Is Tech Support Really Calling? 3 Signs It’s a Phone Scam
Someone calls you claiming to be from Apple or Microsoft; they've detected a virus on your device and want to help you resolve the threat. To verify their authenticity, they cite critical personal information and your computer or device’s model and serial number.
Seems legit, right?
Wrong. Technical support scammers have conned an estimated 3.3 million Americans out of $1.5 billion by making phony calls pretending to be Microsoft, Google, Apple, or other tech giants. While the FTC is making efforts to crack down on fraudsters, their tactics get smarter.
Cybercriminals try to convince targets by pulling personal information from public records online. Alarmingly, tech support scammers have breached many tech companies’ security to snag more in-depth customer information to fool you - like your technical service history, as well as payment and billing information.
Paired with spoofed caller ID to bolster their ruse, these criminals use this information to try and gain your trust for one reason - to steal your money. Luckily, you can easily protect yourself by knowing the tell-tale signs of a fake service call.
Tech Support Scam Statistics
The good news is that computer tech scams have decreased due to savvy consumers. However, the numbers are still shockingly high. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission received 143,000 reports on tech support scams in the United States. The total loss to consumers was $55 million, with a median loss of $400 per victim. Credit cards remain the top method of payment for scammers, which is good news for consumers. Credit card companies will reverse fraudulent charges. Other methods of payment include iTunes or Google Play cards or other gift cards.
Scammers play upon the fear of their targets. People over 60 years old are popular targets. While seniors are more likely to report fraud than younger consumers, they are less likely to report fraud involving a financial loss. Seniors also suffer a 25% increase in monies lost, reporting an average loss of $500.
How Tech Support Scammers Make Contact
The way a company makes contact is the first key to determining if the offer is legitimate. The two most popular means of contact for this type of scam is through phone calls or pop up ads on the internet.
Tech Support Phone Calls
Tech support scammers use robocallers in call centers to make thousands of phone calls per hour. Once the con artist makes contact, he will claim to be a representative for a big tech company like Microsoft or Apple.
The phony representative says your computer has reported a serious problem that will result in a crash and loss of data if it's not fixed immediately. The rep offers to run a diagnostic scan to determine the root of the problem. If you agree to the scan, you must give the caller remote access to your computer.
The scammer pretends to run a scan and then tells you about a fictitious problem. Meanwhile, the con artist has access to all information on the computer, including sensitive personal and financial information. The FTC recorded and published a call made by a computer tech support scammer. Click here to listen.
Tech Support Pop-up Ads
Pop-up ads are a nuisance. However, the ads are effective if they can’t be closed out. At the least, the user will think the computer is infected with a virus. The ad states there is a severe problem with the computer, claiming a failing operating system or virus.
The ad may use the name of a reputable company and list a fake tech support phone number. Avoid pop up messages by using a pop up blocker. Many internet browsers include pop up blockers in their software. Users can also download free ad blockers.
You can avoid falling into these scams by doing the following:
- Do not click on pop up ads for tech support.
- Hang up on unscheduled calls from tech support representatives.
- Maintain control over your computer at all times, don’t grant remote access to an unknown caller no matter how convincing they seem.
- Never share passwords with anyone. Change passwords frequently.
- Routinely update security software.
3 Ways to Detect a Tech Support Scam
Fraudsters repeatedly use tried and true techniques to steal from unsuspecting victims. People rely on their computers, and the thought that the system might be failing can be frightening to some.
The following are red flags to watch out for:
1. The call is received outside of normal business hours.
The day and time of the call. Scams originate in all parts of the world; however, it is highly suspicious if the call comes at a strange time or on the weekend. For example, it’s unlikely that a real tech support company will call on a Sunday night at 9 PM. In fact, receiving a phone call at all is a warning sign.
2. The caller has information about you, but asks you to verify the information.
Fraudsters tend to have information about the people they call. The caller asks for verification of the information to make the victim think the call is legitimate. The representative may have quite a few pieces of information such as name, address, and phone number. The few pieces of information that they have can help the scammer trick their victim into giving out further personal information. For example, the caller may have the last 4 digits of the call recipients credit card or social security number, they will ask their victim to confirm the remaining digits. The scammer will often say they are doing this in order to process payment for the maintenance or tech support.
3. The caller asks for remote access to your computer or instructs you to download software.
The caller asks to gain access to the victim's computer or instructs them to download software to determine the problem. Giving remote access to anyone but a trusted technician is nothing but trouble. The scammer gains access to everything on the computer, including sensitive files and information. The caller also gains the ability to alter the computer’s settings, allowing the fake rep to change firewall and security settings, leaving the system vulnerable to viruses, malware, and cyberattacks.
How to Avoid Tech Support Refund Scams
A new form of tech support phone scams works under the guise of customer service. An unexpected caller wants to know if a recent tech support issue has been resolved.
Was the problem fixed quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction? Perhaps the caller says the tech support company is going out of business and is offering its clients a refund or bonus for customer loyalty.
Regardless of the build-up, the fake refund scam has only one goal – to get personal information like credit card numbers or bank account information. No refund ever arrives, and the con artist steals money from your account.
What to Do If You've Received a Tech Support Scam Call
If you believe that a tech support scammer has tried to call you, play it safe. Hang up and call a service provider via a verified help desk phone number.
It’s critical to immediately change any personal information that may have been compromised - such as usernames and passwords for your computer, email accounts, and online financial accounts. Scammers love weak passwords. Routinely change your passwords. You can create a complicated password or use a password generator to improve the computer's security.
To protect others from falling victim, also report the phony caller's number by downloading our reverse phone lookup app for iPhone and leaving your feedback. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still use our website for reverse phone number searches and leave your feedback on tech support scam numbers to help others. To learn more, visit ftc.gov/techsupportscams.
What to Do If There Is a Problem With Your Computer
Computers run most of our lives and may experience technical issues with prolonged or heavy use. The problems may include a system that runs much slower than it used to, missing files, issues with internet connectivity, and more. Running routine maintenance and updating your computer’s software cuts down on technical issues. Backing up the computer to a hard drive or using a cloud file saving service, such as Dropbox, is imperative to avoid losing data. If your computer starts showing a problem, do the following:
- Close down all programs.
- Update the computer's security software and run a thorough scan. Check for viruses, malware, spyware, and any weaknesses in security.
- If the problem remains, using the Backup and Restore feature to return the system to a time when it was working properly.
- If those steps fail, or if you are not comfortable doing computer maintenance, call someone you trust for help.
You can also call a verified technical support department or any of the following:
- The computer’s manufacturer
- A local sales representative at the store where the computer was purchased
- Microsoft or Apple support
- A trustworthy tech support service, like the Geek Squad
Tech Support Scams Can Become a Thing of the Past
Though decreasing over the years computer tech scams continue to cause problems for unsuspecting targets. The scammers are smart, savvy, and have experience in conning people out of their money. However, informed consumers can fight back against these scammers and make tech support scams not worth their time. Be aware of the warning signs of a computer tech scam and never share your information with anyone, especially an unexpected caller.