AARP Foundation Blog

Tech Support Scams Are on the Rise. Here’s How You Can Avoid Them.

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Learn to Recognize Tech Support Scams

Financial fraud targeting older adults is on the rise — and tech support scams are some of the trickiest and most widespread. Variations of these scams have been around for years, but scammers continue to find new victims.

No matter what kind of device you use — computer, tablet or smartphone — you could be targeted by a tech support scam. The scam most often comes in the form of an unsolicited phone call or a pop-up window, warning you that your computer has a virus and needs to be fixed immediately.

The caller may try to sell you software to fix the supposed problem. The software could be worthless or available somewhere else for free, or it could be malware — malicious software designed to give fraudsters access to your computer and your personal information.

The pop-up window usually directs you to click on a link that will automatically download malware onto your device, or to call a number that turns out to be connecting you with a scammer.

To protect yourself and any family members who may share your devices, make sure you know how to RECOGNIZE tech support scams, how to REFUSE them and where to REPORT them.

 

RECOGNIZE
Be able to identify the different ways tech support scams are carried out.

Scammers can make contact in several ways:

tech support scams victim

Be able to identify the different ways tech support scammers are contacting their victims.

  1. PHONE CALL: Currently the most common contact method, scammers call and notify you that your computer has a virus. They often claim to work for or be directly affiliated with a well-known company, such as Microsoft, Dell or Apple. They will ask for payment and to access your computer so they can “resolve the issue.”

Example: You receive a call from a polite gentleman who informs you there is a virus on your computer. (If you do indeed have a virus, your computer may be running slowly, so that might make sense.) Good news, he tells you: He is from Microsoft’s affiliate company TECHelp123+ and he can help you out. He asks for remote access to your computer so that he can show you the corrupted files. You are convinced those files don’t look normal and agree to let him “fix” the problem. He asks for your credit card number, bank account or a prepaid debit card as payment (payment requested often ranges from $99 to as much as $800 or more, most commonly around $199). Once the “support agent” gains access, they are able to view your files or upload viruses to your computer.

Remember: Legitimate tech companies and their affiliates NEVER make unsolicited support calls.

  1. techn support scams ad block popup banner conceptPOP-UP WINDOW: A pop-up window in your internet browser warns that your device is infected with a virus. The pop-up includes contact information or a link directing you to the tech support scammer. Once contacted, the scammer will ask for payment and access to your computer to “fix the problem.”

Example: You are surfing the internet and accidentally click on a link that generates a few pop-up windows in your browser. One of the pop-ups says, “WARNING!!! Your Computer Is Infected.” You try to close the pop-up, but there is no “CLOSE” button or “X” in the upper right-hand corner. The pop-up instructs you to call a support number to fix the problem. You call the number and are connected to “Microsoft affiliate” TECHelp123+, who will help you with the virus.

Remember: Legitimate tech companies don’t use scare tactics like pop-up warnings with contact information.

  1. WEBSITE: An email, search engine or other link directs you to a tech support scam website. The website may have a URL that is similar to that of a real company, and the website itself might look official. The website will often direct you to call a support number where the scammer is waiting to “help you.”

Example:  You are having problems with your Yahoo email account. You are expecting an important email and are not able to access it. You search “Yahoo Customer Service” to find a phone number to call to get help. The search engine generates many results. You click on a search result at the bottom of the page that contains “Yahoo Support 866-123-4567.” You call and are told they can help. You will need to provide passwords and payment.

Remember: Scammers often create “spoof” websites that look authentic but aren’t. Legitimate tech companies don’t send tech support alerts via email. 

 

Refuse tech support scams

Don’t get roped in. Refuse tech support scams.

REFUSE
Tips on how to avoid tech support scams — and steps to take in case you are a victim.

Tech support scammers can be smooth-talking, knowledgeable and convincing. For people who don’t consider themselves “tech savvy,” an unsolicited offer to fix a slow computer may seem like the answer to their prayers. Don’t get roped in. Refuse any unsolicited tech support offers by using these guidelines to protect yourself:

  • Never provide payment information over the phone to an unsolicited caller.
  • If you receive an unsolicited call from a tech support company, hang up.
  • Never give control of your computer to a third party who calls you out of the blue. A legitimate computer tech support agent might ask for access to your computer to fix a problem, but only when you have contacted the company on your own.
  • If a pop-up window appears in your browser, do not click on any links or buttons. Turn off your computer or access your task manager to close your browser.
  • Double-check URLs to make sure you’re on the intended website; even better, type the URL into the browser. Do not click on a link or download anything from someone you don’t know.
  • Never purchase software from someone who contacts you unsolicited.
  • If there is a problem with your computer, be sure to do your research before engaging with a tech support company. Check the Better Business Bureau and other consumer review sites.
  • Never rely on caller ID alone to authenticate a caller. Caller ID can easily be spoofed — that is, disguised to look legitimate.
  • Never provide your password over the phone.
  • Update your software and computer virus protection regularly.

No matter how many times the scammer calls you, never engage with them. The more you engage with them the more likely they are to harass with calls at all hours. Scammers are not worth your time.


IF YOU SUSPECT FRAUD
If you suspect that you downloaded malware or allowed a tech support scammer to access your computer, don’t panic. Take action to correct the problem:

  • Get rid of any potential malware. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask someone you trust who is tech savvy to help out, or contact a reputable tech support company in your community.
  • Update or download legitimate security software and scan your computer. Some providers you might be familiar with include McAfee, Norton, Bitdefender and Trend Micro. Do your research before purchasing legitimate antivirus software.
  • Change all passwords for accounts that contain important personal or financial information.
  • If you provided your credit card number to the scammer, ask your bank to reissue your card. If charges appear on your credit card statement, ask to have the charges reversed. Be sure to monitor your accounts for other charges that the scammer might have generated.
  • If you think scammers might have gained access to your personal or financial information (Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, tax documents, etc.) and you’re concerned about identity theft, visit identitytheft.gov. The FTC-run site shows you how to check your credit report, place a fraud alert on your credit report and take other steps to protect your identity.
  • If you paid tech scammers for “services” and the same people contact you later offering to refund your money, do not provide them with any financial information. Work through your credit card company or bank to address fraudulent charges.


REPORT
Whether you lost money or were just contacted by a tech support scam, let someone know.

Sharing your experience and knowledge about a tech support scam is integral to ending it. Whether you were a victim yourself or are just familiar with the scam, it’s important to tell your friends, family and neighbors so they don’t become the next victim. In addition to reporting to your networks, report the scam to state and federal authorities so they can monitor the prevalence of the scam.

If you would like to talk to a trained AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter volunteer about a scam or attempted scam, call 800-222-4444 and select Option 2.

AARP Fraud Watch Network Scam-Tracking Map — Use this interactive tool from the AARP Fraud Watch Network to share information about scams you are seeing and learn about scams in your area.

Federal Trade Commission — Report all scams to the FTC Complaint Assistant. Complaints from consumers help this federal agency detect patterns of fraud and abuse.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center — The FBI’s ic3.gov site is the go-to place for reporting all internet-based crimes. Information is analyzed and disseminated for investigative and intelligence purposes to law enforcement and for public awareness.

Your State Attorney General — Make sure your state’s chief law enforcement officer knows about scams that are targeting people in your state. Most attorney general offices have online complaint forms that you can easily submit.

Microsoft Tech Support Report Form — Tech support scams often use Microsoft’s name to gain the trust of the person they are trying to victimize. If the scammer who calls you uses the Microsoft name, Microsoft wants to know about it.

 

RESOURCES

AARP Fraud Watch Network

Federal Trade Commission Tech Support Scam and FTC Scam Alert Page

FBI IC3 Tech Support Scam Information and IC3.gov

IdentityTheft.gov

Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline

Microsoft Safety and Security Center

Microsoft Malware Protection Center — Ransomware

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