Tech support scams are a growing problem, with scammers using various tactics to try and trick people into believing that their computer is infected with a virus or has other problems that need to be fixed.

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’ll probably 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.

In 2020, at least 66% of tech support scam victims were age 60 or older. This group suffered a staggering $116 million in losses.

Scammers might also initiate contact by displaying fake error messages on websites you visit, displaying support numbers, and enticing you to call. They may 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”.

One common tactic used by tech support scammers is to send unsolicited pop-up messages or make unsolicited phone calls claiming to be from tech support. These messages often contain alarming language, such as “Your computer is infected with a virus!” or “Your computer has a security problem!” in an attempt to scare people into thinking they need to take immediate action.

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How to protect yourself from this scam

  • Do hang up if you get an unsolicited call from someone who claims to be a tech support provider for your computer or software. 
  • Do get rid of a fake virus alert message by shutting down your browser. You can do this on a Windows PC by pressing Control-Alt-Delete and bringing up the Task Manager. On a Mac, press the Option, Command, and Esc (Escape) keys, or use the Force Quit command from the Apple menu.
  • Do use antivirus software to regularly scan your computer for malware, and run a scan immediately after getting a scam pop-up.
  • Do keep your security software, browser, and operating system up to date, and consider using your browser’s pop-up blocker. 
  • Do contact a computer technician you trust if you think there might be a genuine problem with your machine.
  • Do contact your credit card company and request a reversal of the payment if you’ve been victimized. You’ll also want to look for other unauthorized charges and ask for those to be reversed as well. 
  • Don’t rely on caller ID to determine if a caller is on the level. Scammers use “spoofing” techniques to make it look like they’re calling from a legitimate number.
  • Don’t call the number in a pop-up virus alert. Real warnings from your operating system or antivirus program will not ask you to call anyone for support.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Don’t open previously closed sites if prompted to do so when you restart the browser after getting a scam pop-up.
  • Don’t give financial information to someone who calls a few days, weeks, or months after you’ve made a tech support purchase and asks if you were satisfied — it’s probably a “refund scam.” If you say “No,” the caller will ask for bank or credit card information, ostensibly to deposit a refund in your account but actually to steal from you. 

What To Do if You Were Scammed

If you paid a tech support scammer with a credit or debit card, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact your credit card company or bank right away. Tell them what happened and ask if they can reverse the charges.

If you paid a tech support scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money.

If you gave a scammer remote access to your computer, update your computer’s security software. Then run a scan and delete anything it identifies as a problem.

If you give your username and password to a tech support scammer, change your password right away. If you use the same password for other accounts or sites, change it there, too.

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