Beware the Fake Tech Support Scam

Category: Reference

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...

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 configuring your PC to grant the caller remote access to it, 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 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.

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.

If It Happens To You...

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 visit a Web site, install software, re-configure Windows, or follow any other instructions at the insistence of any unsolicited caller.

Write down the caller's name, company, and contact information. It may very well be fake, but at least you'll have something to give to the police or other authorities.

If you fall for a fake tech support scam and later realize your mistake, treat the incident as a serious security breach. Immediately change all of your passwords. Uninstall any software that you installed at the caller's behest. Disable remote access if you enabled it.

Run a full anti-malware scan. See my related article System Restore, and follow the instructions there. Monitor your bank and credit card accounts closely and consider closing them if you detect any unauthorized transactions.

If you're concerned about Identity Theft, see my Ten Tips for Identity Theft Protection.

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 the Fake Tech Support Scam"

(See all 54 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

20 Aug 2014

I get these calls every few days. I tell them that since they know so much about my computer, they can email me and I'll fix the problem.

They called my aunt, and she doesn't even have a computer. They argued with her that she did.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2014

Does caller ID show a phone number or "blocked" or "unknown"? I never answer the latter.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2014

I have had lots of these calls too, despite being on every "no call" list there is. I started out by simply hanging up, then graduated to telling them they should be ashamed of themselves, and eventually I moved on to much more colourful language! My solution to this, and all other calls like it, is to simply not answer my phone anymore whenever my Caller ID shows an unfamiliar number, or an "unknown name/unknown number", or any other type of number configuration I do not recognize. If the call is a legitimate one from somebody I do want to talk to, they will leave a message. These telephone scammers never do, and after calling at various times for a week or so, they give up.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2014

I use to get one of these phone calls every other week for over a year. So on the last call after keeping him on the phone for 30 minutes, he asked me to put my password in, and i said i can't spell it, he asked what it was, and i said, "You dirty little monkey" He said "I ****** your daughter" we exchanged more heated words and then he hung up. That was over a year ago now, and no more harassing calls. When i was just saying "No" and hanging up on them they just kept ringing. How gullible do they think we are? Stern words and time wasting, costing them money fixed that!

Posted by:

20 Aug 2014

I live in Australia and also get these calls regularly. In an attempt to strike back, I once set up a Windows operating system in a partition that I booted into when they rang and let them remotely access the system (they used Logmein) while I ran some tracking software that I found on the web. I ended up with some IP addresses but couldn't take it any further. I know it sounds vindictive, but I've sometimes thought of trying to set up something that would infect their systems when they log in to mine but I don't know how. Maybe some of the gurus out there could come up with something???. These people really are scumbags.

Posted by:

Bob Rush
21 Aug 2014

I think I have received this type of call a dozen times. I am a suspicious person, enough so that I have not fallen for this approach.
Thanks Bob

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

I received one of these calls just last week. She had a very heavy accent, which I thought was Mexican/Spanish, but maybe Indian. I thought she said she was with Gringos Technical Service. I knew it was a scam and kept asking her how my computer was downloading malware from her company's website when I didn't even use her site. I kept going for about 15 minutes and said I had no idea what she was talking about. She very rudely told me..."You are the stupidist woman in the world". Made my day!!

Posted by:

Ramona Newton
21 Aug 2014

Yes, they got me. I got a call early one morning claiming to be Microsoft. They said they were calling about my "error reports" and since I had sent many error reports I really believed I was finally getting some help. I hadn't really woke up very well and I was more vulnerable. I hate to admit the information I gave them. What really saved me was my credit card company wouldn't let the money go through unless I told the credit card company personally to give them the money. They told me there was some suspicious activity related to the company that called me. So I told the operater not to give them the money. I told the scammer I had changed my mind. He kept trying and trying to get me to continue with his scam. We were writing back and forth. He was very persistant. Since then I had some trouble with my hotmail account. I couldn't even get into my hotmail. I ended up having to get a new password and it took a few days to get back into my account. Hotmail was protecting my account and I appreciate them for it. I never thought I could be scammed like that because I should have known better before giving up so much information. You live and you learn.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

I fell for this a few years ago, I'm ashamed to say. I figured out pretty soon that it wasn't legitimate--but not before the person who called me had installed a password on my computer (which hadn't had one before that), effectually locking me out. Some of my data was deleted, too, I'm pretty sure.

No. I'm not wealthy, but I needed a working computer. I didn't trust this person (who called back several times after I hung up on him) so I took my computer to Best Buy the next day. Made me wish I'd gone into computer science (which I considered at one point),

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

I'll have to try playing with these guys because they call me almost weekly. They are very aggressive and rude. All of them have Indian accents and I have to literally shout over them saying "I know this is a scam, please don't call here again." And, they continue talking as I'm hanging up. The last time they called from a California area code.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

This scam happens ALL the time! When I report the incident to authorities, they tell me that they know about the scam. I even have a remote service (Geek Squad). One time I had just had my computer worked on and I know nothing was wrong. Not but 10 min. after, "Microsoft" calls and says that they detected malware on the computer! My subscription has since run out with Geek Squad (I can clean my own computer) and wouldn't you know? No calls! I have had one other service and the same thing happened with them! If you have a service that is legit, could THAT be an invitation for scammers to try to scam you?
Might be worth looking into.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

And if your security fix is messed up you know for sure it was Microsoft.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2014

I guess the calls are random but am no sure. I was a happy, old, XP user until late last year I was finally convinced to buy a new computer with windows 8. Since then I must have received about a call a month. I started out graciously saying "thanks but no thanks" and my refusals have gotten less gracious and yet they keep calling. Would never have fallen for it good old days but, at first, with windows 8...I might have considered it ;)

Posted by:

Lee Bothwell
21 Aug 2014

This happened to my husband, who assumed he was targeted because he had recently retired. I have never heard him be anything other than polite to telemarketers - I, myself, simply hang up - but he SHOUTED at this fellow (who did have an Indian accent, and who did argue when my husband called him a liar) - and even used an obscenity!

Posted by:

John B
21 Aug 2014

Get these calls all the time, they get confused when I ask what version of Windows I am running. When I tell them if they cannot tell me the versio they are frauds they guess most always wrong, even if correct tell them they are wrong, last guy is still cursing at me!!!!!!

Posted by:

24 Aug 2014

I posted this on my FaceBook on July 1, 2014:

One of those phony Microsoft computer repair scammers called me and wanted me to download TeamViewer so that they could take control of my PC and "show me the 'errors' in my PC".
I immediately knew it was a scam call as Microsoft would NEVER call you for any reason.
The "errors" they pointed out to me was normal for any PC and EVERYBODY running Windows has them.
I kept them on the line for about 35 minutes playing dumb and acting like I couldn't download the program they wanted me to.
It was actually quite fun lol.
I eventually got their "supervisor" on the line and immediately I said "Hello dumba**" lol.
The idiot didn't catch that right away and kept trying to get me to download that program.
After the 4th or 5th time I called him dumba** he finally understood and got angry with me.
I told him I am not the idiot he had hoped to get on the phone and I thanked him for the opportunity to waste his time so that he could not get some hapless victim on the line and screw up their PC.
I'm still laughing over the whole thing as I type lol.

I love when they call me as it provides an opportunity to tie up their resources so that they can't get some hapless victim on the line.
I also get a few good chuckles from the experience.

Posted by:

Diane H
25 Aug 2014

They've called me a few times. I usually change my voice to sound old & feeble, and take a while to "understand" that they're talking about a computer, which, of course, I "don't have".

Posted by:

Jean Smith
03 Sep 2014

I eventually fell for this scam when shown nasties on my computer. They claimed to be in Leicester but my Credit Card Company said they were in Sacramento California. Company was registered as Tina Marie White,all staff sounded Asian.

A few days after I had paid them they rang to say they had to refund me as they could not continue to cover me, I had some doubts by then , gave a debit card for an account containing very little money, they rang to tell me to ring bank to authorise payment , not to mention refund as I would be charged big fees. Bank said they had tried to take money out confirming my suspicions.
The scammers actually created a security ID in my name for online transactions, I saw the screen come up. I don't do online banking.

I had to get my cards changed and computer wiped so it cost more than the £140 I paid them. Costly lesson. Trading Standards & bank security no help getting money back , or getting them stopped,I was told that as they were in the USA nothing could be done. Can they not be pursued from the American end if Company names are known?

Posted by:

Derek N
12 Sep 2014

Depending on how much time I have, I usually try to have some fun with them. I always get someone talking with a distinct East Indian accent who says his name is Bob Smith or Thomas Anderson. I ask them about their family, where they live, their education, how they got such an interesting job etc. Sometimes I ask how the crime business is going, and if they have any religious beliefs that contradict their life of crime and how they reconcile that in their life. This way, I actually start to look forward to their calls. See how creative you can be!

Posted by:

21 Dec 2015

I get the indian guy call about our computer. I just tell him we don't have one. There is a second of stunned silence before he hangs up. Problem solved.

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