[ALERT] Fake Customer Service Scams

Category: Security

If you're having trouble finding the customer service or tech support phone number for a large company, there's a reason for that. And scammers are taking advantage in clever ways. One concerned reader wrote to ask me if she had been scammed after calling what she thought was Facebook customer support. Read on for the details of the Customer Service Imposter scam...

Watch Out for Fake Tech Support Numbers

My concerned reader sent this message: “Hi Bob, I have a question that I hope you can answer. I was locked out of Facebook, and after 48 hours I tried to find a way to contact them for an appeal. Couldn't find any. I Googled the problem and found a toll-free phone number that stated they were Facebook Customer Service. While on the phone with them, they opened a remote session. They did a scan on all my devices and said my account was locked because I was infected with a virus, which they could eliminate.

So, I bought their malware fix for $329. Now I'm worried. Was I scammed? If so, what recourse do I have?”

Sadly, the answer to your first question is yes, you certainly were scammed. Facebook does not have a customer service phone number, nor does the company sell anti-malware solutions. I'm sure this is not the number you called, but you may see search listings that claim 650-308-7300 is Facebook’s “customer support” number. It’s actually the main number of Facebook Headquaters in Menlo Park, CA. If you call that number you will first have to press 1 for Facebook, then 1 again for “customer support” - which gives you a recorded message from “User Operations” saying "Unfortunately we don’t provide phone support at this time."

What they really mean is that they don’t provide phone support now, and they never will. Big companies don't want to pay people to talk to customers on the phone. Human labor is expensive. This is especially true for companies that provide free services. You're just not worth the trouble if you're not a paying customer. Even companies that take your money for goods and services would much prefer that you use an automated online method for checking on your orders, tracking deliveries, or arranging a return.

Fake tech support numbers

Tech support scammers use fear and manufactured urgency to persuade people to part with their money. The person who contacted me with the story above told me that she realized soon after the transaction that the amount she paid was a red flag in and of itself. Legitimate anti-malware suites typically cost on the order of $50.

As for getting that (ouch!) $329 back, I suggested filing a fraud report and chargeback with the credit card company or bank. It is equally certain that the scammers did not eliminate any malware from her "devices," as they claimed to do. Instead, they probably installed some. I urged her to run System Restore to return her computer to the state it was in prior to the incident, and then to download MalwareBytes Anti-Malware and run a full system scan for any pesky malware that might remain.

I don't know what anti-virus software she may have already had, but a problem like this could have been avoided with a security product like PC-Matic, which uses a whitelist approach. If a program is not on their list of "known good" executables, it will be blocked.

You're Not Alone

You are not the only victim of this “wrong phone number” variety of customer support scam. And sometimes, they call you, claiming to be Tech Support reps from Microsoft or some other company. See [ALERT] Fake Tech Support Scammers Are Calling.

The Better Business Bureau receives many complaints annually about toll-free “support lines” that are not what they claim to be. Nor are Facebook and Mirsosoft the only companies these scammers impersonate. Google, like Facebook, has no support phone number for ordinary users to call. That plays right into the hands of scammers who know exactly what people do when they run into problems with an online product or service:

  • They scour the company’s web site for a phone number, in vain.
  • Frustrated, they search for the company’s name plus “technical support,” “customer service” or some similar search term.
  • Impatient, they dial the first toll-free number that seems to be the support line they want; but it isn’t. The phone number is answered by scammers.

Using one pretext or another, the scammers persuade a victim to allow them remote access to the victim’s computer. They’ll patiently talk you step-by-step through the process of enabling remote access, if necessary. Often this involves downloading and running a screen-sharing program that gives them direct access to everything on your computer.

It’s important to remember: NEVER give a stranger remote access to any of your devices! A scammer with remote access can install malware, disable anti-malware software, change app permissions, steal, encrypt, or delete data, and work other mischief.

If a “support rep” calls and asks for remote access, hang up and block the number.

I mentioned earlier why companies with millions (or billions) of customers don't want to provide live human phone support. Instead they provide a web page that allows users who are locked out of their accounts to regain access. Facebook users can visit this Facebook account recovery page and get a code sent to their email or mobile phone, which will enable them to regain access. If you don't have access to your email or phone, Facebook also has a Trusted Contacts option, which lets you choose 3 to 5 friends who can send you a recovery code.

If you've lost access to a Google account, or forgot your password, visit the Google Account Recovery page. For Microsoft accounts, start with the Microsoft account recovery form.

Have you ever been scammed by a fake customer service rep? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[ALERT] Fake Customer Service Scams"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

23 Apr 2020

Wouldn't this reader need to change all their passwords and be on the lookout for other issues?

While this scammer was rooting around his/her devices whilst pretending to be scanning I dread to think of all the personal information they might also have gathered.

Also, they need to turn off the remote access they set up.

Or am I over cautious? Anyone?

Posted by:

Daryl Williams
23 Apr 2020

I subscribe to Jim Browning, a scam-buster in England. It's always fun to watch scammers get busted.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2020

Thank you for the facebook recovery page. I have not had to use it yet.

Posted by:

Bob Ames
23 Apr 2020

The day I believe Microsoft has dug through it's records on million of users and wants to personally call me about a potential software problem is the same day I'll be eager to hear about extending the warranty on my 17 year old car.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2020

Dear Bob,
Thanks for the account recovery info. I don't need it now, but it might come in handy in the future.
I am like ct. I have also received numerous calls from Microsoft "Support." At first, the calls scared me. But, then I asked a computer geek friend of mine about them. He answered, "Microsoft doesn't care if you have a computer virus." I quit worrying.

Posted by:

23 Apr 2020

I am embarrassed to admit that a similar thing happened to me. I clicked on a site that locked my computer and I also foolishly paid $300 to a stranger to "fix" it. They didn't fix it. But another problem developed after our encounter - the man I spoke to called me incessantly for over 2 and a half years, always from a different number, but always the same man or his recording. He kept telling me that I need to renew or cancel his service and he said he needed access to my computer to cancel. Yeah, right! At first I thought he would make more charges to my credit card, but he didn't. I haven't heard from him recently, so maybe he finally gave up.

Posted by:

Old Nana
23 Apr 2020

"This is Dell, or Microsoft, or [fill in the blank].. blah blah .. I usually just hang up, but once in awhile I decide to have a little fun. I tell them I'm expecting the office to call on this line, and can they please call back on my other phone. I then give them the number of the FBI in the vicinity with the same area code as mine. Only once in years did I get another call -- from a guy who said, "You think you're so smart, don't you?" I told him "I'm a hell of a lot smarter than you are."

Posted by:

Brian B
23 Apr 2020

In the case where they call me and they introduce themselves as "Microsoft Tech support, I just tell them that I have an Apple Mac. That usually shuts them up as they have nowhere to go after that.
Would it not be a good idea for all these big companies to publish a support phone number that just goes to a recording advising that they don't have a support number, and any number they find on the net will be a scam? That won't get you any support, but it will certainly protect people, and neutralize their money making activities.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2020

In another twist, they e-mail me, somehow knowing that I have a Dell computer and post:

Dell Support Renewal Notice

Date: 04/22/2020

Dear Customer,

This is an automated renewal notice for your Dell annual maintenance service charge billed annually.

We would thank you on the completion of the 12 month maintenance plan.

Since your plan expired on April 22, we have auto renewed your plan and charged USD 299.99 against your account.

We understand that you are busy hence could not get through to you when we tried to contact you.

Dell Support renewal

Grand Total: USD 299.99

Order ID: DSSAR55648A

Should you have any questions or if you would like to cancel this subscription, please contact our billing department at: +1-224-278-1429

By subscribing you authorize us to charge the subscription amount of USD 299.99 charged automatically, that will be billed annually.

© 2020 Dell

24/7 customer service +1-224-278-1429 "
Which is totally phony ... I called and asked how to cancel and they wanted me to turn on my computer to fill out a form .. did not do .. when I asked how I was supposed to pay their billing .. They hung up. Go figure.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2020

I've had about 10 calls from "Microsoft" informing me there were numerous problems on my computer. The kicker is every time it's a computer generated female voice and it's a very poor sounding one at that. Too funny!

Posted by:

Jinnie Cohn
24 Apr 2020

A few years ago I got phone calls weekly saying they were calling from Microsoft about my account. I never answered the calls. Lately, I have received Emails from Microsoft about my account, which I again ignored. Also, received emails from 2 people saying the exact same thing, that they knew my one of my passwords and said “I've recorded your cam while you were watching p*rn on XX sites, also I've installed a keylogger on ur pc & collected all your contacts on social networks, messenger & emails. If you want me to erase the recording, pay me 1152$ on bitcoin address: 3QAcDipRs8MwEbLHJsadfhBHVYKN3kNJ7nPveuGi5
(search in Google for "how to buy bitcoin"), [case SenSitiVe so copy & paste it]. If I don't get the bitcoins, I will definately send your video to all of your contacts, don't reply to this email it's h@cked. EFFLie”. I ignored this filth also, BTW, I noticed the country of origin on both emails was Russia.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2020

I used to get calls from "Microsoft Support" so I decided to get a boat horn. After a few calls and a good long blast for each of them, I haven't got a call since.
A few months ago I built a small corner shelf and painted it gold then I placed my horn on the shelf. It's been patiently waiting for the next scammer call ever since. :-)

Posted by:

24 Apr 2020

I too have had calls from "MS" about my dodgy computer.
"What 's a Computer I ask ?" ( when I have the time)
Some of them are dumb enough to tell me what a computer is.
I say "that sounds really good, where can I get one?"
If you are lucky you can keep them busy, at least until the get the drift, insult you & disconnect the call.
It amuses me

Posted by:

24 Apr 2020

When we had a landline I used to get the occasional phone call where the caller told me I had a computer problem that needed attention.
My usual response was to say that I am retired and that "I don't have a computer". It usually took just a few seconds for THEM to hang up. Now that we have a mobile and our number is no longer in the phone book, such calls have ceased.

Posted by:

Timothy A Cochran
24 Apr 2020

I ordered PlayBeatz earbuds. They worked great with my phone but could not get them to function properly with my desktop which was my main reason fro ordering them. I searched the internet and could only find customer support on FaceBook. Went to my PayPal account and used the information there and finally had a phone number and email address. I told them I wanted to return themand they told me since I had worn them I could not return them but would give me a 20% discount. They also sent a link to their return policy. Sure enough, buried in all the fine print it said they would not accept returns for earbuds that had been worn. That's crazy. How are you going to know if you like something before you use it? I know this post is about scammer customer service but just wanted to mention there are genuine customer services that might as well be considered scammers.

Posted by:

Barry Heath
24 Apr 2020

I get the occasional call claiming to be from 'Vindows Technical support' telling me that they have detected a problem with my computer. "Oh dear," say I, "is that the Windows 10 laptop, the Windows 7 laptop, the Windows 7 desktop, the Desktop that dual boots into Windows 7 and Linux, or the Linux laptop?" They usually drop the call before I've finished. Sometimes I'll play along and go through all he supposed 'tests' they want to run - without touching anything, and giving them a lot of false 'readings' then tell them it looks like my computer is really screwed, so I'll have to buy a new one.
My wife has a different strategy - Claims to be impressed by their technological competence in detecting the problem, but then asks how they've managed it when she doesn't own a computer. (Technically, she's right - I 'own' them all....).
I have impressed on ALL my family who use a computer that NO manufacturers tech service can detect a problem without their own co-operation, so to drop the call and let me know - if necessary, I'll do a brief check on their machine just to make sure Remote Access is not active and their anti-malware is OK, then let them carry on with a reinforced warning.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2020

I love the idea of messing with obvious scammers. However, it's probably not a good idea. All of these guys use auto-dialers to call phones, and those dialers keep records of the numbers that get answered and how long those calls were.

Guess what happens to those records? Of course - they get sold! Unfortunately, just talking to these scumbags gets you on the call-this-guy, we've-got-a-hot-one list.

Best advice: use nomorobo, screen all calls, use an answering machine (they never leave a message), or immediately hang up if no answer to 'hello.'

Posted by:

Dennis English
24 Apr 2020

I cannot share your faith in PCmatic. I purchased the "lifetime" product for up to 3 devices in my home. I was running XP in my HP desktop at the time. I thought I was protected, but I wasn't. When I contacted them after the infection it turned out they had not sent me an .exe file, which they did after it was too late. I have not used them since.

EDITOR'S NOTE: So it sounds like you hadn't installed the PC Matic software (the .exe file). Hard to blame them for that...

Posted by:

26 Apr 2020

Regarding the Facebook account recovery page, it does not work for me. I was locked out a while ago, and over time have tried it several times, but it just leaves me going in circles back to the main screen. Cannot reset password or "Reover Account" because every time I click for it to send me an email with a code, nothing arrives to my Inbox.

This is so frustrating. Is there anything else I can try?

Posted by:

28 Apr 2020

Just about 2 weeks ago I got a call from a company that I have an account with. They told me who they were and said I needed to verify my account by answering the security system before they proceeded with their the call. Of course, I wasn't about to give them any information and hung up. I notified the company and told them I received a scam call claiming to be them and gave them the phone # on the caller ID.They emailed me back and said it WAS FROM THEM! I told them they have a very stupid approach and now question if I should be doing business with them. YOU should NEVER give any information to someone if YOU did not initiate the call.

There's more reader feedback... See all 23 comments for this article.

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