It happens all too often. You get an expected call from a computer technician (it may start with someone pretending to be with Microsoft, Google, Apple, Norton or McAfee), see a tech support ad surfing the Internet or you get a pop-up message out-of-the-blue that tells you to call tech support. Any of these three forms of contact could be scammers trying to convince you that your computer is infected with a virus, malware or spyware. If you take the bait, they will ask to connect to your computer in order to give them access to take care of the issue.
To sound convincing, a scammer may ask you if you have downloaded any programs, games, music, documents, etc., opened any e-mail attachments, made any updates to your computer, inserted a disk or external drive or visited any unsecured websites. They may also convince you that nonthreatening files on your computer are infected or problematic.
The scammer’s hope is you will hear these words, go into panic mode and give them access to your computer. From there, they may try to persuade you into paying for support services to repair some made-up problem or one they created when they accessed your computer. (As an aside, once the scammer is in your computer, they could install malware to steal your data or personal information, change your computer settings or disable your antivirus software leaving your computer vulnerable to later attacks.)
Tech support scams are intended to get your money paying for tech support services you do not need. Scammers often ask to be paid by a wire transfer, gift card, prepaid card, cash reload card or a money transfer app. These type of payments are hard to retrieve, which is why they prefer them.
What to do to avoid being scammed
- If you get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be a tech support provider for your computer or software, simply hang up. Don’t reply on Caller ID for it to be a legitimate call.
- Do not click on tech support ads on webpages, pop-up messages or spam email.
- Shut down your browser to get rid of fake virus alert messages.
- Use reputable antivirus software, and keep it updated. Run a scan immediately if you get a scam pop-up.
- Do not give anyone control of your computer unless it is a legitimate company or a trusted computer technician.
- Do not give your bank information to someone who calls after you have purchased tech support asking if you were satisfied. It is likely a “refund scam.”
What to do if you have been scammed
- Update your computer’s security software, scan your computer and quarantine or remove any threats detected. If you need help with this, contact a computer company or technician you trust. Do not rely on an online search or reviews.
- If you shared any credentials with the scammer, change them immediately. If you use the same credentials on any other accounts, change them and use a different password for each. Do that with all of your accounts regardless.
- You can also check BBC Scam Tracker℠ to search for scams and as well as report them.
What to do if you paid the criminal
- If you paid with a credit or debit card, notify your financial institute and cancel the charges immediately. Watch for fraudulent charges on your account going forward and cancel them accordingly.
- File a complaint with the FTC.
Now that you know how to manage a tech support scam, share what you have learned with someone you know to help them from becoming a victim from this type of criminal fraud.