There are many different dangers on the Internet that users need to look out for, but there aren't that many of them that are as annoying as tech support scams.
Just in case you're unfamiliar with this problem, let me explain: tech support scams are a special type of telephone fraud.
The scammer tries to convince their victim that they are from a tech support team. Then they offer their services to fix made up problems that don't even relate to the victim in the majority of cases.
These scammers are mostly targeting Windows users from English-speaking countries, like the U.S., Australia, or the U.K. They hope to stumble upon someone who's not too savvy with computer-related matters so that they can scare them into submission.
Once they make a connection, then they try to use a variety of different methods to convince the victim that they have a serious problem with their system – a problem that only the person on the other side of the phone can deal with. For a small – or sometimes not-so-small fee – of course.
Simply continue reading, and I'll explain different types of scams, including how they work, what they do, and how they generate money. I'll also cover issues like how to identify the scam attempt, as well as how to protect yourself from one. So let's start.
How do Tech Support Scam Work?
First of all, it's important to understand that there are several types of tech support scams. We will now list them and explain how they work, as well as what might be asked of you that clearly shouldn't be.
The first type is Cold Calling. This is mostly a term used for a certain type of business practice. It relates to a situation where the person, most often a salesmen, with whom you’ve had no previous contact with, starts calling your number and offering you services or products.
They might offer different kinds of products and then try to convince you that you need to buy them. The same goes when it comes to tech support scams. In the U.K. especially it has become a routine thing to receive such calls.
Basically, your phone rings, and when you answer, there will be someone who pretends that they are a member of Microsoft's support team. They would then say that they are calling because they detected a serious threat on your computer.
They might suggest several ways of helping you deal with a threat, all of them extremely suspicious. However, we'll talk more about that later. For now, let me explain the second type of scam, one that begins with an Ad popup, or Fake Warning.
Ad Pop-Up / Fake Warning
This is a type of scam that starts after you've visited a website that's designed to throw out a pop-up with a virus warning as soon as someone enters it. Pretty much everyone has run into one of those websites at one point.
If you remember doing so, then you know that the alleged 'warning' that popped up probably mentioned a virus. They mostly use one of the big antivirus brand names to make everything look as legitimate as possible. More often than not, you don't even use that particular antivirus, but you still get a warning that it found a threat.
This type of scam is almost absurd when you think about it, but it still works since it looks official. The main function of these scams is to scare people. Once the victim is scared for their safety and privacy, they're more likely to do anything that the scammer requests.
Next, we have Screen Lockers. Screen lockers have become increasingly popular with the development of malware. Hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to mess with your system, and scammers are quick to pick up these new ideas.
Basically, they try to infect your system with malware that would lock you out of your computer for a while. One of the best examples is the fake Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) that usually occurs once your computer crashes. BSOD used to look pretty scary if you didn't know how to deal with it, and that's what the scammers were counting on.
So, they would infect your computer with malware that would display BSOD, and you wouldn't know what to do. There would be a phone number displayed that you should use to call for help, and when you do, you're directly connected to the person responsible for the issue. They won't tell you that, however. Instead, they will try to trick you and steal your money or get access to your device. But more on that later.
Numbers on Web Spam
Finally, we have phone numbers that victims may find on web spam. Let's say that you can't get into your email for some reason.
The problem might be a Caps Lock that was left on, or maybe you didn't type your password in properly. However, you feel concerned that there's an issue, and the first thing you would probably do is google the problem.
That approach is what scammers are counting on, and they spam the web with fake posts that suggest calling their number for help in such situations. If you find one such post, and you call the number, the scammer will pretend that they see an issue and that they can help fix it. Of course, they can't, and there are so many ways to catch them in a brazen lie.
For example, one scammer claimed that they saw an issue with someone’s email account before the person who called even told them what the email address was. They don't care, and they can't help you. All they are trying to do is to get you to give them your money
What do Scammers do when you Call / Pick up?
The scammers will try to do pretty much the same thing, whether you're the one who calls them, or if they're calling you. First, they would claim that they know exactly what the issue is and that they can help.
In fact, they often claim that they are the only ones who can help. They'll try to convince you that every other service would take a lot of your money in exchange for the fix, while the scammer would give you an immediate refund.
If you didn't hang up at this point, they'll try to get you to download some software that can be found online. Most of the time, these are programs that allow one person to connect with the other person's computer remotely.
If you downloaded and installed the program, once you started it, you'd get a code, and the scammer would ask for it. If you give it to them, they could enter it in their own version of the same software, and then they would be able to control your computer.
There are many programs like this that are mostly used for things like accessing your work computer from home and alike. TeamViewer is just one example of such software. Depending on your knowledge when it comes to software and computer issues, this might seem legit.
However, don't ever allow anyone to do so because the real tech support would never ask to get access to your computer. If this ever happens to you, it's a sure sign of a tech scam.
Still, if you've allowed the scammer to access your computer, they could try to pull out some fake error data that are normal for any computer. There's no such thing as a perfect system, and your device is even now riddled with such processes. This is perfectly normal, and you're not in any sort of danger.
The scammers know that, and they know where to find these reports. They would try to use these perfectly normal stats to convince you that something is wrong. Their explanations are mostly nonsense, but it's their job to scare you as much as they can so that you will believe them
Remember, these are the people who are professional liars and deceivers. There's nothing they wouldn't say in order to gain your trust, and scam you out of your money.
There have been many stories of scams over the years, and people have found themselves in many unfortunate situations. There are many examples of people who realized that they were being scammed. The scammers would then get angry, and start threatening, swearing, harassing etc.
Reasoning with these people is pointless, and the best course of action is to simply hang up immediately. As soon as you realize that you're not talking to an actual tech support worker, just hang up the phone, and don't ever call back.
Remember that these people are scammers and not hackers, and they might get angry and violent if they feel that you're wasting their time. However, there's not much that they can do besides call you on your phone several times. If you don't pick up, or if you block their number, there's nothing more that they can do to you.
How can they Earn Money from you?
Once the scammer feels like they're getting to you with their lies and fake reports, they will start promising solutions. Of course, their solutions will always be better than anyone else's, as well as the cheapest, with the longest guarantee, and so on.
They will offer you a chance to buy their repair services, but more often than not, they wouldn't want your money. They are aware of the fact that money transactions can be traced, even when online payments are being made. Instead, they have been known for asking for things like Walmart or iTunes Cards.
These cards can be bought by victims themselves with a certain amount of money already on them. That's the form of payment that these scammers usually prefer since it's hard or almost impossible to trace.
Sometimes, they will ask for your credit card number – or even your social security number that they can use to steal from your accounts. Provided with this information, they can even steal your identity, if only for a little while. Still, it would be enough to take your money and disappear.
I shouldn't even mention at this point that these are all things that real tech support would never ask you to do, or provide. Scammers, on the other hand, have no other reason than this to even call you. They can't help you even if you actually had problems that they say you have
There are all kinds of different stories about scammers and what they asked from their victims. Knowing all that you already do at this point, you probably realize that the most important things are to identify the scam as soon as possible, and to protect yourself.
How to Identify the Scam?
When it comes to identifying the scams, there are many different clues that you'll easily pick up. All you need to do is pay attention, and you'll see that it's really pretty easy to spot them
For example, the first clue is that they call you. This would never happen when it comes to real tech support services. The harsh truth is that Microsoft won't waste their time and resources by calling you and offering to fix your computer.
The next thing that you should watch out for is the way they talk. They'll be polite and helpful at first, ready to explain whatever nonsense they're trying to sell, but that's not what I'm talking about. The literal way they talk is the biggest clue here.
Most of the reports related to these scams describe a scammer with a thick, foreign accent, mostly Indian, or from the Middle East. On the other hand, the names that they use are usually of western origin. There are countless reports of 'Jonathans', or 'Edwards' with an Indian accent that claims to work for Microsoft. Basically, don't trust them.
Next clue is what they are telling you. They will claim that your computer is sending off errors or spam and that you can see it for yourself. They will then guide you to the Windows Event Log Viewer and claim that the stats there represent the problem.
Also, remember when I mentioned the different online tools that they might ask you to download? Some may be used for controlling your computer remotely, others might even have malware attached to them. They often claim that the tool in question might fix your problem.
The fact is, it'll sooner create one, and a much bigger one, than fix the one that you (don't) have
How to Protect yourself from Tech Support Scams?
The best way to protect yourself is with information. You must know how these scams work, and how to recognize them. I've already explained that in the previous chapter.
However, according to Microsoft's support page, you might get a small malware attack like the Screen Locker that would advise you to call the number for the scammers. There are other types of malware, and they might stop your browser from working properly or mess with your PC in some other way.
If you notice a phone number next to the report that mentioned a virus, malware, bug, or anything else, do not call it. Instead, contact the real Microsoft support at the Microsoft Answer Desk.
Your alternatives include contacting the local government scam reporting department. If you're in the US, you should use the FTC Complaint Assistant Form. Those who live in Canada can find support at Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. For the UK, you can report fraud here and unsolicited calls here. And Australians can use a website called ScamWatch to report such issues.
What to do if you've already Paid the Scammers?
If you've already paid the scammers, there are still options left, but not that many. You should immediately call your credit card provider, explain the situation and try to reverse the charges.
Other than that, there’s not much that can be done to retrieve your money. All you can do next is to try and make sure that they didn't leave any backdoor open on your device.
You should uninstall and turn off anything that you've downloaded or enabled while following the scammer's instructions. You should also change all of your passwords, and update your security. Also, use any antivirus programs that you've got to scan your computer. It might not even be a bad idea to restore your PC to a previous state.
Dangers on the internet are many, but they don't always come from the internet directly. Despite viruses and malware being the worst enemy of an internet user, you must remember that they are still just tools. The real bad guys are those who send them in the first place - other people.
Those skilled in the art of hacking will try to remain in the shadows and let their malware do their dirty work. Others that are less capable will try to scam you. It's as simple as that. Both parties would try to trick you, and most probably rob you if you let them. That's why it's important to know all that you now know and to be able to recognize these threats as soon as possible.