Stop Falling for Tech Support Scams

The tech support scam is plaguing the internet with no signs of slowing down.  According to the FBI, Americans have lost over 2.2 million dollars to tech support scams.  Typically, these scams are carried out by one of these methods:

  • Cold Call
  • Popup Message
  • Web Advertisements

By applying simple logic, it is very easy to avoid falling victim to these scams.

Cold Call

In this scenario, the scammer would initiate the call.  They may claim to be associated with “Microsoft” or “Windows Technical Support” or any other legitimate sounding third-party.  They try to tell you that your computer is infected with viruses, has errors or needs to be cleaned up.  You will be asked to run some commands on your computer, such as opening the Event Viewer, to help them convince you that your computer is, in fact, broken.  After this, the scammer moves in for the kill by requesting remote access.

Now, imagine you’re at home when the phone rings.  It’s the electric company.  The person on the other end says that your fuse panel has been sending errors and needs to be repaired.  They want to schedule an appointment for an electrician to come and make the necessary repairs.  Would you invite this “electrician” to your house?

Just like a plumber will never call you to tell you that your drain is clogged, Microsoft, or any other reputable tech company, will never call you to tell you that there is something wrong with your PC.  If someone calls claiming to be from “Microsoft” or “Windows Technical Support”, just hang up.

Popup Message

Another method widely used is the popup message.  This will present itself as a popup that appears over your web browser.  If you try to close out of it, it just comes back.  It will say something like “Warning your computer is infected with virus.  Please call our support technicians.  Do not shut down your computer or your hard drive will be erased.”  It may have some technical language in there to make it sound like there is something very wrong with your PC.

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re driving in your car, listening to the radio.  Suddenly the music stops and you hear a message.  It says, “Your car is malfunctioning, please call 1-800-555-1234 to schedule an appointment with our automotive technicians to repair your car.”  You try to change the station or turn off the radio, but the message keeps repeating.

That would never happen, just like your PC will never tell you who to call when there is an error.  The best thing to do in this case is to force your web browser to close.  You can do this by right clicking on the taskbar and selecting Task Manager.  In the Task Manager window that opens, select the web browser and click End task.  When reopening the web broswer, make sure you don’t reopen any tabs from the previous session or you will reopen the tab that had the error message.

How does that error message even pop up?  Typically, it can be delivered by an infected advertisement on a legitimate web site.  Other times, scammers will register domain names that are misspellings of common web sites and have those pages generate the error message.  It is rare that this is caused by an infection on your PC, but it does happen.  In this case, you could consult a qualified computer technician.

Web Advertisements

Sometimes, scammers will pay for ads on legitimate search engines and use keywords relating to commercial products and services that someone may search for.  For example, someone may search for “Facebook support” which could lead them to a web page with a number to call.

The best way to avoid this is to go directly to the web site of the company you need support from.  If you’re having trouble with Facebook, go to www.facebook.com and click on the support link.  This is the only way to be sure that you’re contacting a legitimate representative of that web site.

The Bottom Line

Tech support companies will never call you to let you know your PC is not working.  If someone calls you claiming to be from as tech support company and tells you that there is something wrong with your computer, it is almost always a scam.

I say almost because Managed Service Providers typically monitor a corporate network and will notify a technical contact within the company that there is something wrong.  If you are unsure if you are the technical contact at your job, you aren’t.  Managed Service Providers will work closely with the technical contact and establish a relationship.  Often times, the technical contact and technicians at a managed service provider are on a first name basis.  Unless it is in your support plan, a Managed Service Provider does not monitor workstations and never monitors an employee’s personal home PC.

I once had a client call me up because he was concerned with an error on his computer.  It said that his Windows was corrupt and he needed to contact “Microsoft support” to fix it.  He was using a Mac.

I reiterate the point that an error message will not tell you who to contact when something is wrong with your computer.  An error message will only say what is wrong and may offer some troubleshooting steps.  They will never tell you to call “Windows Tech Support”.  A legitimate error message won’t try to scare you into calling the number on the screen

Some applications, such as Quickbooks, may advise you to contact support in an error message.  The message will instruct you to go to the Quickbooks web site or contact the vendor you purchased Quickbooks from.  Note that it doesn’t give you an 800 number to call and doesn’t try to scare you into calling.

With a little bit of critical thinking, you can easily avoid falling victim to a tech support scam.  Do you have any experience with a tech support scam?  Share them in the comments below.