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What is a technical support scam, and how does it work?

Technical support scammers still have what it takes! According to reports, in 2021 alone, Americans lost $347 million due to technical support scams. A premium technical support scam is a unique type of online fraud. Scammers often pretend to be technical support representatives in order to make money for non-existent problems like viruses or other security issues they promise to fix.

What is a technical support scam, and how does it work?

What is a technical support scam?

Also known as a “tech support scam,” this type of scam lures people through fake pop-up ads, messages, and fake websites. These pop-up messages usually claim that the user’s computer is infected with malware or has another security issue they must fix immediately. Tech support scammers often urge victims to contact them via a provided phone number for further directions. Then, through social engineering tricks and scare tactics, scammers persuade people to give access to their computer systems in order to fix non-existent security problems. In the final step, they always ask users for money. Sometimes the goal is to steal sensitive data such as credit card information or to install remote access for further exploitations.

How can you spot and avoid tech support scams?

Scammers use many different tactics to trick people. But spotting the most popular scenarios will help you avoid these scams in the first place.

Phone calls

Tech support scammers often call spontaneously without warning and pretend to be tech-support specialists from a well-known global company or a reputable company in your area. The call structures are almost identical. They claim that they found a problem, then ask people to provide remote access to their computers. After claiming that they ran a fake diagnostic test, eventually, they will ask for payments.

Note: Tech support companies don’t make unsolicited calls. They rarely call at all. If you get an unexpected call from someone who claims there’s a problem with your computer, the best thing you can do is hang up.

Online ads

Tech support scammers set up their websites to appear in the search results when people search for tech or IT services. There are known cases where tech support scammers even ran their banner ad campaigns online. The main goal of these online ads is to make victims dial the provided phone number and call.

Note: It is advisable to look for a trusted tech support company.

Pop-up warnings

Another widely used tactic is pop-up windows and user alert messages on the user’s computer screens. These messages look like operating system or antivirus software messages, and sometimes they have legitimate-looking logos stolen from trusted companies or known websites. To grab the user’s attention, scammers even use sound alert messages to convince users to call the provided phone number.

Note: Real security warnings never try to convince users to call a phone number.

Why am I seeing a tech support scam pop-up?

If a tech support scam pop-up window keeps appearing on your screen, your computer may contain adware, spyware, or a malicious program you caught online. Some websites might have malicious ads that redirect your browser to these pop-up ads or install malware. That way, scammers generate advertising revenue for clicks and views. Installing an ad blocker if such things keep happening is advisable.

How do I know if I have tech support scam malware?

Some signs might indicate that your computer has a malicious program installed. If you are suspicious, this short checklist might come in handy.

  • You are redirected to a random web page.
  • Ads show up where they shouldn’t.
  • Web pages are not displayed correctly.
  • Your browser’s homepage is changed or modified without your permission.
  • Pop-ups appear, urging you to make updates for random software.
  • Unwanted programs are installed without your permission.

How can you secure yourself from tech support scams?

First, being cautious of pop-up messages trying to trick you into believing that your device or computer has a security problem is advisable. Never call the provided phone numbers in any pop-up windows or ads. Finally, never fall for unsolicited phone calls since genuine and legitimate tech companies usually do not contact their customers that way.

How can you remove a tech support scam?

Avoiding being scammed is the goal in the first place because removing malware from your computer and browser can be a real challenge due to the nature of these malicious programs. They are hard to detect in the first place. On a more positive note, there are some steps you can follow to try to remove the malicious software.

  • Get rid of suspicious programs: Double-check installed programs and software lists on your devices. If you find suspicious ones, uninstall or delete them. Beware, some malicious programs disguise themselves as legitimate software.
  • Try to reset your browser: Resetting your web browser to its default settings is a handy trick because it helps remove malicious extensions that can cause annoying pop-ups to appear.
  • Use reliable antivirus software: Consider downloading reliable antivirus or anti-malware software. Try to run a full system scan with a proper antivirus program. It helps detect and remove malicious programs that cause pop-ups to appear. Investing in reliable security software is also advisable.
  • Update your system regularly: Operating system hygiene is advisable. In most cases, up-to-date software comes with the latest security patches that protect vulnerabilities in your system that malicious programs can overcome.
  • Leave it to professionals: Seeking professional services if you have any issues removing the technical support scam is fruitful. Hire a reputable computer repair or IT service professional.

What to do if you were scammed

Don’t panic. If you have fallen into the trap and parted with your money, there are some immediate actions you can take to reverse or stop further damage.

  • If you paid with your credit or debit card, at this point you should contact your credit card company, describe the situation, and ask them to reverse your payment transaction.
  • Check your bank account thoroughly for unexpected charges you didn’t approve.
  • Restart your device, then go offline and run security software and antivirus tools on your devices. That way, you will eliminate any malicious programs.
  • Remove the scammers’ remote access software installed on your devices.
  • Change your computer user password, and create strong passwords for your other accounts in order to avoid identity theft and save personal data.
  • Contact the system administrators and inform them about the issue or ask them to perform a complete network check-up.

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