Woman on the phone looking at laptop

During the Coronavirus pandemic, many people have been spending more time online. Whether for work, school, shopping or to connect with family and friends, we’re more reliant on our electronic and mobile devices than ever before.

If something goes wrong with your laptop, tablet or smartphone, you want it fixed right away. Unfortunately, those who are less tech savvy may fall victim to a tech support scam. Learn how to identify phony tech support services to keep your personal information safe.

About Tech Support Scams

This type of scam occurs when someone claims to be from a computer software, security or Internet company, offering technical support. The elderly are a common target, often contacted in one of several ways:

  • Cold Calling: A victim receives an unsolicited phone call from a scammer who tells them their computer has viruses that can be fixed by providing remote access.
  • Pop-up or Locked Screen: A window appears on the victim’s computer screen with a security warning and phone number to call for help.
  • Paid Search Results: When a victim searches online for tech support, scammers can pay for their phony websites to appear at the top of the results.
  • URL Hijacking: Also called typosquatting, someone who types the wrong URL can be redirected to a scammer’s website.

What Happens Next?

Once a fraudster has gained access to a victim’s device, files containing bank account information and other sensitive data may be accessed and held until a ransom is paid. Malware is intentionally installed on the device and used as a scare tactic to convince the victim to meet their demands.

Fake software may also be sold to the victim through phony websites that offer “free security scans” and send alarming messages about the computer being infected. In most cases, the software is designed to give criminals access to personal information.

The end goal is to steal money from unsuspecting victims, whether by gaining remote access and changing settings that leave the computer vulnerable or asking for credit card information to bill the victim for phony services. If you receive one of these calls, hang up and call the company the person claimed to be affiliated with to determine it’s legitimacy.

Tips to Avoid Tech Support Scams

  1. If you get a pop-up or urgent message about a computer virus, do not click any links.
  2. Do not give control of your computer to a third party who randomly calls.
  3. Never provide credit card or financial information to someone over the phone.
  4. If you’re pressured to buy computer software over the phone, hang up.
  5. Know that caller ID numbers can be spoofed to appear as a real company.
  6. Legitimate companies will not call and ask for your passwords.
  7. Put your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry.

What If You Responded to a Scam?

If you suspect you’ve downloaded malware from a phony website or allowed a stranger remote access to your computer, take the following actions:

  1. Remove the malware and download legitimate security software. Scan your computer and delete anything flagged as dangerous.
  2. Change any passwords you have provided to someone else.
  3. Call your credit card provider to reverse any charges for fake tech services.
  4. If you believe someone may have accessed your personal or financial information, visit the FTC’s identity theft website to minimize your risk of further damage.

To report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission, please click here.