Struggling with an application or website might prompt you to reach for the phone and call tech support. It’s not a bad idea, and that is why the helpful tech support is there. But it becomes dicey when you search for the number online.
You can’t always be sure the number you find is legitimate. You might even get a call from a supposed cybersecurity or software company claiming that you have a virus on your computer or phone. That should be an immediate red flag, but scammers also use different tricks to get your details.
Read on to see how these scams work and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim.
Here’s the backstory
Scams and malware come in a variety of flavors, but they all have the same goal of stealing your details or your money. Scammers may call random victims with the pretense of removing viruses or authentication issues on their computers.
At first, the scammer will go through a laundry list of problems and supposed solutions to try. Unfortunately, nothing seems to work. So, as a “last resort,” the scammer asks the victim to download and install software so they can get a closer look.
But that is when the trouble starts. The software is most likely malware that steals your sensitive information. Some of the apps give the scammer remote access to your computer. Then, under the false idea of fixing your computer, they copy as many details and login credentials as possible.
However, cybercriminals don’t always use remote access for their crimes. Instead, they ask you to authenticate your credentials through a fake website in a rather sneaky move.
For example, if you use a Windows-based computer, they instruct you to authenticate your Microsoft account. But the website is nothing more than a clone; as soon as you enter your details, the scammer captures your credentials.
According to Microsoft, criminals can “also put your browser in full-screen mode and display pop-up messages that won’t go away.” This creates the illusion that your browser is locked and scares you into calling their “technical support hotline.”
Tech support scams are getting worse than usual. So much so that Microsoft is sounding the alarm. The tech giant is warning the number of tech support scams is rising at an astounding rate.
Not only do you need to be wary of fake tech support personnel calling you, but also of fraudulent error messages. Cybercriminals have set up malicious websites that show error messages if you visit them.
The message will claim you have a severe problem with your computer and need help from tech support. A phone number might even be included in the message for you to call for help. But if you call the number, a scammer will be on the other end.
What you can do about it
Even though tech support scams have been around a while, many computer users still fall for them. So here are a few ways to stay protected.
- No software or cybersecurity company will call or send unsolicited messages regarding a virus on your device. That’s not how they operate, and they don’t have (or need) access to your machine.
- If a pop-up or error message appears from Microsoft that includes a phone number, don’t call it. Error and warning messages from Microsoft never come with a phone number.
- If you get a call from anyone asking you to download an application to fix a computer problem, hang up the phone immediately.
- Microsoft will never ask for payment in the form of cryptocurrency. If someone claims to be from Microsoft tech support and asks you to pay with Bitcoin, it’s a scam.
- Report any Microsoft tech support scams you run across to www.microsoft.com/reportascam.
- Always have a trusted antivirus program updated and running on all your devices. We recommend our sponsor, TotalAV. Right now, get an annual plan with TotalAV for only $19 at ProtectWithKim.com. That’s over 85% off the regular price!
If a tech support scammer contacts you, you can also report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.