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How to spot tech support scams and avoid them

Tech support scams are among some of the most common online frauds. Usually, these scams lure victims into believing there is a severe problem with their computer, like a virus.

The scammers also want their victims to pay for support they don’t need. Such scams mostly make use of social engineering and fear tactics to get people to take the bait.

In this article, we’ll discuss the three main ways that tech support scams get executed: via phone calls, pop-up messages, and lousy online ads alongside listings in search results on Windows or Mac operating systems.

Phone calls 

Tech support scam cold calls happen when a scammer calls the target claiming to be part of a tech support team of a reputable software company such as Apple, Microsoft, and IBM.

Scammers usually claim that they found an issue, or that there is malware installed on the victim’s computer. Usually, a tech support scammer will call the target and pretend to be a computer technician from an established company.

Tech support scammers will often ask for remote access to the target’s computer and try to install desktop software under the pretext of trying to run a diagnostic test. 

They also make victims pay to fix a problem that wasn’t there in the first place. When an individual gives these scammers remote access to their machine, the scammers actually install real malware. Once a tech support scammer gets the remote access to a victim’s PC, they will also try to steal all the financial information they can find.

Pop-up warning messages 

Tech support scammers lure targets via pop-up messages that appear when browsing the internet. These pop-ups might seem like error messages from the victim’s antivirus software or operating system. They might also use branding from known companies or sites.

It’s also worth noting that these pop-ups come up when the target views a website that contains links to related content; if the user clicks on any of those links, they will redirect them to a malicious website that hosts the pop-ups. Once there, the pop-ups can be very difficult to close. The pop-up warning messages will usually say that the user’s PC is infected with malware and offer a phone number to call for help to remove the malware.

Remember: Genuine security messages or warnings will never ever ask you to call a mobile or landline number.

Online ads and listings in search results pages

Tech support scammers tend to run ads online alongside getting their websites to show up in organic search results for technical assistance. They then wait patiently for internet users to call them.

For example, in an Apple support scam, a fake tech support person will make a call – using a Caller ID that looks like it’s from Apple. The scammer will walk you through installing an application on your iPhone or Apple laptop, which will grant them remote access to your computer.

The scammer may also put up contact info that displays fake pop-up messages on your screen that can lure you into calling them, thinking it is an actual support hotline.

This scam aims to get you to pay for a subscription to solve a “problem.”

If someone calls you claiming to be a representative from Apple, Microsoft, or any other software company, simply hang up. It’s the best thing you can do.

Reputable tech giants don’t initiate calls or send emails to fix issues on your computer. Apple never adds phone numbers on its warning messages – messages have to be created by you.

It’s advisable to only go to Apple’s official website and navigate to their support page if you have any issue with your device - and you can report scams through their official support page.

Download or purchase software only from official vendor websites or Apple stores because third-party websites can be modified to contain cyber-threats. The same goes for Google and other companies.

How to know and avoid pop-up or phone call tech support scams

It’s all about common sense. You don’t need to master rocket-science to keep yourself safe from tech support scams. To avoid and know tech support scams, here are some tips that can help:

Scam phone calls

You'll never receive any calls from an official provider asking to lend a helping hand to fix your computer’s problems. You will only receive a phone call if you initiate the support ticket.

More importantly, official customer support for most software companies is free for subscribers. If you see any pop-up on your computer from an official product of any company you subscribed to, it will not ask you to call any number. When software detects threats, it will never ask you to contact via a toll-free number.

Malicious pop-ups

Take a careful look at the pop-up message before you take any action. Watch out for signs of fraud or poor spelling, unprofessional imagery, language, or sense of urgency.

You can also research the number given on Google to verify if it is legitimate or not. There are lots of websites where people report cyberattacks. If it is a scam, you will know that point the pop-up message isn’t legitimate through the search results. 

What to do if someone scammed you

If you fell victim to these scams, and you have also paid these scammers with a credit or debit card, you can stop the transaction right away. Contact your credit card company or bank; explain what happened and ask if they can reverse the money.

If you paid a tech support scammer through a gift card, contact the gift card company immediately. Tell them what happened: that you spent money on a scammer through a gift card. After telling them about the incident, ask them if they can refund your money.

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

If you gave your password or username to a tech support scammer, update your password immediately. If you also use the same password for other websites and accounts, change it there as well. And it is always recommended that you use two-factor authentication, as well as a different password for each service you use.

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