According to The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) 2020 report, the majority of tech support scam victims (66 percent) are over 60 years of age and experienced 84 percent of the losses, for a total of over $116 million.

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

A recent incident that took place in Chicago, Illinois, where Jamil Qandah was defrauded out of his life savings, over $200,000, by a phone-based tech support scam. The scammer was actually posing as a tech support person from Avast, which brought the issue even harder home.

At best the scammers are trying to get you to pay them to “fix” a nonexistent problem with your device or software. At worst they’re trying to steal your personal or financial information; and if you allow them to remote into your computer to perform this “fix” they will often install malware, ransomware, or other unwanted programs that can steal your information or damage your data or device.

Scammers may call you directly on the phone and pretend to be representatives of a tech company. They might even spoof the caller ID so that it displays a legitimate support phone number from a trusted company. They can then ask you to install applications that give them remote access to your device. Using remote access, these experienced scammers can misrepresent normal system messages as signs of problems.

Scammers might also 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 in full screen mode and display pop-up messages that won’t go away, apparently locking your browser. These fake error messages aim to scare you into calling their “technical support hotline”.

Warning Signs

  • You get an unsolicited phone call or email from someone claiming to work for a brand-name tech company such as Microsoft or Apple. Those companies say they do not contact customers unless the customer initiates communication.
  • A pop-up or blue screen appears on your computer, phone or tablet with a warning that a virus or other malicious program has infected your device. 
  • The message urges you to immediately call a toll-free number or click a link to get technical help or security software.
  • The message contains bad grammar or misspelled words
  • You are asked to pay for tech support or other services with a gift card, cash-reload card or wire transfer. The FTC says no legitimate company will ask for payment that way.

How To Protect Against Tech Support Scams

  • Don’t click any links in the pop-up, even to close the window. This could redirect you to a scam site or launch a “dialogue loop,” continually serving pop-up messages.
  • If a pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, don’t call the number.
  • Don’t buy security software from a company you don’t know. If the name is unfamiliar, do an internet search to see if it has been linked to adware or scams.
  • Download software only from official websites. 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 malware and other threats.
  • Use secure web browser like Firefox when browsing the internet.
  • Install an antivirus software in your PC.

What To Do If A Tech Support Scammer Already Has Your Info

  • Uninstall applications that scammers have asked you to install.
  • If you have given scammers access, consider resetting your device. 
  • Run a full scan with antivirus software to remove any malware. 
  • Apply all security updates as soon as they are available.
  • Call your credit card provider to contest the charges if you have already paid. Let them know what happened; they’ll probably want to cancel and replace your affected cards to prevent the scammers from using them again.

This problem is growing in scope. Scammers seek to exploit people’s unfamiliarity with technology for their own ends. It’s also important to understand that today’s tech support scammers are professional, well-organized, and well-run outfits that rival modern legitimate call centers in their operational sophistication and efficiency.