Tech Support Scams

Beware of online tech support scams. These scams can take various forms, but they all generally involve someone posing as a tech support person who is “helping” you rid a virus or some other made-up problem with your computer.

The scammer will reach out to you in various ways. They may call you directly posing as a tech support person from Microsoft or some other well-known company, or use some online mechanism (such as a pop-up chat window or advertisement on your computer) to catch your attention. They will often attempt to gain access to your computer or credit card information by making variations of the following statements:

  • Viruses or malware have been found on your computer and need to be eliminated immediately.
  • Your computer will suffer imminent harm if you do not buy software they are selling, or allow tech support to fix the problem by remotely accessing your computer.
  • You must search for particular files on your computer. When you find the files, which are usually harmless or related to legitimate programs, the scammer will trick you into buying useless—or even harmful—software.

As part of the scheme to “save” your computer, scammers may direct you to a fraudulent website and ask you to enter credit card information, or other sensitive financial information, that they can then steal. Or, the scammer may take control of your computer and refuse to return it to you unless you agree to purchase computer services.

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10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Tech Support Scams

  1. If you get a call from someone claiming to be a tech support person, hang up.
  2. If you get an unfamiliar pop-up window, close it.
  3. If you receive a suspicious email or text message, delete it.
  4. If you are asked to provide remote access to your computer, hang up. Never give control of your computer or provide payment or sensitive information to someone whom you do not know.
  5. Be aware of and avoid suspicious links and websites.
  6. Run current versions of anti-virus software on your computer. There are legitimate pop-ups from your security software to do things like update your operating system. But do not trust any pop ups telling you to call a number because of a computer problem.
  7. Do not be pressured into purchasing software or computer services. Do your own research. You can always do a web search with the name of the software and the word “reviews.” Only purchase consumer software from known and trusted sources.
  8. Do not rely on caller ID alone to authenticate a caller. Criminals know how to manipulate caller ID systems to make it appear they are calling from a local or legitimate number. If you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly by finding the company’s contact information online, on a software package, or on your receipt.
  9. Never give out any of your passwords. No legitimate company requests your password.
  10. Change your browser settings to block pop-ups from unfamiliar websites. If you see a pop-up alert, don’t click on it and don’t call any of the phone numbers listed on the pop-up. If you encounter an unwanted pop-up window, you can close your internet browser by following these steps:
    • Apple users: You can close your browser by using Force Quit. Access Force Quit from the Apple icon menu or press Command+Option+Escape simultaneously to open the Force Quit Applications window. Select your web browser and click on “Force Quit.”
    • Windows users: You can close your browser by using the Task Manager. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del and click on Task Manager, or simply press on Ctrl+Shift+Esc. Select your web browser and click on “End Task.”

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What to Do If You’re a Victim

Here is what to do if you have been a victim of an online tech support scams.

  • If you have given a scammer remote access to your computer, revoke it verbally. If he or she does not immediately return control of your computer to you, shut down or restart your computer. That should cut off the remote session.
  • Use your anti-virus software to scan your computer. Delete any suspicious files.
  • Change your passwords, including those linked with your computer, email, and any financial accounts.
  • If you paid for fake tech support services or software with a credit card, call your credit card company to reverse the charges.
  • If you have given any other financial information to a scammer, or if you think the scammer might have gained access to such information, contact your bank to report the fraud immediately.
  • Be on guard for any follow up “refund” scams where the tech support company offers you a refund based on your dissatisfaction with the service, or perhaps under the pretense that the company is going out of business. The scammer will then ask for your credit card or bank information so that they can make a deposit, but instead will take money out of your account.

You can also report the company to the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Better Business Bureau.

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Helpful Resources

For more information about online tech support scams, check out the following webpages: