Scammers are a real problem right now. They existed long before the internet, but since its development, it is much easier for them to scam you. The whole goal of what tech support scammers do is to lead you to believe that there is a serious problem with your computer. Like a virus, for example. They are hoping you will believe them and pay for their “tech support services”, the ones you don’t need, to fix a problem you don’t have.
It is not uncommon for them to ask that you wire money, or put the money onto a cash reload card, prepaid card, gift card or money transfer app as these methods of payment are not only difficult to trace but also incredibly hard to reverse.
Whatever approach they take and whatever they ask of you, it’s important that you are vigilant to these scams. To help you, we are going to look at first, how you can spot and avoid these tech support scans and what you can do to report them.
How to Spot Tech Support Scams
The first step to spotting tech support scams is familiarising yourself with the various tactics these scammers use to trick people.
Tech Support Phone Scams
Perhaps the most common and popular method of the tech support scammer is the call you directly and pretend they are an IT specialist or computer technical support worker for a well-known and reputable company, like Windows or Apple, for instance. After traducing themselves, they will often say they have found some kind of fault with your computer and then ask for remote access to run a diagnostic test. Once they have confirmed that there is a problem with your computer, they will pretend that they have found a virus or malware that they claim will freeze your computer or eat at your data, and then request a payment from you to resolve the issue.
The scam works because they play on your fears of something happening to your computer. This is especially effective with vulnerable people, those who are not tech-savvy and even people who rely on their computer for business or study reasons. Whether their solution is services or products you don’t need, new software or repairs, they will suggest that you are not going to be able to deal with the problem without their help.
Although the threat does not exist, some scammers have been known to actually use the remote access they’ve gained to inflict real malware or viruses onto your computer that will steal your financial and personal data, so they can use it. This is obviously a very lucrative way to make money when it works.
Generally speaking, they are just trying their luck and hoping you’ll fall for their tactics. The best way to avoid succumbing to these scams is by hanging up the phone the moment you get a call from an individual claiming to be a tech company, especially if you are not expecting the call.
Tech Support Pop-Up Windows with Warnings
Another technique tech support scammers often use to try and catch out is with pop-up windows with warnings that appear on your screen. This could look like an error message from your anti-virus software or operating system and it will often have the logos of trusted websites and companies. These kinds of viruses or hacks can invade your computer if you go to a dodgy website, whether it’s clicking on a link in a spam email message or mistyping a URL. They may also be delivered to you via scareware or adware, which is maliciously designed code you may acquire unwittingly when you download some free software. Often with PCs, you may get a scam alternative to the “blue screen of death” that flashes up normally when Windows on your computer crashes, with the difference being the message on the screen is not a crash report, but information related to some virus or other kind of threat.
If it is the form of a pop-up message, it will warn you that your computer has a serious security issue and will tell you that you need to call a special phone number for professional help.
These can be very easy to fall prey to as they will have realistic-sounding names such as System Defender or Spy Wiper or may even have a well-known logo or name.
They may even increase the element of fear to provoke you to act in the way they want by using loud audio, noises or a spoken word threat outlining all the files on your computer. These warning pages often do not go away until you have closed your browser.
If you fall for it and call them, they will do the same as with the phone scam.
Tech Support Listings and Online Ads Featured in Search Engine Results
Yet another way that tech support scam artists try to catch you out is by getting their websites to appear in search engine results pages like Google offering their tech support services. They also have been known to run their own online advertising campaigns. The scammers are doing this with the hope that you will call their number asking for help.
How to Avoid Tech Support Scams
It really does not matter what the tech support scam is, how they have contacted you, what it claims is wrong with your computer or whether they have the most legitimate logos and branding and look real, the advice is more or less the same. You just need to remember these two important pieces of information –
Genuine tech companies or their tech support team will never, and we repeat, never contact owners of computers by telephone, email or even text message to tell you that something is wrong with your computer.
Pop-up window warnings from genuine tech companies or their tech support teams will never include a telephone number you need to call for help.
You can avoid these scams by also doing the following:
- Hanging up the phone or closing your web browser when you receive a tech support phone call or pop-up warning.
- Using anti-virus software regularly to scan for any malware that may be lurking on your system and using the quick scan option if you receive a scam pop-up
- Keep your operating system, browser, and security software up to date and think about investing making use of the pop-up browser you get with your browser
- Contact your bank or credit card company if you think you’ve been the victim of a scam to ask for a reversal of payment. While you are on the phone to them, ask for them to check for unauthorised payments and charges and request reversals for those too
- Don’t allow anyone remote access of your computer to a stranger that calls you unannounced and unexpectedly
- Don’t just think that caller ID will help you to determine if it’s a scam call or not. Scammers are able to use spoofing to make it appear as if they are phoning from the company, they claim to be
- Avoid clicking on any pop-up warning or the links it features
How to Report Tech Support Scams
So, you’ve just been off the phone with a scammer or you’ve just had a pop-up or email trying to scam you, what can you do to report it? If nothing has happened to you, but you still want to report it, you can contact the Australian Cyber Security Centre. This can help inform the powers that be of the current methods and techniques tech support scammers are using.
You can obviously contact the above team and also speak to Contact IDCARE on 1800 595 160 or at www.icare.org if you do think you have been scammed. You should also speak to your bank and credit card companies to make sure that any payments that have been made are reversed and check for any unauthorised charges or other transactions on your account. It may even be that you need to completely freeze your account.
Tech support scams can be financially devastating and can pretty much ruin your life if the scammers get what they want from you. However, they don’t have to if you don’t let them succeed. The best way to empower and protect yourself against these scams is by keeping in mind what we have discussed in the above post. Be vigilant and look out for the signs we discussed. If someone calls you, even if they claim to be from the company that makes your computer or operating system, or another company like your ISP, simply hang up.
If you are concerned that it was a genuine call, you could even contact the company they claimed to represent directly. However, as we’ve noted at several times throughout this post, no company will ever make an unsolicited phone call or use a pop-up window warning you of a virus or some other problem affecting your computer.