Beware Fake Tech Support Scammers

Category: Security

Have you received an unexpected phone call from a helpful customer service rep of Microsoft, or perhaps your ISP? I didn't think so. But many people have received calls from scammers posing as tech support reps, warning that their computers are infected with malware and offering help to fix the purported problem. Here's what you should do if they call you...

Fake Tech Support Scams

I've been hearing more and more cases of this tech support phone scam lately. The caller typically says he's calling on behalf of "Microsoft" and tells you that there's a serious problem with your computer. The supposed "fix" usually involves granting the caller remote access to your computer, or downloading a program that will fix the problem automatically.

Of course, what usually happens is that the scammer runs a fake scan which shows all sorts of problems, then scares the victim into paying for a solution or a subscription to worthless "security" software. In other cases, the scammer's goal is to steals the victim's financial data or install botnet software that enslaves the victim's computer.

This scam has been around since at least 2010, and even though the Federal Trade Commission has shut down some instances of it, there seems to be no end in sight. Apparently, that's because it continues to be both successful and lucrative. A Microsoft survey of 7,000 users found that 22 percent of those who received fake tech support calls followed the instructions they were given.

That survey was taken six years ago, and I don't see any evidence that the scam is going away, or that less people are falling for it. And it's not just senior citizens who are being victimized. My article Who Falls for Phone Scams? will tell you which demographic is most often taken in by phone scams, and other scams to be aware of.

Fake Tech Support Scams

Of those who fell for the scams, 79 percent reported some sort of financial loss; $875, on average. Seventeen percent had money taken from their accounts. Nineteen percent reported compromised passwords. Seventeen percent more were victims of identity theft. Fifty-three percent said they had "computer problems" following the fake tech support calls.

Why, you may ask, do scammers call potential victims instead of sending their pitches via email, which is a much cheaper and faster way to troll for victims? There are several reasons. Anti-phishing protections are everywhere these days, on email servers and users' desktops. The computing public is constantly warned about the dangers of phishing emails, but more rarely told that a phone call might be phony. The immediacy of a phone call leaves little time to think, "Wait, can this be real", especially when the caller is trained to press hard for immediate action.

I got one of these calls on my cell phone recently, from a person with a heavy Indian accent. When he told me that he was calling about problems detected on my computer, I knew right away what was happening. "You're a liar and a scammer," I told him, expecting him to hang up. "No, no," he replied, and aggressively tried to convince me otherwise, even though I threatened to report him to the authorities. After a few minutes this, I hung up on him.

A friend of mine got scammed by one of these callers. Even though they told him "we're from Microsoft," he allowed remote access to his Apple Mac computer, and signed up for a "protection service" that cost hundreds of dollars. When I told him he'd been had, he didn't believe me. I've heard from readers who got duped by tech support scammers, too. In variably, the problems they had been experiencing with their computers were worse, and there was a nasty mess to clean up. One person told me they called his elderly mother, and she doesn't even have a computer. They argued with her that she did!

If It Happens To You...

Granting a stranger, especially one with malicious intent, full access to your computer can expose all sorts of personal and confidential information. If you're concerned about Identity Theft, see my Ten Tips for Identity Theft Protection.

Treat any unsolicited phone call as a probable scam, even if it supposedly comes from a firm you trust. Microsoft does not call Windows users; it distributes security fixes only via Windows Update.

Never reveal sensitive information, such as a credit card number, to any unsolicited caller.

Do not follow any instructions at the insistence of any unsolicited caller. This may include visiting a website, installing software, re-configuring Windows, or viewing system error logs.

Write down the caller's name, company, and contact information. Ask for a phone number where you can call them back. It may very well be fake, but at least you'll have something to give to the police or other authorities.

Run System Restore to undo any recent changes. See my related article System Restore for Windows 7, and follow the instructions there. (The details are similar for Windows 8 and 10.)

Run a full anti-malware scan. Start with your anti-virus software, then do additional scans with MBAM and AdwCleaner. (See my article Free Antivirus Programs for links to these free tools.)

Treat the incident as a serious security breach. If you fall for a fake tech support scam and later realize your mistake, immediately change all of your passwords. Uninstall any software that you installed at the caller's behest. Disable remote access if you enabled it. Monitor your bank and credit card accounts closely and consider closing them if you detect any unauthorized transactions. (See the link in the sidebar above for Identity Theft Protection Tips.)

Have you or someone you know been victimized by fake tech support scammers? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Beware Fake Tech Support Scammers"

(See all 59 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

bb
17 Feb 2017

Louis St. Germain: BobR has very little control of what ads appear on his site (it's an advertising agency that represents anyone who pays them) and does not 'recommend' any of those products. You have to read the text of his articles to determine his actual recommendations.

As to the tech support scam callers, I never get them. I subscribe to NoMoRoBo - which BobR does recommend. All the scammers use robot dialers and NoMoRoBo stops them cold. see also http://askbobrankin.com/howto_stop_annoying_robocalls.html


Posted by:

Old Man
17 Feb 2017

Back when these first began to be reported - all on the East Coast - I got one, even though I live on the West Coast.
Like with Robert Baily, it began with the caller said, "We detected through the Internet that there is a problem with your computer".
I told the person there was no way anyone could tell what was going on with my computer from the Internet, and told him to go scam someone else.
I have not gotten any calls like that since.
I did have one other call from someone with a heavy Eastern accent, but after telling him I wouldn't fall for his scam, I found out he actually was from my ISP trying to help me fix a problem with their system from my computer. In the follow-up evaluation, I let the ISP know they need to be more selective in their technicians due to the large number of scam calls - they should have been more aware of the problem.


Posted by:

In Dreams
18 Feb 2017

Here's how I got (I think) scammed: I called Dell with an issue and the call was hijacked. At the end of the "repair" they hit me up for $$$ which I didn't have in the bank for the "protection". That's when I thought "uh oh, I don't think this is Dell!" So, I blew them off until I could pay for it, which I never did, of course.I did not have any info compromised, ID stolen, etc. but about every two months I have to block their call #s on my phone provider's site.


Posted by:

Greg C
18 Feb 2017

I thought I had the scammer when I told him over the phone, "I don't have a computer." Then he quickly fired back- " Then why do you have an internet account with ***** ?" He even knew my provider, as well as my phone number. NO RANDOM CALLER WAS HE !!

Thinking fast I told him that it was for my daughter when she visits from College." Than finally shut him up.

Another tome a scammer phoned & told me ," Your Windows computer is infected." I use Windows, but told him, " I only use Linux, goodbye."


Posted by:

Christine Cassello
18 Feb 2017

What about a case where the computer gives off a terrible sound and a message pops up that says a serious issue was detected and the computer was being locked to prevent further damage and I need to call the number to have the problem fixed before it does more serious damage to the computer. Is this a scam too?


Posted by:

Gary V
18 Feb 2017

We get these scams in Australia too. I warn my students about all these scams - I am a volunteer Technology/Computer Tutor for a senior organisation. If I receive one of the calls, I play along with them to waste their time -pretend I am not getting/seeing what they say I should. I think they wake up after several minutes and hang up. Our government puts out a booklet - "The little black book of Scams" available free from - https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/the-little-black-book-of-scams.


Posted by:

Phase 1
18 Feb 2017

Thanks, once again, for keeping us on top of these things Bob. I have never received a call like this but my philosophy with anything like this assume it is a scam....always. The more the message like this gets out there, hopefully the percentage of victims will drop significantly. Please tell all your friends about this because if one person tells another person, etc. you know the drill....we can make a difference and help potential victims to not get victimized.


Posted by:

Bob Greene
18 Feb 2017

Phone scammers also may use scanning software which picks up active VOIP connections in use. Although this is not a line tap, it does alert the scammer that a VOIP phone is in use, and their phoning software will dial the active line, often arriving during the original call as a "Third Party Waiting". This explains the prevalence of unsolicited, spam calls during or immediately after an original phone transaction with a VOIP-type phone.


Posted by:

Therrito
18 Feb 2017

The second to last section should be titled "Update and run full anti-malware scans" as some people may not have the latest update(s) yet.

In the last section the bank should also be notified so that they would recognize any fraudulent transactions right away and immediately notify you of such activities.


Posted by:

carmen
18 Feb 2017

I thought this was old news :), since I hadn't had a call like this in a while, but JUST NOW someone "from Microsoft" called to tell me that my computer is sending information to their centralized server! I asked for a phone number where I could contact them instead and it was a phony number. He said he'd call back if I didn't, so hopefully I'll have time to waste their time a bit. Like some of the readers above, I enjoy playing dumb to hopefully take time away from someone else being called.


Posted by:

James L. Thornton
18 Feb 2017

I get those calls weekly. I let them say two or three words to recognize who is calling and then by the fourth or fifth word I have already hit the off button on my phone, stops the conversation in the middle of the sixth word.
James Thornton


Posted by:

Des West
18 Feb 2017

As alwys Bob, an informative report.
I would like to advise of a suspected scam on Friday 17th.

I got a phone call from a person who said he was from my e-mail service provider, and although suspicious at first, I paused to listen.

He informed me that they had detected that they had monitored my system and noted that the Chinese were hacking my system and unless I verified that there was not a problem, they would terminate my internet connection. - (they even knew my e-mail address!!!)

I informed the person, with a heavy indian sounding voice, that I had malwarebytes as well as other anti-viral software, to which his reply was to at least confirm the spoken of activity, before hanging up. I had threatened to do so.

The caller then told me to press the Windows key and while holding it,to then push the 'R' key, to then type in "eventvwr". Out of curiosity I tried this. He then instructed me to go to a directory in the Event Viewer, something I had never seen before.

When I followed his instructions it showed me a heap of 'errors' - I told him how many, but it was when he smugly advised me; "How good are your programs now?"

It was at this point he requested access to my computer, I then told him NO, he advised then that they would terminate my account.

I then hung up, called my provider to learn it was indeed a scam, albeit a new one, but a scam none the less.

Thought I would share this for those that may get this 'scam' in the future.

Thanks again for such informative and helpful reports.


Posted by:

Roscoe
19 Feb 2017

Bob, another scam MAY be running through a payments processor called Uplink. They send you an email telling you a subscription is coming up for renewal. When you try to cancel the subscription, they block your progress with 'invalid information' although your info IS valid. The Complaints Board (whatever standing they have) have a list of disgruntled customers. Maybe not a full-blown scam, but certainly dodgy.


Posted by:

John jB
19 Feb 2017

I have been receiving calls from someone purporting to be with Panda Tech Support. I know better than to give them remote access so I tell them I'm not at home now call back in 4 hours. I have been receiving calls from 28132556556 (which is what shows up on my phone) 1st we don't have 11 digit phone numbers. the number also shows up without parenthesis or dashes as other numbers do. It is simply a scam. Another scam showing up is the 0% interest on your credit card. Only your credit card issuer can lower your interest rate. Don't fall for it. Thanks for the article Bob, I'll be sending it to all my friends.


Posted by:

Gary in SE Wisconsin
19 Feb 2017

simple solution - answering machine - never fails!


Posted by:

thenudehamster
19 Feb 2017

We get these calls two or thee times a week. If my wife - who is a total computer illiterate, and happy that way - answers the phone, the conversation is similar to yours to begin with, except that she says something like,"Oh dear, that's terrible news, How did you find out?" and when she gets the standard "through the internet" answer, she just says, "That's incredible; I didn't know the internet could do that - especially as I don't have a computer!" That's when they hang up.
If I answer, the conversation usually goes like, " Oh dear. Which computer is it? Is it the Windows 7 desktop, the Windows 10 desktop, The Ubuntu Linux desktop, or one of the laptops? Or maybe my Android tablet? You'd better give the IP address and the MAC address of the one that has the problem." That's usually when they put the phone down.

Simple advice, as ever: ALL these calls are either scams or simple sales calls. They can't tell anything about your PC unless you give them access to it - and then you have just made yourself wide open to anything they want to do.
Do NOT, ever, give any caller such information.

If you didn't call them, it's a try-on. It's that simple.


Posted by:

Renee Hillger
22 Feb 2017

I have been getting calls from this number for over a month now and am so tired of them trying to get me to let them into my computer. My phone is for business and it is getting to where i may have to change my number and that will destroy my little business i have through ebay. I am disabled and can't work outside of my home. How can you make these calls stop? 20+ calls a day from just this number alone.


Posted by:

GARRY
01 Mar 2017

I don't answer any phone numbers that are not on my ID list and I Goggle all unfamiliar phone numbers both on my cell phone and my magic jack.


Posted by:

Judy
02 Mar 2017

The first contact I received was on my laptop. It scared the bejesus out of me to think something was wrong with my brand new computer. I called the phone number given and it seemed like it was going to take too long so I hung up and figured I would call back when I had time. I received a call from an Indian person the next day saying he was from Microsoft. Then it hit me that it was a scam. I've received two more calls since. I know now to call them out on it and hang up. Hanging up is the smart thing to do - better safe than sorry


Posted by:

KatieA.
30 Mar 2017

We have been getting calls from these "computer repair scammers."

When the number comes up on our phone ID, it doesn't come up as anything personally identifiable with the name of a business, company, individual and so on, so that you know who's trying to call you.

I don't answer those kinds of calls. When I do look the number up to see who tried to call, I'll find that it is one of those repair scam calls.

They call from different phone numbers when they do call. I'm thinking that they either have more than one number that they use, or they just keep changing numbers.

The numbers have been blocked since we have been using the Nomorobo call-blocker service.


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