A tech support rep calls and offers to fix a computer bug you haven't even noticed, or a pop-up warning appears on the screen, instructing you to dial a number for help. In this con, scammers pose as tech support employees of well-known computer companies and hassle victims into paying for their "support."
How the scam works
A call comes through on the Caller ID, or you get a pop-up on the computer screen from someone claiming to be with tech support from a well-known software company. Microsoft, Comcast, Norton and Dell are all popular choices. The caller creates a sense of urgency—the computer is sending error messages, they've detected a virus, or your computer is about to crash, causing massive data loss!
Rest assured. The tech support employee can fix the problem, but only if they're allowed to remote access the troubled machine. Once access is granted, the caller will often run a "scan" and claim the computer is infected with viruses. The caller offers to fix and repair the machine for a fee. That may not be the end of the scam. If you allow remote access, the scammer may install malware on your device. Malware often scans files for personal information, which scammers then use to commit identity theft.
Scammers may also lure people to find them by putting fake tech support numbers online.
Tips to spot this scam
The first thing you need to do is to research the tech support company by checking them out online. Do they even exist?
- Start your search on BBB.org
- Do they have a BBB profile?
- What is their BBB letter grade?
- How long have they been in business?
- What is their complaint history and, more importantly, how have they responded to complaints?
- Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you are absolutely sure it is the representative of a computer support team with whom you initiated contact.
- Legitimate tech support companies don't make unsolicited phone calls. A popular way for thieves to get in touch with victims is through cold calls. The callers often claim to be from a tech company. Scammers can spoof official-looking phone numbers, so don't trust Caller ID.
- Look out for warning screens: Nearly half of tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim's computer screen. This pop-up will have a phone number to call for help. Instead, disconnect from the internet and Wi-Fi by shutting off the device. Restart it and run an antivirus scan.
- Be wary of sponsored links. When searching online for tech support, look out for sponsored ads at the top of the results list. Many of these links lead to businesses that scam consumers.
- Avoid clicking on links in unfamiliar emails. Scammers also use email to reach victims. These messages point consumers to scam websites that launch pop-ups with fake warnings and phone numbers.
If you are a victim of a tech support scam
- File a report with BBB Scam Tracker and with law enforcement authorities, such as the FTC.
- Contact the bank immediately to report the incident and describe exactly what happened.
- Take the infected laptop, tablet, mobile device, or computer to a trusted local business and have it checked out.
- Remove any software that authorized remote access to the device.
- Change all passwords used to access bank accounts, social media and other websites that contain personal information.
For more information
For more information, visit BBB.org to read BBB's complete study with more details on who is behind tech support scams, how they are requesting money, and whom they are victimizing. To learn how to protect yourself, go to "10 Steps to Avoid Scams," and sign up for scam alerts.
If you spot a scam, whether you have lost money or not, report it to BBB’s Scam Tracker at BBB.org. Your story can help other consumers avoid falling victim to similar scams.