Scammers: The Scariest Thing about Tech Support

Tech support scams have rapidly increased in recent years. Callers claim to be from trusted companies like Microsoft or Norton. So what can you do about it?
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Written by Staff Writer • Posted on Jun 01, 2016

When you own a computer, you do your best to make sure that everything is running correctly and efficiently. You follow best practices when checking email or surfing the Web, and you avoid common scams and risks you've heard about. Then, one day, the phone rings and you hear this:

"Hi, my name is John, and I am calling from Microsoft Support. We've been monitoring your system, and we found a virus. I'm calling today to say that we can remove that dangerous virus right away for the low fee of $99."

Well, you've heard about the havoc that viruses can cause. John has you open up some files on your computer that seem to contain something very nasty and ominous indeed. You're grateful for a call from such a reputable company, so you hand over your credit card number and grant him remote access to your computer to fix it.

Later, you start to notice something funny. Your computer starts acting up. Your credit card has some suspicious charges on it. But when you call Microsoft, they have no record of the call. It turns out you have been officially scammed.

Unfortunately, these types of scams have drastically increased in recent years. People who claim to be from trusted companies like Microsoft or Norton call to say they've found something wrong. They play off your fears, your busy schedule, and your reliance on technology in order to gain access to your computer. Then, once inside, they either infect it with the very thing they're claiming to fix or install phishing software that gives them access to your personal information.

These scammers have become the scariest thing about the tech support industry. Not only do they cause damage to your computer and cost you a lot of money (Microsoft reported that one wave of scammers cost the average victim over $2500 in fraudulent charges and repair bills), they also cast a shadow of suspicion and negativity over real tech support companies who are legitimately trying to help you.

The Trickiness of Scammers

There are many reputable tech support companies who reach out to potential customers. They explain their vision, their services, and why you should sign up with them. The best ones will describe how they use remote-access technology safely to deliver the best possible service.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that sort of outreach. These companies are trying to sell a service that they truly believe will improve your life. The problem is that scammers take the main ideas and twist them in order to trick you into giving up sensitive information or access. The best way to protect yourself is to know the signs of a scammer's call and how to distinguish it from an authentic one. You should be suspicious if:

  • The phone number is blocked or reads as an international number.
  • The caller uses high-pressure tactics to instill a sense of urgency.
  • The caller claims to know that your computer is already infected without actually examining it.
  • The caller tries to take control of your computer right away.
  • The caller asks for your credit card info in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable (trust your gut!).
  • The caller asks for any of your passwords.

Use of these tactics, especially more than one, should warn you that the call is not valid. A reputable company will make sure that you fully understand their services and have you accept a contract before asking permission to access your computer. They will also never ask for a password or sensitive information such as your credit card number before you are fully informed.

What If I Get Called?

If you are suspicious about any phone call, write down the caller's name and number. Then, hang up and call a verified number for the company (from their official website or from their products). Ask if they have any record of that person on their staff, or if they can validate the call. This will quickly answer whether or not the call was legitimate. If the call was a fraud, report it (including the phone number) to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), so that the proper authorities receive the information they need to track down these criminals.

What If I Was Called Already?

If you discover that you've already fallen prey to a scammer, don't lose heart. There are steps that you can take to mitigate the damage. As soon as possible, make sure to:

  • Change all of your passwords (including computers, emails, and financial accounts).
  • Download (or update) and run a legitimate antivirus software.
  • Call your credit card provider and/or bank to reverse any unauthorized charges.
  • If the scammer claimed to be from a legitimate corporation, call the number listed on the corporation's official website to inform them about what is happening.
  • File a complaint with the FTC.

It's getting harder to find a tech support company that you can trust. But when you have a real, one-on-one relationship with your Technology Advisors, you have no cause to worry. You'll spot those shady scammers a mile away!

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