Is Tech Support Really Calling? 3 Signs It’s a Phone Scam

Your computer company calls; they've detected a virus on your machine and want to help you resolve the threat. To verify their authenticity, they cite key personal information and your computer's model and serial number.

Seems legit, right?Man on phone with computer open

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 or other tech giants. And while the FTC is making efforts to crack down on fraudsters, their tactics just get smarter.

To get ahold of you and sound convincing, cybercriminals often pull your personal information from public records on the Web. But alarmingly recent headlines warn tech support scammers may have breached your computer company's security to snag more in-depth customer information to fool you - like your technical service history.

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.

How to detect a tech support scam

Regardless of the identifying information they provide, if a supposed company representative calls you and asks for any of the following - hang up immediately.

1. The caller asks you to give them remote access to your computer.

Never give control of your computer to a third party if you haven't initiated the call with a verified service provider. A scammer may claim to be fixing a computer issue, but they can use remote access to make changes to your settings that will leave your computer vulnerable to cyberattacks.

2. The caller asks you to download and install a solution.

Don't download any software from an unverified source - especially if it comes with a subscription fee. You could be downloading malware that enables scammers to steal sensitive data, like your online banking user names and passwords.

3. The caller asks for credit card information so they can bill you for a maintenance or warranty program.

Never give your financial information over the phone to a technical support representative, or follow their directions to enter it online to purchase service, software or a warranty. Microsoft and other legitimate technology companies won't ever call you unsolicited to charge you for computer coverage or software fixes.

What to do if you've received a scam call

If you're unsure if you've been contacted by a tech support scammer or are experiencing legitimate technical issues, play it safe. Hang up and call your provider via a verified help desk line to inquire. 

If the call was fraudulent, report the scammer's phone number and alleged company to the FTC (for more information check out our guide to reporting scam calls) . And immediately change any personal information that may have been compromised - such as usernames and passwords for your computer, email accounts and online financial accounts.

To protect others from falling victim, also report the phony caller's number by downloading our reverse phone look up app for iPhone and leaving your feedback. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still use our website for reverse phone number look ups and leave your feedback on tech support scam numbers to help others.