Tech Support Scam: the complete guide to protecting yourself

Keeping up with tech isn’t always easy.

From the classic blue screen of death to errors that are just long strings of digits and letters, sometimes we all need help when our software isn’t working as intended.

You know this, I know this, but fraudsters also know it. And they’re hijacking the tech support business.

Now, tech support scams are an industry-wide issue.

But we’re here to teach you all about them and show you how you can protect yourself from these scams.

Tech support scams are on the rise

Tech support scams are nothing new. In English-speaking countries like the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, they date back as early as 2008.

Microsoft is one of the companies that frequently have scammers impersonating them. And they’ve filed quite a few lawsuits for name and trademarks misuse. What’s more, in 2011, they dropped Comantra, a tech support service, from the Microsoft Partner Network following accusations of tech support scams.

And in 2016, Microsoft banned ads for third-party technical support services on Bing, their web search engine.

Basically, scammers pretend to offer support services, when in truth, you have no tech issues.

They rely on social engineering to trick and manipulate their victims into installing malicious software on their devices. Through cold calling and emailing, they can persuade their victims to pay to remove the malicious software they have previously installed.

This is the pinnacle of telemarketing fraud in our digital times, but it’s not surprising it has come to this.

Tech made it convenient for us to keep all our info on personal devices. From online banking details to various credentials, they’re all now in one place, luring scammers.

While tech support scammers generally target people for their financial info, they can also:

      • Steal your personal information to impersonate you
      • Steal your private photos to extort you
      • Get their hands on your physical address and harass you
      • Install ransomware and keyloggers on your device

So, you can see how it’s a much lucrative business than the old door-to-door sales scams, and you should take every preventative measure to make sure you don’t turn into a victim.

How tech support scams work

The first step to recognizing scams is understanding how they work and what you should look out for.

Scammers have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. And even though it’s more complicated pinpointing their M.O., there are a few key indicators.

Fear is at the center of the interaction

Scammers try to scare you.

In their messages to you, they throw around words like “viruses,” “high risk,” or “immediate action,” but they rarely pinpoint what exactly they’re referring to. This is done deliberately, to give everything a sense of urgency.

They always claim they can fix it, for a price, of course, and it can be done remotely.

Then, scammers try to persuade you to install a remote access program, like TeamViewer, LogMeIn, or GoToAssist. But this is a recipe for disaster.

Nothing good can come out of scammers having access to your devices.

While remote access troubleshooting is a widespread tech support practice, make sure you know who you’re really dealing with. You should never feel pressured to allow remote access, and reputable companies have workarounds if you’re not comfortable with it.

You receive phone calls or text messages

There’s a huge difference between receiving a call from someone calling themselves a Computer Technician and your calling service for repairs.

Think about it this way. If a plumber called you from an office, miles away from you, to inform you that your kitchen sink is leaking, you’d be a bit suspicious. It’s the same with tech products and services.

If something is indeed wrong with your device, you’re the first to notice it. No one can know if, how, or why your device is at risk without having diagnosed it first.

Think back to the plumber example. If you see a pool of water under your sink or your downstairs neighbor gets flooded, you know it’s a real problem.

Similarly, there is no reason to believe your device has malware if nothing seems weird.

This is an important distinction to make because scammers will do anything in their power to make you believe you need assistance, even if it means deleting half your files through remote access.

You get pop-up ads telling you your device is at risk

These warnings may look like an error message from your operating system or antivirus software, letting you know that your device has one or more threats, but they will urge you to call a phone number to get the problem fixed. It’s all part of the scam.

Here’s the deal.

Reputable antivirus programs come with a repair function or a quarantine option. These are automated processes that prevent threats from infecting your system.

Unless you are unlucky enough to get infected by a new type of malware that no antivirus has yet discovered, it’s quite rare to have to contact tech support.

So, avoid calling any telephone numbers on pop-ups. If you want to get in touch with your antivirus’ support team, check their official website to get the proper contact details.

Online ads tell you you’re exposed to threats

We often talk about data mining. And your likes, dislikes, and online behavior are indeed used to tailor ads to your interests, but there is one thing you need to consider here.

Tailored ads are based on creepily accurate assumptions about you, but no algorithm can know about the state of your devices.

If you browsed for tech issues and software errors, you’d probably get ads recommending some repair services or even encourage you to purchase a new, better device. But if a pop-up blatantly tells you you were exposed to a virus, that’s just a scare tactic.

Also, be extra cautious if these pop-ups instruct you to call a phone number. The best course of action here? Don’t act on it.

You can only get tech support is by calling a number

It’s rare nowadays for any company not to have multiple contact options.

But scammers rely on phone calls because they’re harder to trace. Most people don’t record phone calls, while emails, chats, and social media can always serve as proof in case you do get scammed.

Another thing that should immediately catch your attention is a payment request before getting any tech support or diagnosis. This is not an ethical business practice, no matter how scammers might try and spin the narrative.

Gift cards are the preferred form of payment

Gift cards are generally a valid form of payment for online services, and some people prefer them for privacy reasons.

However, gift cards are ideal for scammers because they’re untraceable and non-refundable. So, they’ll encourage you to purchase bundles of gift cards to pay for their repairs.

They may even have you buy several cards from iTunes, Google Play, or Amazon at several stores.

More often than not, the caller will stay on the phone with you while you go to the store.

This is more akin to extortion than to a tech support service.

How to stay safe from scammers

Scammers are incredibly pushy, and it can be hard not to get swayed by their manipulation tactics. But here are some things you can do to stay safe from tech support scammers:

      • Don’t click on any suspicious links, emails, or pop-ups.
      • Hang up if any caller tries pressuring you into giving money away or your details.
      • Don’t make any wire transfers or purchase gift cards for tech support services.
      • Do not give strangers remote access to your devices.
      • Do not agree to repair subscriptions and never pay in advance for an online repair.
      • Never give out your username, password, or credit card details.

If you think something’s wrong with your device, contact the device manufacturer or the software developer. And do this only through official Customer Support channels.

Their representatives will redirect you if needed, but otherwise, avoid contacting third parties for troubleshooting.

It’s time to fight back

If you didn’t get here in the nick of time and were already the victim of a tech support scam, here’s what you can right now:

  1. Keep everything you can as proof. Things like URLs, screenshots, phone recordings, and credit card history play a huge role in getting you the justice you deserve.
  2. Get in touch with local authorities. In some countries, the police handle this, while in others, consumer protection agencies are the only ones that can issue an investigation.
  3. If you paid a tech support scammer with a gift card, contact the issuing company to block the funds.
  4. If you paid a tech support scammer with a credit or debit card, call your bank to reverse the charge.
  5. If you gave a scammer remote access to your computer, run your antivirus and delete everything flagged as a threat. Also, make sure to update and enable all security software.
  6. If you gave out your username and password, change your credentials immediately, and enable two-factor authentication for your accounts.
 

Did you know about these tech support scams? Were you ever a victim? How did you deal with the situation?

Let me know in the comment below!

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