AVG Signal Blog Security Scams How to Identify a Tech Support Scammer

Written by Danielle Bodnar
Published on August 13, 2021

Scams have been around for as long as people have had money or information to be scammed out of. From impersonations to mail fraud and phone scams, scammers have used technology to develop new techniques and tricks to deceive their victims.

Today, many scammers use the internet to pull off their schemes. Phishing is perhaps the most well-known type of internet scam, where scammers use email to trick victims into clicking on suspicious links or giving away personal information. Tech support scams, internet-based and often initiated over the phone, are also a new type of scam.

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    What are tech support scams?

    Tech support scams happen when scammers impersonate support staff from well-known companies and offer to “fix” fake problems with your Windows or Apple computer for a fee. The scammers try to get remote access to your computer, but both the problem and solution are fake.

    Tech support scams mimic trusted companies to convince you to give them remote access to your computer, so they can infect your device with malware or steal sensitive information.

    Who are tech support scammers?

    Tech support scammers are hackers masquerading as tech support workers from a company such as Microsoft or Apple, offering to help you solve a problem with your computer. Their phone support number may look legitimate, but it’s either spoofed or fake.

    Usually, the numbers used by scammers appear to be based in the US and may be very similar to support numbers for Windows or Microsoft. In fact, fake Microsoft tech support scammers are often (but not always) located in other countries, such as India.

    Tech support scammers trick victims into calling fake hotlines, where they're asked for sensitive personal info or to grant remote access to a device.Tech support scammers trick victims into calling fake hotlines.

    How tech support scams work

    Tech support scams work by using social engineering techniques to mimic legitimate companies and gain the trust of victims. The scammers may send alerts via pop-up ads, text messages, emails, or even through social media. Some scammers spoof the phone numbers they use so that they match the official numbers used at the companies they’re impersonating.

    Here’s how a typical tech support scam works:

    Step 1: Scare victims with fake alert messages

    Scammers use sensational language to convince you that your Windows or Mac computer has a computer virus or malware infection, and that all your data, including files and personal information, may be at risk. This is meant to scare victims and get them to click the link or call the fake tech support number

    Step 2: Offer support to fix the problem

    Tech support scammers employ tech jargon to convince less tech-savvy users that they know what they’re talking about. They may ask you to give them remote access to your device or for credit card information, try to sell you useless software or hardware you don’t need, or even install malware after claiming you have a virus.

    Step 3: Obtain remote access to the victim’s device

    Scammers often try to infect your computer with malware via the scammer’s remote access. Tech support scammers use scareware to frighten you into downloading fake security software, or adware that bombards your device with pop-ups. They may also use malware to create a “backdoor” that gives them access to your computer when you’re not using it.

    Example of a fake warning that aims to trick you into calling a fake hotline for tech support.Beware fake virus warnings that aim to trick you into calling a fake hotline for “tech support.”

    Phone-only tech support scams are usually phishing for sensitive information to rob you or steal your identity. If you think your device may actually have a virus after all, you should simply download a malware and virus removal tool to clear and protect your device.

    What do tech support scammers want?

    Tech support scammers are after your money and personal information. Many tech support scams offer useless products for money or aim to steal personal data for financial gain.

    Some scammers may want passwords to your online accounts — like the Netflix password scam from a few years ago — or they may even leak your Facebook data. Other tech support scammers seek to use your personal information to commit fraud.

    How to recognize tech support scams

    Phone calls, pop-up warnings, and online ads are the three primary types of tech support scams. Once you recognize the warning signs of these PC scams, you’ll be able to determine what’s legit and what’s not.

    You can automate most of this scam detection with antivirus software. AVG AntiVirus FREE automatically blocks unsafe links, downloads, and email attachments as soon as you install it. It also stops all kinds of malware from infecting your device — and it’s completely free.

    Some premium cybersecurity tools offer specialized protection against tech support scams. AVG Internet Security has a Remote Access Shield, which automatically blocks other IP addresses from accessing your computer. This, in addition to its enhanced firewall protection, keeps tech support scammers out.

    Here’s how you can detect tech support scams on your own:

    icon_01Unsolicited phone calls

    Legitimate tech support personnel will never call you out of the blue, but scammers will. While the caller ID may say Microsoft or Apple, if the person on the other end is asking for sensitive information or for remote access to your device, assume it’s a scam.

    Some scammers use fake tech support numbers that have a US area code or display as a 1-800 number. Scammer numbers in India and elsewhere may change frequently to prevent potential victims from blocking their calls.

    Keep in mind that legitimate tech companies won’t contact you to let you know if there’s a problem on your computer. If there’s anything wrong with your device, run a scan with antivirus software to remove the malware or other infection. And always update your software, as developers issue these updates to plug security holes and other vulnerabilities.

    icon_02Pop-up warnings

    Some tech support scams come in the form of pop-up warnings. These may look like real error messages from your operating system or antivirus, with a logo from a legitimate company or website.

    The pop-up usually warns of a security issue on your device and urges you to call a provided phone number for help. But real security messages don’t include a phone number for you to call, so these numbers are always fake.

    To keep your browsing safer, use security extensions for Chrome or your browser of choice to block ads and pop-ups. You can also disable pop-ups in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox to prevent such distractions in the first place. Or surf even more safely with a dedicated secure browser.

    icon_03Online ads

    Tech support scams may use malvertising tactics to show up as ads in search results on popular search engines. These ads usually include a (fake) phone number for you to call. Clicking on the ad may download malware to your device that gives the scammer remote access.

    Online ads and pop-up messages from tech support scam websites may look professional at first, but a closer look may reveal poor spelling or grammar, amateur or outdated-looking imagery, and sensational language telling you to call the number now or your computer will crash.

    Protect yourself from tech support scammers

    Thankfully, you don’t need to be a tech genius to protect yourself from tech support scammers. If you encounter a tech support scam, there are simple steps you can take to fend scammers off. 

    1. Don’t answer calls from unknown callers. If an unknown number calls you — even if the caller ID claims to be from a legitimate company — let it go to voicemail. Tech companies like Microsoft won’t call you if there’s a problem with your computer. You have to call them.

    2. Never grant unsolicited callers remote access to your device. And never disclose personal information such as your address or bank account details to untrusted callers. If a caller seems suspicious — maybe they insist on getting your credit card or other personal information before proceeding — hang up.

      Never grant remote access to someone who cold calls you.

      Never give personal information or remote access to someone who cold calls you.

    3. Block scam numbers. If you continue to receive phone calls or emails from suspicious contacts, block their numbers and email addresses. If scammers contact you from different spoofed numbers and addresses, you may need to consider changing your phone number or email address to avoid them.

    4. Protect your device with security software. Keep your network protected with antivirus software that regularly checks your device for actual computer problems.

    AVG AntiVirus FREE regularly scans your device for viruses and other malware, and blocks unsafe links, websites, and downloads. This keeps you protected against scammers who try to get to you online. Even better, this award-winning antivirus is completely free, so it’s easy to get fundamental protections for your device.

    To better protect yourself against remote access scams, upgrade to AVG Internet Security to get comprehensive remote access protection. You’ll block all unauthorized IP addresses from accessing your device, preventing potential scammers from getting control.

    What to do if you’ve been scammed

    If you think you’ve been scammed, take action immediately. Check your device for malware, freeze your financial accounts, and report the scam to the relevant authorities

    Here’s a closer look at how you can respond to a tech support scam:

    • If there’s a problem with your computer: Restart your device and scan your computer with trusted anti-malware software  — if there actually is a problem, this scan should detect any issues. If you haven’t installed reliable antivirus software, do so now, as an antivirus might flag issues that an ordinary scanner might not.

    • If you gave a scammer remote access to your computer: Your device is probably hacked and infected with malware. Seek help from legitimate tech support staff to restore your device. Look at reviews for trusted local tech support in your area, or contact official tech support for your PC via their website or verified contact number.

    • If you think your personal or financial accounts have been compromised: Contact your bank immediately to freeze your accounts before the scammer can touch your finances.

      Also report the scam to the police, as any information you have could be helpful for ongoing investigations. But even if the scammer is caught, you may not be able to recover lost data or funds, so immediate action is key to curb your losses.

    Tech support scams aren’t the only type of internet scams out there. Airline scams and Facebook scams have become more common in recent years, as travel and social media use increase. Smishing, in which text messages are used to phish for your personal information, has also become more prevalent.

    Once you learn more about the different scams and how they work, you’ll be able to identify them more easily.

    Save yourself the worry by installing a trusted antivirus

    To protect against malware that could be connected to tech support scams, you should install antivirus software. AVG AntiVirus FREE stops all kinds of malware from infecting your device, and blocks unsafe links, email attachments, and downloads.

    For complete protection against remote access scams, get AVG Internet Security. Real-time security updates keep your software current, while enhanced firewall protection and the remote access shield prevent hackers and scammers from getting remote access to your device.

    AVG Internet Security prevents remote access scams with our Remote Access Shield.

    You can start beefing up your PC’s internet security right now with AVG AntiVirus FREE — it takes just a few seconds to download, is completely free, and protects your device and data instantly.

    Prevent scams and protect your WiFi with AVG Mobile Security

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    Prevent scams and protect your WiFi with AVG AntiVirus

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    Danielle Bodnar