How to Avoid Tech Support Scammers

Thomas Gilham

The act of scamming another individual out of their own finances or property is not a new phenomenon. In fact, scamming has always existed, whether it was scamming others for gold prior to printed money or for digital cryptocurrency today. With scammers on the rise due to the advent of smartphones and the world wide web, it is essential to remain vigilant at all times to prevent risking your own financial wellbeing and mental health.

While phone calls from scammers requesting wire transfers or bank account information have most often targeted the elderly or those who are more vulnerable, there is a new type of scammer to watch for both online and anytime you receive a call. Tech support scammers are now attempting to infiltrate your mobile phones and personal computers in the hopes of receiving sensitive financial information and details about their targeted victims.

Knowing how to avoid tech scammers while steering clear of potentially harmful browser links, phone numbers, and emails is imperative to minimize or eliminate your risk of being approached or duped by a scammer yourself. When you know how to avoid tech support scammers at all costs, avoid feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or confused at the thought of answering a call from an unknown number.

What is a Tech Support Scammer?

Tech support scam operations are similar to traditional scam phone call operations and IRS scams. With a tech support scammer, you are likely to receive information regarding your computer, an online account, or even your current banking location in hopes of catching your attention and gaining your trust. Tech support scammers may even conduct thorough research on your name, your current address, and friends and relatives who are most important to you.

Scammers who are most successful take their time getting to know more about the victims they approach to appear more reputable, genuine, and authentic. However, it is important to always research and verify the information you are provided from a potential scammer before sharing personal details of your own.

Tech scammers use the internet, online shopping, and even mobile smartphones to worry their victims, prompting potential victims to share banking information or to pay any fee that they are told to in order to prevent further online leaks or damaging information from appearing online. With a tech scammer, you may be informed that your computer has recently been infected with malware, or that your email account has been compromised, leading to a leak of your passwords, banking information, and logins across the web.

The Goals of Tech Support Scammers

A tech support scammer is optimal for scam operations who work based on fear responses and reactions. When a tech support scammer approaches an individual via email, phone, or even with an invasive pop-up warning, they are attempting to cause fear, stress, and worry in their potential victim. Individuals who feel as though their information and privacy are at risk are much more likely to share details necessary with a scammer rather than verifying the claim first. If you feel as though your entire life online including your bank account is at risk of being stolen, hacked, or logged into, you may feel backed into a corner with a tech scammer.

Once you become aware of the various methods used by tech support scammers, learn how to quickly and correctly identify scammers and scam operations within seconds. When you know how tech support scammers are currently operating, it is much easier to ignore, confront, or report them as you see fit. Ridding tech support scammers from the world entirely may not be possible, as scammers have always found a way to target and infiltrate vulnerable individuals and subcultures around the globe.

However, if you are aware of potential scams that are on the rise and if you take the appropriate precautions necessary, protect your personal information and any sensitive details about yourself, your household, and your entire life. With a thorough understanding of the type of tech support scams that are currently out there, it becomes much easier to face them head-on without putting you, yourself, or your financial security at risk.

Pop-Up Warning Scams

Pop-up warning scams are extremely intrusive, annoying, and downright unflattering. Whenever you are visiting a website, you may encounter a popup informing you of a newsletter subscription option, a current sale, or an upcoming promotion that is most relevant to you. However, if you are browsing a website that is not secured or one that is unfamiliar to you, it is important to keep an eye out for potential popup warning scams.

Popups that appear as warnings may cause immediate stress and worry for those who are unfamiliar with this tactic. Oftentimes, popup warning scams inform a visitor of potential malware or viruses in their computer, requiring a direct phone call in order to immediately restore the PC or laptop. In some cases, a popup warning scam may also claim to be from a major antivirus manufacturer, such as Norton Antivirus, when it is really not. In an extreme popup warning scam, the popup may indicate that it originated directly from the FBI (Federal Beaurau of Investigations) or even the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), which is false.

Some popups that prompt you for personal information such as your name, email address, and even your own phone number may be closed simply by exiting the window. However, it is important to note that many popup warning scams are extremely intrusive and may be nearly impossible to close without launching your system’s task manager or control panel. Regardless of the type of popup warning scam you encounter online, it is essential to avoid taking any further action, even if the warning appears to be authentic and legitimate.

Cold Calls

Another type of tech scamming operation that is on the rise involves cold calls. Tech support scammers cold call individuals who are known to have purchased well-known antivirus or computer-related products. Once they have obtained a base level of information about their target, the tech scammers attempt to reach the individual via their mobile phone number.

Cold call scams in relation to tech support often involve informing an individual of the potential risks and threats that have recently been found on their computer, smartphone, or tablet device. A tech support scammer will inform you of the malware that has been discovered while directing you to a specific website to download and install software which is meant to help clear the malware from your system(s) altogether.

The program tech support scammers refer to their victims is actual malware itself. In some cases, the program downloaded and installed may also be utilized as a keylogger. Keylogging programs are used by hackers and scammers to monitor and track each key used on a specific device. Scammers then receive a transcript of everything that has been entered on a computer or device throughout the day, providing them with instant access to social media, email, and even online banking accounts.

When you are approached by a cold call scammer who portrays themselves as tech support, it is important to keep in mind that most companies do not monitor and track computers of users with the intention of follow-up calls. Most tech support scammers will also require a fee or a wire transfer of money as payment in order to provide the link to the software for their victims, which is another red flag in the realm of scams.

Confusing Search Results/Sponsored Ads

Billions of individuals have used search engines such as Google, Bing, or even DuckDuckGo to search for the information they need or want to learn. When you are browsing a search engine, you are often shown various types of advertisements and sponsored posts which attract more visitors and page views than traditional search engine results.

Whether you are using a search engine or browsing your social media feeds, remain vigilant and aware at all times before clicking a link or pursuing a quest to find more information based on a sponsored ad or post. Many social media and search engine platforms do not manually verify links and ads that are paid for, leaving users who are vulnerable or not as tech-savvy at risk for phishing and tech support scams.

Each time you are attempting to visit a website for the first time, be sure to verify that the URL is correct and legitimate. Some tech support scammers have taken their scam operation a step further by developing online social media platforms and banking websites to mirror official sites, changing only a few letters or formatting of the website’s URL itself. Once you have verified the spelling of the official website you are attempting to view, it is also advisable to check for an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate.

SSL certificates appear as a lock icon in the upper right or lefthand corner of your URL bar within browsers such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. While not all websites are required to purchase an SSL for safer and encrypted browsing, banking institutions and social media platforms always have a valid SSL certificate in place for maximum protection and anonymity online.

What to Look for in a Tech Support Scammer

Scammers and scam operations are continuously evolving and changing, which is why it is not always easy to spot them, even if you are extremely tech-savvy or work in the tech industry yourself. Knowing what to look for when you want to prevent a tech support scam from happening is essential to minimize your risk and the risk of your financial stability. Some of the most notable features of tech support scammers may include:

  • Broken English: Many tech support scammers originate from countries such as India, resulting in individuals who speak broken English or may have a difficult time communicating with you. Scammers are not all well-versed in English, which is a red flag if you are being contacted about personal or sensitive information without a proper way to communicate your response.
  • Vagueness: Tech support scammers are not known for their honesty and integrity, which is why they may sound extremely vague when explaining the problem(s) they have encountered with your computer, bank account, or software. If you are unable to request a clearly defined issue with a step-by-step solution from a caller, they are most likely a scam artist.
  • Unprofessional Demeanor: While tech support scammers may appear friendly or sound charismatic when you first begin speaking with them, they may become irate, irritated, and extremely unprofessional if you are not compliant at all times. If you notice an individual becoming increasingly unprofessional, rude, and downright mean, it is time to stop talking to them and to report them. While it is not always possible to report a scammer from another country, it may be possible if you are actually talking with an individual who works for a reputable and verified company.
  • Inpatient Attitude: Tech support scammers often sound rushed, annoyed, and inconvenienced, even if they are the ones who initiate a scam. Some tech support scammers work independently, while others work for an organization in order to receive a cut or a percentage of all of the scams they have successfully completed. When you notice the caller who has contacted you is becoming increasingly impatient and difficult to communicate with, he or she is likely a scammer who is not genuinely interested in providing help or assistance to their victims.
  • Asking for Remote Access: Remote access to a computer or other electronic devices provides a user from anywhere in the world the ability to browse files and hard drives within an instant. Tech support scammers are likely to ask you to download software or a program that is designed to provide remote access. When you provide tech support scammers with remote access, they immediately gain an overview of your device and its hard drive, allowing them more opportunity to seek out personal and sensitive information. Tech support scammers are extremely adamant about sharing their remote access software and may become angry or confused if you are not willing to participate in their orders to comply.

What to Do If You Have Been Scammed

If you or someone you know has recently been scammed by tech support scammers or other types of scam ring operations, it is advisable to take a few steps to ensure your financial security and protection. Even if you or a loved one have already provided financial information or personal details to a scammer, it is not too late to stop further action from taking place on your behalf.

Take a Breath

One of the first steps involved in overcoming a potential scam by a tech support scam ring is to take a breath and focus on the situation. Create a timeline of all of the phone calls, texts, emails, or letters you have received from the scammer. Keep track of phone records, responses, and all of the information you have provided to the scammer by writing them down to prevent feeling discombobulated or overwhelmed.

Did you provide the scammer with your banking account number, your credit card numbers, or even your social security number? Was the scammer familiar with your job, your household, and your personal address? The more information you can recall and write down, the easier it will be to address each individual issue while ridding the scammer from your life.

Disconnect Your Internet Connection

If you have provided remote access to a tech support scammer using a program you recently downloaded and installed, disconnect your internet connection from the device entirely as you figure out the appropriate solution. When your computer or device no longer has the ability to connect to the internet, the tech support scammer becomes disabled and no longer has access to your computer’s files or content.

Disconnecting your internet connection is only a temporary fix, especially if you use your computer or device regularly for leisure or for work. Once you have determined what type of tech support scam you have fallen for, it is then much more feasible to execute a working plan of action that is optimal to protect you and your future.

Credit/Debit Card Transactions

When you share your credit or debit card numbers and bank details with a tech support scammer, you may be feeling overwhelmed and extremely anxious. Immediately contact your banking institution or the provider of your credit/debit card to put a hold on the card itself and to stop any further transactions from being completed without your authorization. In many cases, credit and debit card companies will help to represent you while protecting you from fraudulent or scam charges.

Close any debit or credit cards you have opened in your name and shared with a prospective scammer to eliminate the risk of having them used without your permission. In extreme cases, it may be advisable to simply close your current bank account while opening another in an alternative location or branch. Most often, it is not necessary to close your entire banking account while opening a new one unless you have shared all of your routing and account information with a potential tech support scammer.

Update Your Passwords

If you have provided a tech support scammer with any of your personal email addresses, account names, or passwords, change them immediately. Update all of your personal account passwords that may be linked to the name and password you provided to the scammer. Implement a two-step authorization process on your Gmail and Facebook accounts along with other networks that are important to you. Link your personal phone number to any accounts you update to ensure any new changes or access attempt alerts are provided to you as soon as they occur to prevent future vulnerabilities.

Run a Virus Scan

If you currently have a verified and reputable antivirus or an antimalware program installed on your computer’s hard drive, run a full and complete virus scan. Scanning for new trojan viruses and malware software is essential to ensure your computer is protected and not at risk once you reconnect the device to the internet. Allow your computer to complete a full scan of your hard drive, even if it requires a few hours to finish in its entirety. You can never be too cautious or careful when it comes to protecting your personal and sensitive information, including financial logins and bank account details.

Update Your Antivirus Software

After you have completed the initial virus  scan you have run and you are ready to reconnect to the internet, update your current antivirus software. Downloading an updated version of your program is a way to verify that all trojans or new scamming programs are visible to the software itself, minimizing your risk once you begin accessing your accounts and favorite websites online. An updated antivirus program is recommended at all times to keep your vulnerability at a minimum whenever you are browsing, shopping, or chatting online.

Install an Adblocker

Many tech support scammers use pop-ups to send your web browser malicious messages to say that your computer may be infected by a virus or that your copy of Microsoft Windows has expired. By using an Ad-blocker it will reduce the chances of these fake pop up warnings appearing. I’ve written a post on my favorite Ad blockers many of which are free to install.

Tips to Prevent Being Scammed in the Future

Although digital scams continue to evolve and change with new technology and methods of communicating with one another, there are a few key features to keep in mind while protecting yourself online. Some of the most useful and effective tips to remember whenever a tech support scammer attempts to contact you include:

  • Always Keep Your Antivirus Software Updated: Always keeping your antivirus programs updates is extremely important to minimize your risk of losing sensitive and personal information on your hard drive.
  • Research: Research specific companies that tech support scammers reference, especially while attempting to verify their authenticity and employment. If you are unable to verify that their position exists and that they represent the company they talk about, you are likely speaking with a tech support scammer.
  • Follow Scam Trends: Monitor and track the latest digital scams happening near you or to those who lead similar lives. Use tools such as Google Alerts to monitor specific keywords, locations, or types of scams you are interested in following.
  • Inform Others: Information is key when preventing online scams, especially for those who are otherwise not tech-savvy or familiar with the internet. Inform your friends, relatives, and associates of any scam you have been approached with using social media.
  • Keep Sharing to a Minimum: With the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it can seem harmless to share personal information when millions of others do so daily. However, it is highly advisable to steer clear from publishing personal information or whereabouts that may lead back to you. Update your social media privacy settings and only allow friends to view updates and information about you. Avoid accepting random friend requests, even if you have a mutual friend in common. Scammers are notorious for creating fake social media accounts in the hopes to connect with potential future victims.

While not all scammers operate in the same manner, many of them choose to approach vulnerable individuals or those who are simply unaware of the risk of being scammed. When you are vigilant while shopping online, subscribing to a newsletter, or answering your phone, keep scammers at bay while ensuring your own safety and protection at all times.

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