
  • Keep original documentation, e-mails, faxes and logs of all communications.
  • File a police report at your local police station.
  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.