Virtually everyone who uses a computer has been approached at one time or another by a tech support scammer. This article will look at some of the most common types of tech support scam techniques and best practices that will help you avoid becoming a victim. We will also discuss what you should do if you get scammed and why you should take the time to report the incident.
How a Computer Technical Support Scam Works
Tech support scammers are an incredibly creative group of nefarious individuals who are refining their techniques and tactics. As seen in the accompanying graphic, there is a wide variety in the types of scams perpetrated and the types of individuals most likely to be targeted.
The collected data also shows that consumers are extremely wary of unsolicited tech support calls, as they should be. Very often, criminals posing as Microsoft tech support representatives try to obtain Social Security numbers or other sensitive data about a potential victim’s bank accounts or credit cards.
The graphics also identify the four major types of U.S. tech support scams. Let’s take a close look at each kind of computer tech help scam so you can be prepared and avoid becoming an unwitting victim. By exercising common sense and maintaining a healthy sense of skepticism, you can keep your computer, its data, and your private information safe.
If you’ve ever wondered “Why do I keep getting phone calls about my computer?”, the answer is probably because you are on the calling list of a scam technical support team. A tried and true method of conducting all varieties of scams is by accosting the potential victim with an unexpected phone call. What was once the preferred method of getting you to financially support non-existent charities has turned into an overabundance of computer scams over the phone.
Tech support scam calls try to catch unaware users off guard and trick them into compromising their computer’s security. The call often comes from a fake Microsoft tech who tells you that the support center has identified a problem with your computer. They then try to get you to provide remote access to them so they can supposedly resolve the phantom problem.
These scam calls are easily detected by an observant user. Consider if a legitimate call would exhibit the following qualities.
- • They usually come at a time when you are not experiencing any problems with your machine, so why would a tech support team be calling?
- • The scammer on the other end of the phone claims that they see computer driver issues or other operating system problems. But they do not have your IP address, which they request from you for remote access and would need if they were monitoring your computer.
- • You might get a call for a tech support scam directed at Mac users even though you only have Microsoft products in your computing environment.
No legitimate technical support team will approach you in this way and request access to your computer. Common sense says to hang up the phone when you get a call of this nature and send the scammers on their way.
Fake tech support popup warnings
A common method of delivering malware that can enable hackers to gain access to your computer and its data is through malicious tech support popups. You’ll be going about your business doing something on your machine when suddenly a tech support scam popup appears. It may inform you that you have been infected with a virus and instruct you to click on a link that will scan and clean viruses from your system.
Don’t click that link! The goal of the tech support popup scam is to deliver malware to your machine. Clicking the link will download the malicious software to your computer.
It can be difficult to get away from a tech support popup scam because in some cases it appears that the only way to proceed is to click the link. Other operations are impacted, making it seem like you may actually be infected with a virus. At this point, you may have to restart your web browser or reboot your system to remove this offending popup from the screen.
Similar to fake tech support popups, unsolicited emails purporting to be from a tech support company may ask you to click on a link or provide a list of phone numbers for you to call. When you call the tech support number, a representative will try to obtain some type of information from you or request remote access to your system.
A good rule to follow is to never click on unverified links from technical support teams or any other type of organization. These links may install malware on your machine and allow scammers to get at your sensitive and personal information.
Online ads and search results
In a slightly different approach to perpetrating a tech support scam, some nefarious hackers post ads that are returned in standard Internet searches. What may seem at first glance to be a legitimate company may only be a front for hackers intent on stealing your data.
The best protection against this kind of tech support scam is to only engage with organizations that you trust. While this can be difficult at times, taking a chance on an unknown support site can set you up to be a victim.
Actions to Take if You Were Scammed
You should take several steps if you suspect or are certain you have been victimized by a tech support scammer.
Stop credit card transactions
If the scam involved payment through a credit card or bank account you should immediately cancel the transaction and alert the organization that your account may have been compromised. They should issue you a new credit card with a different number.
Scan your computer for malware or viruses
Run a reliable anti-malware tool to determine if your machine has been infected. Remove any suspicious software from your computer and deleted it from your Trash or Recycle bin.
Back up your data
Backing up your data is a good idea because some forms of malware will randomly delete files and folders from your system. A backup may be the only way to get the lost items back.
Change your passwords
Change all of your passwords to limit the amount of damage hackers can cause by accessing your accounts. If your machine has been breached, you should assume that all of your credentials may be involved. Though it might be a time-consuming process, you should update all of your accounts with new and strong passwords.
Report Tech Support Scams
You should take the time to engage in a little computer scam reporting if you accidentally gave a scammer remote access to your computer. The lessons learned from your experience can help others avoid the same fate and may lead to the apprehension of the rogue hackers behind the scam.
There are several ways to file tech support scam reports. The Federal Trade Commission has a site dedicated to reporting fraud that can be used to document tech support scams. You can also contact the FBI and other consumer protection agencies with information regarding the scam.
How to Keep From Getting Scammed
It can be challenging to avoid advanced tech support scams. As consumers become more knowledgeable about the scammers’ methods, tenacious criminals keep looking for new ways to get past their defenses. Following are some tips and best practices to steer clear of tech support scams.
- • Don’t click links in suspicious or unsolicited emails or popups. If you think the link is a legitimate request to verify an account or conduct other types of personal business, don’t use the embedded link. Instead, log into the account through your web browser and perform the activity without involving the email or popup.
- • Only provide secure remote access to your computer to trusted individuals. Computer technician scams rely on the scammers’ ability to trick unsuspecting users into giving up credentials. Unless you have initiated contact with a technical support team and are certain of their identity, don’t let them into your computer.
- • Understanding how an authentic technical support team operates can help you avoid having to say “I gave a scammer remote access to my computer!” A reputable company will never call you and ask for access to your computer unless you have initiated the activity. They will also never instruct you to call a number as the result of a popup.
- • Keep your antivirus software running and updated with the latest virus databases. Infection with a virus or malware can compromise your credentials, expose sensitive data to theft, and allow scammers to access your machine. Updated antivirus tools are one of the best methods of protection.
Following these best practices can help you avoid getting caught in a tech support scam. There’s nothing wrong with being exceptionally cautious regarding providing access to your computer and its valuable information. You need to constantly be on the lookout for these scams, as cybercriminals are always looking for a new victim. Don’t fall for their tricks and stay safe!