What are Tech Support Scams?
Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. We rely on computers, smartphones and other devices to communicate, shop, bank, work, and more. But with this convenience comes risk. Cybercriminals are finding new ways to target unsuspecting technology users through tech support scams. By learning how these scams work and taking steps to protect yourself, you can avoid becoming a victim.
Tech support scams refer to fraudulent schemes where criminals pose as technology support representatives from well-known companies. They contact victims by phone, email, pop-up messages or ads and claim there are issues like viruses, malware or other problems detected on your computer. Their goal is to convince you that your device needs repairs or technical support and then overcharge for unnecessary services or steal your personal and financial information.
Some key things to know:
- Scammers often pretend to be from companies like Microsoft, Apple or your anti-virus software provider.
- They may say they detected issues on your device remotely and want to help fix them.
- Their main motives are to gain remote access to your device, steal personal information, or charge you money to “fix” non-existent problems.
- Legitimate tech companies do not contact users unsolicited to say there are problems that require support.
Understanding common tech support scam techniques can help you recognize and avoid them.
How Do Tech Support Scams Work?
Tech scammers use a variety of tricks to make their scams seem believable. Here are some of the most common techniques they use:
Pop-up Messages: A pop-up may suddenly appear on your screen with a phone number, claiming your computer has a virus. The message looks official and urges you to call tech support right away. If you call, the scammer pretends to be from a legitimate company and tries to gain access to your computer or trick you into paying for fake services.
Phishing Emails: A scam email may arrive in your inbox pretending to be from a well-known tech company. The message warns that your device or account has been compromised and provides a phone number or link to resolve the issue. But the number connects you to scammers, and the link downloads malware if clicked.
Cold Calls: You may receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming your device sent them an error message indicating malware, viruses or another issue. They’ll say they need to remotely access your computer to diagnose the problem, then try to steal personal information or charge you money for unnecessary repairs.
Pop-up Ads: Malicious ads may appear on websites claiming your device is infected. When clicked, you’re prompted to call a tech support number for help with supposed issues detected on your device. However, the scammers on the other end only want to access your computer and information.
Fake Websites: Scammers create websites disguised as security software or tech support companies. After entering some of your information, you’ll be told there are issues detected on your device. Then you’ll be prompted to call the scam tech support number listed on the site.
Scare Tactics: Whether through pop-ups, emails or calls, scammers use alarming language and threats to create fear that your device is compromised. By making the issue sound serious and time sensitive, they try to pressure you into following their instructions.
Knowing their common tactics makes it easier to detect and stop scams before they progress.
Common Tech Support Scam Techniques
Tech scammers rely heavily on social engineering techniques to manipulate their victims. Some of the most prevalent tactics they use include:
- Pretending to be from well-known tech companies like Microsoft, Apple or Norton. They spoof official-looking phone numbers, logos and names to appear credible.
- Warning that your computer has dangerous viruses, malware or security issues that require immediate attention. Their goal is to scare you into taking action.
- Demanding you pay for expensive, long-term tech support or repair services that you do not actually need.
- Asking for access to your computer so they can “troubleshoot” the issues or “remove viruses.” This allows them to steal data or install malware.
- Requesting login credentials for sites and services to “better assist” with issues. They use these details to compromise accounts.
- Pressuring victims to purchase worthless software licenses or tech support plans. Their products are fake, but victims’ credit cards are still charged.
- Requiring untraceable forms of payment like prepaid cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency. This makes recovering lost money almost impossible.
Knowing their common tactics makes it easier to detect and stop scams before they progress.
How to Avoid Tech Support Scams
While tech support scams are on the rise, there are steps you can take to avoid falling victim:
- Never call a number in a pop-up or click on an ad stating your device has a problem. Legitimate alerts will never appear this way.
- Do not trust unsolicited calls or emails about device issues. Real companies will not contact you proactively about viruses or hacking.
- Be wary of alarming messages urging you to take immediate action to avoid harm. Scammers use fear to override critical thinking.
- Don’t allow anyone you don’t know to remotely access your computer, even if they claim to be tech support.
- Avoid making payments with hard to trace methods like gift cards, cryptocurrency or wire transfers. Only pay with credit cards, allowing you to dispute fraudulent charges.
- Verify a person and company are real before accepting help. Lookup their phone number and email yourself rather than calling a provided number.
- Check for yourself that there are issues by running security scans before believing any claims of viruses or hacking.
- Do not trust third-party websites or ads offering tech support services or software. Only obtain these directly from the official company.
Exercising caution before handing over money or information can keep you safe.
What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Scammed
If you realize partway through an interaction that it is a scam, take the following steps:
- End the call or stop communicating with them immediately. Make an excuse that you need to consult with someone first before allowing access to your device or sharing personal details.
- If they are remotely connected to your computer, turn off the device right away to sever the connection before more damage can be done.
- Change passwords for all of your online accounts, starting with critical ones like banking and email. Use unique, complex passwords for improved security against compromised credentials.
- Scan your computer with legitimate antivirus and anti-malware software to check for infections. Remove anything suspicious that is detected. You may need to wipe your computer and restore from a clean backup if infections are found.
- Contact your credit card provider and bank to report fraudulent charges or suspicious activity. Have fraudulent payments reversed and request new cards.
- Notify local law enforcement about the scam attempt. They track complaints to build cases against criminal operations.
- File detailed reports with the Federal Trade Commission and Internet Crime Complaint Center. Your reports help authorities track and stop scammers.
- Check your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure no accounts were opened without your approval. Consider freezing your credit with each bureau until you regain confidence in your account security.
By taking quick action, you can mitigate damages and fraud after realizing you are the target of a scam.
The Cost of Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams extract a heavy toll on victims, both financially and psychologically. Some consequences victims face include:
- Direct financial theft from excessive fees paid for unnecessary services. The average loss is around $400, but losses can reach the thousands.
- Unauthorized credit card charges and drained bank accounts from compromised financial account access.
- Costly repairs and replacements for infected or damaged hardware, software and files. Files and photos may be encrypted until ransoms are paid.
- Compromised or deleted sensitive data, like tax returns and medical records, through malware or remote access allowing scammers to access devices and accounts.
- Identity theft from stolen names, birthdays, social security numbers and other personal info. This can impact credit, employment, medical care and more until resolved.
- Ongoing scam calls once your contact information is on scammers’ target lists.
- Anxiety about device and account security. Many victims lose trust in technology after being deceived.
Being aware of the wide range of damages victims suffer emphasizes the importance of prevention.
How to Report Tech Support Scams
If you were targeted by a scam attempt or lost money to a scheme, report it to help prevent others from being victimized:
- Federal Trade Commission: File reports about scams and identity theft at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or over the phone.
- Internet Crime Complaint Center: Report cyber crimes like online scams to the FBI-run IC3 at ic3.gov.
- Better Business Bureau: Report tech support scams posing as legitimate businesses to the BBB so they can investigate.
- State Attorney General: Notify your state attorney general’s office about local scams targeting residents.
- Local law enforcement: File police reports about scams operating in your area. Ask about additional regional agencies that investigate fraud.
- Phone provider: Report phone numbers involved in scam calls to your carrier and request the numbers be blocked.
Reporting scams disrupts criminals’ operations, alerts authorities to trends, and can even lead to prosecutions. Your efforts protect others.
Tips for Protecting Yourself from Tech Support Scams
The threats posed by increasingly sophisticated tech scams can leave you feeling vulnerable. Use the following precautions to better secure yourself:
- Keep software updated on all devices to reduce vulnerabilities scammers can exploit. Enable automatic updates where possible.
- Install comprehensive security software like antivirus programs and malware scanners from trustworthy providers like Norton or McAfee to protect your devices and data.
- Back up important files regularly either online or externally so you won’t lose data if your system is infected.
- Use unique, complex passwords for all accounts consisting of long strings of numbers, letters and symbols. Avoid reusing passwords across sites. Using a password manager helps track them.
- Be cautious of calls, pop-ups, emails or ads you don’t expect. Verify through an independent channel before providing information or access.
- Never make payments via wire transfer, gift cards, cryptocurrency or other irreversible methods. Responsible credit card usage protects you.
- Check bank and credit card statements routinely for any unauthorized charges. Report anything suspicious immediately.
- Limit sharing of personal information online or over the phone to guard against targeted scams. Only provide it to verified, legitimate businesses with a clear need.
Proactive precautions reduce the chances scammers will target or successfully deceive you.
Stay Alert and Stay Secure
As digital life becomes more ingrained for families, businesses and individuals worldwide, tech support scams have skyrocketed. Reports indicate people are losing billions of dollars each year, making awareness and caution more critical than ever. While many schemes involve sophisticated social engineering tactics designed specifically to override skepticism and exploit victims’ lack of technical knowledge, there are proven ways to identify and stop scams.
By learning their common techniques and tactics, exercising caution when contacted unexpectedly for help, and taking preventive security measures, you have the power to protect yourself and your devices. Spread awareness to family and friends about avoiding and reporting tech support scams as well. The more people stay alert to schemes, the safer the online ecosystem becomes for everyone. We can surface these lurking threats and strip scammers of their power to deceive. Just remember—legitimate tech companies don’t send unsolicited notices about viruses or account compromises. Verify before providing any sensitive information. With increased vigilance, we can keep cybercriminals from infiltrating our digital lives.