Beware of Tech Support Scams

By Patrick Baker ~

Here is the scenario: you’re confronted with intense feelings of anxiety and fear when the person on the phone or the pop-up window on your browser says your computer has a virus or malware. The caller urgently requests immediate access to your system to clear things up. The pop-up insists you must call the number displayed to resolve the problem. The urge to cave to your fears and react is strong.

Don’t fall for it. It’s a scam.

Technical support scams are still a thing. I have three clients who unfortunately took the bait within the past year. Scammers use phone calls, pop-up browser ads, text messages, and emails to lure you into calling them or clicking on websites that might infect your computer.

The caller or pop-up will state that your computer is infected with malware, a virus, or ransomware. They will insist that you must provide them with access to your computer to resolve the issue or severe consequences such as identity theft, data loss, or losing access to your device will result.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t React.

Technical support scammers use the fear and anxiety induced by their actions to throw you off balance – a technique called social engineering or simply a con. When faced with a computer virus or malware, or the fear of being hacked, we won’t make the best, most rational decisions about what to do next.

Under duress, we might be tempted to take the shortest route to relieve that stress. The scammer wants you to take that bait and allow access to your computer so they can extort you for money to solve non-existent technical issues and steal your data or identity. They will ask for payment with a credit card, cash apps like Venmo or Zelle, or gift cards – the latter being the hallmark of a scammer since no legitimate business would ever ask you to pay using gift cards.

Be Vigilant and Protect Yourself

Fortunately, you can take measures to protect yourself from tech support scammers.

  • Hang up the phone when an unsolicited caller wants to access your computer to resolve an alleged problem. No one calling can somehow monitor your computer and detect these so-called problems.
  • If the caller claims to be a familiar tech support resource (Geek Squad, for example), hang up – even if you have a service agreement. Contact them using a known method (email address or phone number) to report a scam if you have a service agreement.
  • Install a pop-up ad blocker in your browser to prevent scammy virus or malware alert pop-up ads from appearing. Close the browser if a fake virus or malware alert pop-up appears – ideally without clicking it. 
  • Don’t call a customer support number in a pop-up ad claiming you have a virus or another computer problem.
  • Don’t click the links or any part of pop-up ads claiming you have a computer virus or another computer problem.
  • Use antivirus software that actively scans your computer for viruses and other malware. Manually run a virus scan if you accidentally click a scam virus alert. 
  • Only respond to virus or malware alerts from your computer’s security software. Consult an IT professional if you need assistance.
  • Ensure your browser, computer, and antivirus software are configured for automatic updates.
  • If you were scammed, you can try reversing the charge on your credit card. Review your statement for other transactions you don’t recognize.
  • Never provide personal identifying information online or over the phone such as your full name, birth date, social security number, driver’s license, or passport number unless you trust the website or the person you are speaking with.
  • Contact a trusted IT professional for assistance if you are in over your head and need help.

Scammers know that fear and anxiety are powerful tools and that people of any age are susceptible to persuasion if confronted with a threat like a computer virus or hack. Be vigilant and be prepared to protect yourself and your tech.

Report technical support scams to the Federal Trade Commission (consumer.ftc.gov) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov).

Patrick Baker is an IT consultant and founder of Prime of Life Tech. Learn more about his services at PrimeOfLifeTech.com, email info@PrimeOfLifeTech.com, or call (720) 319-7145.

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