Skip to main content

Protect Yourself: A Guide to Identifying Tech Support Scams

You’re just about to put the final strokes on your project when suddenly an error message pops up. There might even be a number for you to call in order to fix the issue. Tech support scammers want you to believe you have a severe problem with your computer, like a virus. These scammers want you to pay for tech support services you don’t need, to fix a problem that does not really exist. They may ask you to pay by wiring money, adding money to a gift card, prepaid card, or using a money transfer app knowing those types of payments will be hard to reverse.

Fake Tech Support Popups

Tech support scammers use many different methods to try deceiving people. Recognizing these tactics will help you avoid being the victim of these types of scams.

Pop-up warning scams

Tech support scammers try to entice you with an on-screen pop-up message claiming a virus has been found on your computer. It might look like an error message from your operating system or hardware manufacturer, and it might use logos from trusted companies or websites (i.e. Microsoft or Google). In order to receive assistance, the message requests you call a phone number associated with the fraudulent tech support company.

If you receive a pop-up or locked screen, you should shut down the device immediately. Ignore any pop-ups instructing to not power off or restart the computer. Do not give unknown, unverified persons remote access to devices or accounts. Ensure all your computer anti-virus, security, and malware protection is up to date.

If rebooting your device does not remove the scam pop-up message, the easiest solution is to clear the browsing history from the browser you were using when the message appeared or contact a known IT professional.

Phone calls scams

Tech support scammers may call and pretend to be a computer technician from a well-known company. They know that people trust name brands like Microsoft, and they use this to their advantage. These convincing sounding scammers say they’ve discovered a problem with your computer and frequently ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then pretend to run a diagnostic test. Then they try to make you pay to fix a problem that never existed.

If you get a phone call you didn’t expect, from someone you don’t know, who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up. Legitimate tech companies won’t contact you by phone, email or text message to tell you there’s a problem with your computer.

Tech support ads and listings in search results pages

Tech support scammers pay to have their fraudulent tech support company’s link show higher in search results, or they might run their own ads online. The scammers are hoping you will choose one of the top links in search results and call the phone number to get help. So be very cautious of unknown tech support numbers obtained via online search engines.

Tech support refund scams

If you’re looking for tech support, go to a company you know and trust such as PTS (shameless plug).

If someone calls to offer you a refund for tech support services you paid for, it’s likely a fake refund scam. How does the scam work? The caller will ask if you were happy with the services you got. If you say, “No,” they’ll offer you a refund. In another variation, the caller says the company is giving out refunds because it’s going out of business or you overpaid. No matter their story, they’re not giving refunds. They’re trying to steal more of your money. Don’t give them your bank account, credit card, or other payment information.

What to do if you think there’s a problem with your computer

If you think there may be a problem with your computer, update your software – including your security software, operating system, the web browsers you use to connect to the Internet, and your apps to protect against the latest threats. Most software can update automatically, so make sure to set yours to do so. After you update your security software, run a scan.

If you need help fixing a problem, contact an IT professional you know and trust. Many software companies offer support online or by phone, contact them directly, but beware of tech support search results as mentioned earlier.

What to do if you were scammed

If you gave a scammer remote access to your computer, shut down the computer, update your computer’s security software. Then run a full system scan and delete anything it identifies as a problem.

If you paid a tech support scammer with a credit or debit card, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact your credit card company or bank right away. Tell them what happened and ask if they can reverse the charges.

If you paid a tech support scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money. If you gave your user name and password to a tech support scammer, change your passwords to your computer, to banking, and to any other accounts right away. If you use the same password for other accounts or sites, change it there, too. Create a new password that is strong.

Reporting tech support scams

If a tech support scammer contacts you, report it to your IT Professional or supervisor immediately.

Now that you know how to recognize a tech support scam, share what you learned with someone you know. You might help them avoid a tech support scam.

PTS Computer Network Services web site administrator.