Although tech support scams have been around for a while, every year they get more sophisticated. Tech support scams target people of all ages, including those that consider themselves tech-savvy. In fact, a study from Microsoft concluded that millennials are falling for tech support scams at a higher rate than older people. These types of scams play on consumers’ legitimate fears about cyber threats, viruses and malware.
Tech support scams appear in two principle ways: web pop-ups and phone calls, and both are intended to trick consumers into believing their computer has been hacked, is infected with viruses, or has corrupted files. They create a sense of emergency and urgency. The web pop-up might appear as an error message that seems to be from Windows, Apple or even your internet service provider. The message says your computer is infected with viruses, and instructs you to call a toll-free number to make everything right again.
Or you may receive a call from someone claiming to be tech support from a legitimate company, and your computer files are corrupted; or they need to help you update your virus protection program. At that point, a phone technician (scammer), tries to convince you to:
- Give them your credit card information to enroll you in worthless computer maintenance or warranty programs.
- Install some files or programs on your computer that will identify and fix the issue. Really, they will give you malware, or make changes to your settings, which will give them access to your computer, data, usernames and passwords.
- Install a remote access program that gives them direct access to your computer so they can “diagnose” the problem. Results of “diagnostic tests” will always indicate you have many problems with your computer and you need to pay hundreds of dollars to fix problems that never existed.
There are numerous variations on the tech support scam. Consumers can protect themselves by first being aware that such scams exist. Next, you will want to protect yourself and your computer:
- Do not trust your caller ID if it says the call is coming from Windows Tech Support or something similar. Caller ID can be easily faked.
- Never give control of your computer to someone that calls you unsolicited.
- Never give your debit or credit card information to anyone who calls claiming to be from tech support.
- Hang up if you receive any unsolicited calls claiming to be from any company’s tech support department.
- Do not click on any links on tech support popup ads. Do not click “No” or “Cancel.” Clicking on any part of the pop-up ad can activate the program. These pop-up messages are likely to contain viruses that will harm your computer, for real!
- Close your browser to get rid of the pop-up ad. If that doesn’t work, open your task manager (Ctrl + Alt + Del on Windows and Command + Option + Q + Esc on Mac) to “End Task” (Windows) or “Force Quit” (Mac). Better yet, shut down your computer completely and run a virus scan when you start it back up. When you reopen your browser, do not allow it to open any previous pages.
- Never call the phone number on a tech support popup ad, and certainly do not give unknown people access to your computer.
- Install and regularly update a legitimate anti-virus program.
- Keep your operating system up to date.
If you fell for a tech support scam
Did you click a tech support pop-up ad or allow remote access to your computer?
- Disconnect your computer from the internet, either physically unplugging the cable or turning off wi-fi.
- From another machine, tablet or phone, change your passwords to important sites like email, financial and even social media accounts.
- When you turn your computer back on, run a virus scan from your legitimate security software.
- Consider hiring a professional service to clean viruses and malware off your machine.
Did you pay for fake services?
- Call your credit card company and have them reverse the charges.
- Be sure to check your future statements for unauthorized charges as well.
To learn more about tech support scams and how to protect yourself, or to report a tech support scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission.