Getting prank calls is one thing, but what do you do if a random caller says you need to run diagnostic tests on your computer?
Most companies offer tech support. It feels reassuring that you can seek assistance with almost any product-related concern, from basic complaint resolution to expert product analysis.
However, not all so-called tech support teams you’ll encounter have good intentions. Sadly, tech support scams exist.
Cybercriminals trick innocent consumers into divulging personal information by posing as support specialists of widely known companies. For instance, a self-proclaimed Windows employee can suddenly call about your account.
We understand that you might feel worried, especially if you have no prior experience with fighting tech support scams.
But don’t worry—you don’t have to avoid tech support teams altogether. Our team reviewed official tech resources and expert insights about how to spot, prevent, and combat scams.
Please read without skipping! We’ll share the most damaging mistake victims commit when dealing with fake tech support teams—which could permanently ruin your finances.
Let’s dive into our scam prevention guide!
Spotting and avoiding tech support scams
Tech support scam artists pretend to work for widely known tech companies, government agencies, eCommerce platforms, and financial institutions. You might have already received some shady emails supposedly from Microsoft or Amazon before.
Scammers will do everything to gain your trust. They manipulate their targets by scaring them with non-existent issues, which their team will “resolve.”
Although cyber criminals carry out various tactics, they follow the same routines. We suggest familiarizing yourself with them so that you won’t ever get caught off guard.
In most cases, tech support scams involve:
1. Unsolicited phone calls
Again, tech support scams occur on different platforms. However, they often lead to phone calls from a fake employee supposedly helping you resolve whatever made-up issue.
Luckily, tech support scammer scripts are easy to recognize. Crooks execute roundabout plans to confuse victims and swindle them for anywhere between a couple of bucks to several grand.
You might get asked to buy gift cards from Walmart or transfer funds via Zelle. Also, the crook will pretend that the transfer is necessary for verification or refund purposes.
As a general rule, never transfer money for tech support. Legitimate companies provide free customer service, and all necessary payments must be made in-store or through their official websites.
2. Pop-up warnings and online ads
The technique known as malicious advertising uses infected online ads to spread various malware. They often come in the form of pop-ups.
Contrary to popular belief, many malicious ads can infect your device without you clicking on them. Some sophisticated ones even execute download prompts automatically.
Thankfully, you’ll rarely see them on legit websites. They only appear on shady platforms distributing pornography, pirated content, and Torrent files.
Ethical web admins take down malicious advertisements to protect their shoppers and readers. After all, you could hold them liable for certain malware attacks.
We suggest avoiding shady sites altogether. But if you can’t, at least download a robust antivirus program that detects and blocks all forms of malvertising attacks.
3. Unsolicited emails
Check your spam folder. You’ll likely come across several emails saying you won a random contest, qualified for a government grant, or got attacked by a cybercriminal.
Although most email service providers filter potentially malicious emails, sophisticated ones might slip past the site’s security system. And in these cases, it’s up to you to protect yourself.
The good news is that reading fraudulent emails won’t infect your computer. For email scams to work, you’ll likely need to click on links and divulge more personal information through phishing pages.
Scammers will either confuse or excite you with made-up scenarios. To protect yourself, please exercise good judgment before following any indicated instructions.
4. Remote access app downloaders
When talking to tech support scam artists, they’ll likely ask you to download a remote access app like AnyDesk. It will give them remote independent access to your devices.
Once you install the program, they’ll have total control over your device; hence, letting them record all personal information, login credentials, and security PINs you type.
Don’t get us wrong—legit tech support specialists also use remote access tools. However, these programs have recently earned a bad reputation because cybercriminals abuse them.
5. Screen locker ransomware attacks
Screen locker ransomware attacks your device with a virus that restricts operating system-level access. You won’t be able to use your infected device.
The crook will contact you shortly after attacking you, plus they’ll likely demand a ransom before removing the virus. Note that screen lockers can also lock hardware files.
You might feel tempted to pay the ransom fee and get things over, but we strongly discourage it. Trust us—you must never negotiate with these crooks.
Instead, hire a cybersecurity specialist. Screen locker malware isn’t encrypted, so a professional should be able to decode it and block restricted third-party access.
6. The “Evil Cursor”
Evil Cursor viruses disable the Close button on browser tabs. They basically trap you in an endless loop of pop-ups stating made-up threats or rewards.
Some viruses also disable keyboard shortcuts. You won’t be able to execute Alt + F4 or Esc commands, forcing you to shut down your device altogether.
To prevent these attacks, run an antivirus program that blocks pop-ups. Also, scan your device for malware and viruses after restarting your device; otherwise, you might encounter the exact issue again.
7. File download jamming
As the name suggests, a file download jamming attack bombards your tab with multiple download commands, thus making your device lag. After all, downloads consume a lot of RAM.
After making your computer lag for a few hours, a scam artist will contact you and offer to fix your device. They might ask you to download a remote access tool.
8. Browser history manipulation
Shady websites and emails might manipulate your browser history so that the Back button won’t work on certain web pages. In most instances, crooks use this trick to trap victims.
If you don’t exit the tab quick enough, it might run download command scripts that would install random malware and trojan viruses.
9. Print command spams
Malicious websites infect your computer with a virus that endlessly executes the print command function. As a result, your device will lag.
Fortunately, newer browsers now let users exit tabs running the print command, although older ones like Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer might get stuck.
How tech support scams affect users
Who falls for tech support scams? It’s a common misconception that identity thieves only target senior citizens—yes, tech-savvy users get attacked.
A study by Microsoft shows that cybercriminals often target people aged 18 to 37. However, they also have a better judgment against cyberattacks, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that identity theft victims over 60 were most likely to lose money.
Overall, tech support scams aren’t limited to a specific age group. Crooks attack victims indiscriminately, so you’d do well to bolster your cybersecurity system regardless of age.
The right way to address technical issues
Companies will rarely reach out to their clients out of the blue for very specific technical issues. If you need help, you must submit a ticket yourself.
Let’s say your computer started lagging. Unless you report the incident to the device manufacturer, its tech support team would have no reason to contact you.
With that in mind, we suggest familiarizing yourself with the customer service hotlines that you might need in the future. That way, you’ll recognize fake contact info right away.
Reporting tech support scams
We encourage users to stay vigilant. Watch out for the warning signs we mentioned above and familiarize yourself with common tech support scams.
But if prevention is no longer possible, the next best thing is urgent damage control. Promptly report the incident.
Before anything else, reach out to the company the scammer impersonated. Most companies, especially those selling tech products, have an extensive fraud prevention system.
Let’s say a fake Microsoft tech support number called you. Microsoft has an online recording tool that collects details about potential scams, which the company uses to track perpetrators.
Next, file a report for identity theft. The FTC will give you a step-by-step plan explaining how to prevent crooks from misusing your personal information.
Many victims skip FTC identity theft reports thinking they don’t need them. On the contrary, cybercriminals extract personal information from online accounts, which they misuse for fraudulent transactions. A fake tech support call could quickly turn into identity theft.
You’d do well to ask the FTC for support. If the hacker already knows your personal information (i.e., name, address, SSN), there’s no stopping them from getting new credit cards or loans under your name.
Protecting yourself from fake tech support teams
Combating tech support scams is challenging because they’re nameless crimes. Unless you have advanced security tracking systems, you couldn’t easily trace the crook on the other side of the line.
Overall, prevention stands as your best defense. Take note of the warning signs indicating potential fraud, and never give scammers info about yourself.
When in doubt, reassess the situation. Instead of accommodating calls from so-called support specialists, call the company.
Remember: tech support specialists rarely call first. In all likelihood, any unexpected calls from so-called specialists saying you have a compromised device or account are scams. Hang up the phone right away.