How to Thwart a Tech Support Scam

tech support scammer

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Tech support scams are an industry-wide issue where scammers use scare tactics to trick you into paying for unnecessary technical support services that supposedly fix contrived software problems.

Scammers often initiate contact by displaying fake error messages on websites you visit, displaying support numbers and enticing you to call. They can also put your browser on full screen and display pop-up messages that won’t go away, essentially locking your browser. These fake error messages aim to trick you into calling an indicated technical support hotline.

Scammers may also call you directly on your phone and pretend to be representatives of a software company, usually Microsoft. They can spoof the caller ID so that it displays a legitimate support phone number from a trusted company. They would then ask you to install applications that give them remote access to your device.

Using remote access, these experienced scammers can misrepresent normal system output as signs of problems.

The most common are Web Scams

Tech support scam websites make you believe that you have a problem with your PC. You may be redirected to these websites automatically by malicious ads found in dubious sites, such as download locations for fake installers and pirated media.

These websites can also use the following techniques to further make their claim believable:

  • Put your browser on full screen, making the error appear as though it’s coming from Windows instead of the web page
  • Disable Task Manager
  • Continuously display pop-up windows
  • Play audio messages

All these techniques are meant to persuade you to call the specified tech support number. In contrast, the real error messages on any of the Windows operating systems won’t ask you to call a tech support number.

How to protect yourself from tech support scams

  • If you receive an unsolicited email message or phone call that purports to be from Microsoft or another company asking that you to send personal information or click links, ignore or report the email, or hang up the phone. In general, unless you are absolutely sure you can trust the caller or the sender, do not share personal information, click links, or install applications when requested.
  • Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request for personal or financial information, or fix your computer.
  • Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support. Any communication Microsoft has with you must be initiated by you.
  • Download software only from official vendor websites or the Microsoft Store. Be wary of downloading software from third-party sites, as some of them might have been modified without the author’s knowledge to bundle support scam malware and other threats.
  • Don’t call the number in the pop-ups. Microsoft’s error and warning messages never include a phone number.

What to do if you already gave information to a tech support person

If you have already engaged and paid for fake support:

  • Uninstall applications that scammers have asked you to install. If you have given scammers access, consider resetting your PC.
  • Run a full scan with your antivirus and anti-malware utilities to remove any malware. Apply all security updates as soon as they are available.
  • Change your passwords.
  • Call your credit card provider to reverse the charges, if you have already paid.
  • Monitor unusual logon activity.

So what do you do if you do get caught by one of these scams?

Your government has a portal for reporting such scams:
U.S.: https://www.ftc.gov/complaint
Canada: http://www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca/index-eng.htm
U.K.: http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/
Australia: http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/
N.Z.: https://www.netsafe.org.nz/report/
For Europe, see: https://www.europol.europa.eu/report-a-crime/report-cybercrime-online

In addition, other companies also have scam reporting options, such as:
Google: https://support.google.com/faqs/answer/2952493?hl=en
TinyURL: https://tiny.cc/contact
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/security

DecentSecurity.com has a great summary of phishing, evaluation, reporting information that’s well worth checking out. While it’s primarily focused on US reporting, there is a lot of useful information for everyone.

While we need to keep on our toes as citizens of the Internet, reporting scams may just help to rein in this wild-west aspect of it.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!

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