How to Identify, Avoid, and Report Tech Support Scams

How to Identify, Avoid, and Report Tech Support Scams

by Daniel William

A tech support scam uses fear tactics and social engineering to trick victims into believing their computer has a problem, like a virus or malware.

Scammers convince their victims to pay tech support services for an issue that doesn't exist. Victims get tricked into wiring money, sending money via a money transfer app, putting money on a gift card, or reloading a prepaid card. Scammers choose these modes of payment because it is often complicated to reverse and trace.

How to Identify and Avoid a Tech Support Scam

Tech support scammers use a variety of tactics to trick people into believing they have a computer problem. If you give remote access to a scammer or provide personal details, you can also become a victim of identity theft on top of getting scammed. Identifying these tactics is the first step to avoid being a victim. Keep yourself updated on the latest security news. You'll be surprised to discover identity theft monitoring tools work well to mitigate online threats stealing your identity.

      Cold Calls

Tech support scammers call and pretend to be a representative from a well-known company, such as Microsoft or Apple. A scammer will tell you that they found a problem with your computer, and would need remote access for diagnostic testing. After pretending to run the test, he or she will show you all sorts of bogus issues and ask that you pay a fee to fix a problem that doesn't exist.

First off, tech giants such as Microsoft don't call, text, or email their customers about computer issues. No company does unless you call them first and request a callback. If you get a call out of the blue, saying that your computer has a problem, hang up immediately.

      Paid Online Ads and Listings Appearing in Search Results

Tech support scammers pay to get their fake websites to show up in tech support searches online. They may even run their ads online on legitimate sites hoping to get your attention.

If you need technical support, go to a well-known and trusted company. Most software companies have online chat, email, and phone support. The computer store where you bought your PC may also have technicians that can help. When in doubt, ask someone you know who's good with computers.

      Sudden Pop-up Warnings.

Tech support scammers will try and trick you with a pop-up window that will dominate your screen. It's either going to look like an error message from your operating system or an antivirus warning, with a toll-free number you can call to get help. These pop-ups may contain logos from legitimate companies. Please don't fall for it.

If you get a weird and alarming pop-up on your computer with a number you should call, don't click on anything or make the call. Legitimate security warnings from real companies will never ask you to call.

      Tech Support Refund Scams.

If you get a call offering a refund for the tech support services you already paid for, it's a fake refund scam and likely the same people that scammed you. The scammer will ask if you're satisfied with their service and offer a refund if you say no. Another variation is the "we're going out of business and offering refunds" spiel. Whatever the story is, there's no refund, and they're trying to squeeze more money out of you. Never give them payment details like credit card numbers or your bank account.

Here's What to Do If You Get Scammed

  1. If you gave remote access to your computer: update your security and system software right away. Reboot your computer, run your antivirus at startup, and remove anything it catches. You should also delete your browser cache and history. Change your computer and wifi password if you can, and reset everything to default.
  2. If you used your debit or credit card: contact your bank or credit card company immediately. Tell them everything and ask them to stop the transaction or reverse the charges if possible.
  3. If you paid using a gift card: contact the issuing company immediately and report the scam. Ask if they can refund your money.
  4. If you gave a scammer your username and password: change your password to a stronger one ASAP. If you use the same password for other sites or accounts, change these too.

Reporting a Tech Support Scam

You can always report tech support scams to the Federal Trade Commission so they can build cases against these scammers.

About the Author

Daniel William is Content Director and a Cyber Security Director at IDStrong. His great passion is to maintain the safety of the organization's online systems and networks.  

He knows that both individuals and businesses face the constant challenge of cyber threats. Identifying and preventing these attacks is a priority for Daniel.

Cover photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

March 6, 2020
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