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Alert! You have a virus…or do you?
Calls and texts from tech support scammers are alarmingly common. According to Microsoft, three out of five consumers said they’ve encountered a tech support scam in the past year (and one out of six fell for the scam and lost money).
It goes like this: Victims receive urgent-sounding phone calls or official-looking text messages that claim something is wrong — there’s a virus or, ironically, that hackers have gained access to their computers, phones, or bank accounts.
Then, frightened, unsure, or overwhelmed by technical jargon, the victim hands over their information.
Of course, viruses and hackers are legitimate concerns, and you may receive a notification or email from a device manufacturer or service provider alerting you to a potential problem. However, there are some key red flags that should tell you something isn’t right.
In this guide, we’ll help you spot tech support scammers and show you how to block their calls and texts for good.
Tech support phone scams are fraudulent calls or texts where the caller claims there is a serious issue with your computer or phone.
To address the “problem,” you’re told that you need to visit a website, download software, or pay a fee to get it fixed. This action usually leads to more fraudulent activities, like passwords, personal information, and bank account numbers being stolen.
Scammers may ask you to:
Here are some examples of what a tech support scam may look or sound like:
If you think the call or text you’ve received is a tech support scam, the number one rule is to not engage — never click a link, respond to a message, or give away your personal information over the phone to someone you don’t know.
It also helps to have a third-party robocall blocker app like RoboKiller to protect you from scam calls and ensure that only the calls you want get through.
Unfortunately, you can’t just tell if a call or text is a scam by looking at the number. Scammers can spoof their numbers to make it appear like they’re calling from a legitimate business or your local area.
Here are red flags that can give away that a tech support call or text is a scam:
Unsolicited contact from tech support
In nearly every legitimate case, you have to call tech support, and not the other way around. When a caller from a well-known company like Apple or Microsoft reaches out to say there’s malware on your computer, that’s a sign something isn’t right.
Similar rules apply for text messages from tech support. If you receive a text from a stranger with a website link, don’t click it (and definitely don’t fill out any contact information on the linked website). This kind of phishing scam is commonly used to steal private personal information or to download malware onto your phone.
Scare tactics and high-pressure calls
Scammers rely on in-the-moment decision making to steal money and information from victims. The longer a person stops and considers the situation, the less likely they are to hand over the goods. For this reason, scam calls tend to be fast and intimidating.
If you feel a lot of pressure to make a decision quickly, that’s a good sign the caller doesn’t really have your best interest in mind.
A common scam involves tricking victims into giving scammers remote access to their computer to run “diagnostics” for viruses and malware. Once the caller has control, they will run through a presentation showing you all sorts of dangerous bugs in your system. Very often, these “diagnostics” were made in photoshop — they’re not real.
Meanwhile, the caller is downloading malware or accessing your personal information in the background, or plotting to scam you out of your money.
Uncommon payment methods
Legitimate callers probably won’t ask you to pay for software or services over the phone, and they definitely won’t ask you to pay with a gift card, cash reload card, cryptocurrency, wire transfer, Venmo, or Zelle. Scammers prefer these methods as they’re hard to trace and even harder to reverse.
Message contains lots of typos
Keep an eye out for egregious text errors as they’re a sure sign of a scammer at work.
CASE STUDY: THE ELITE IT PARTNERS SCAM
Before the FTC stepped in, Elite IT Partners scammed numerous older adults out of hundreds of dollars each with false claims and unnecessary “repairs.”
The scam was simple: Elite purchased Google ads for searches related to lost passwords, then directed clicks to a form that collected victims’ contact information. Then they called each “lead” and requested access to their computers to “check for any problems.” Once connected, they would fabricate evidence of viruses and other threats on the victim’s device — and make a pitch to remove them for a hefty fee.
Elite IT Partners’ leadership was scooped up in a massive law enforcement sweep against tech support scammers, and fined $13.5 million for illegal actions. The company was dissolved as part of the action, but almost immediately other scammers claiming to be from Elite IT started calling victims to offer fake “refunds” in exchange for bank information.
Stay sharp, it’s wild out there!
A tech support scammer will say anything to keep you on the line. You may be under a lot of pressure to take action right away. Alternatively, they may be methodical and overly polite. They may also say that their service is the only one that can help.
All of this is a complete fabrication and the best thing you can do is hang up. Then, follow up with tech support at a trusted organization that you contact directly using an official number. If there actually is an issue with your mobile device or computer, they will be able to diagnose it and assist you.
If you’ve already given your information away or you think you may have been scammed, here’s what you can do:
Tech support scam calls are against the law.If you think you’ve been contacted by a scammer, always report the scam phone number to the FTC.
Protecting yourself from scams requires some groundwork and preparation, but it can prevent a costly and time-consuming debacle.
What can you do on a personal level to keep yourself safe from tech support scammers?
The best protection? Avoid tech support phone scams entirely. Get a third-party call blocker like RoboKiller that uses powerful A.I. to protect you from unwanted calls and texts.
Tech support scam calls are annoying, disruptive, and dangerous. The best, most effective thing you can do to prevent scam calls and unwanted texts is get a third-party robocall blocker like RoboKiller
For people who are subject to numerous spam calls or texts, the FTC recommends adding a blocker app to your mobile device to eliminate contact with questionable numbers.
Your mobile device will also have call blocking features to support your call screening efforts. For example, iPhones now feature an option to silence unknown callers When activated, this feature silences ringing and vibration for any incoming calls that aren’t saved to your address book, including all scam phone numbers.
Here’s how to enable this setting:
Please note: This function will silence all unknown calls, so if you’re expecting an important call that could come from outside your address book, you may miss it.
Android phones have a similar function that uses caller ID to notify you of potential spam calls.
Here’s how to block robocalls on Android phones:
You should also add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. This option costs nothing, and prevents sales callers from contacting you over the phone without prior consent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t block scam calls (because scammers don’t follow the law).
You can also inquire with your mobile or landline phone provider to see if it offers call-blocking or call-labeling services. Some of these services are complementary or included in certain plans, but some may cost an additional fee.