Tech Support Phone Scams: Everything You Need to Know
When Bill Gates created Microsoft in 1975, little did he know that, 45 years later, scammers would pretend to call from his company and steal financial information.
The Microsoft scam is a cybersecurity scam that has increased in popularity in recent years. It goes something like this:
- Someone calls you and asks for your name.
- They claim to be a computer security expert from Microsoft.
- They say your computer has been infected with a virus or malware. Or that you need to update a license for a Microsoft product.
The problem is, this person isn't from Microsoft at all. It's a scammer trying to steal your information.
The Microsoft scam is extremely dangerous, and many Americans have already fallen victim to it. As scammers call from spoofed numbers, it's easy to believe that the person is legit, but this isn't the case at all. People hand over their sensitive information to these scammers because they honestly believe that the caller is trying to help them fix problems with their computers.
It all starts with a few simple words: "Hello, I'm calling from Microsoft..."
It's not just Microsoft. Scammers call and pretend to be from a whole host of companies. Apple. Samsung. Dell. You name it.
More than 26,000 Americans have been the victim of some kind of phishing phone scam, and the problem is getting worse. As scammers become more sophisticated in their efforts, many people are taking precautions to stop their personal data from being compromised.
You can, too.
If you receive a call from an unknown number, there's a simple way you can verify the person on the other end of the phone. RoboKiller's Phone Lookup service is completely free and lets you check the identity of anyone who has called you in just a few seconds.
Someone calling you from Microsoft? You can check the Phone Lookup database. Someone calling from Dell? You can check that, too.
Once you've verified the identity of an unknown caller, you can prevent future calls from scammers by downloading the RoboKiller app on your smartphone. This way, you can reduce the chances of becoming a victim of cybersecurity phone scams.
- What is the Microsoft Scam?
- What Red Flags Should You Look Out For?
- What Should You Do If You've Received One of These Calls?
- Microsoft Security Best Practices
- What Are the Other Types of Cyber Security Scams?
- The Growing Problem of Scam Calls
- Phone Lookup
What is the Microsoft Scam?
The Microsoft scam has been around for a few years now. There are different variations of this hoax, but the goal of the scammers is the same: To steal your financial information.
In this scam, a caller will contact you and claim they are from Microsoft (or another tech company) and say that there is a problem with your computer — a virus, malware, you name it.
So many people fall for this scam because the caller sounds so genuine. It sounds like they really could be calling from Microsoft. But things aren't always what they seem...
Want to check whether someone calling from Microsoft is who they say they are? Use the Phone Lookup service here and find out in seconds.
In Microsoft phone scams, the caller will try to confuse you with complicated jargon about Microsoft products and services. They try to make you believe there's a problem with your laptop, desktop, or mobile device.
Then, the caller will encourage you to do one of the following things:
- Install software onto your computer to fix the issue.
- Tell you to visit a website to solve the problem.
- Hand over a fee for fixing your computer over the phone.
If someone calls you and says they are from Microsoft, you shouldn't do any of these things. Here's why...
- If you download software onto your computer, it probably contains malware, which lets scammers access any personal and financial information you keep on your device.
- If you visit a website, it can download malware onto your computer. Again, scammers use malware to access your personal and financial information.
- If you hand over your bank details in order to pay a "fee," scammers might try and take all of your money from your account.
Sometimes, a scammer can take control of your computer after you download malware. This allows them to change the settings of your device so you can't access your files and folders. They might charge you a ransom for unlocking the computer and using it again.
When scammers have access to your computer, they can do all kinds of things:
- They can look for any bank statements or documents that contain financial information and use these to steal money from your accounts.
- They can steal your personal photos and videos and use these to blackmail you or even post them online.
- They can use information about you to carry out identity fraud. They might open credit accounts in your name, which can have a huge impact on your credit file and affect your ability to obtain finance in the future.
The Microsoft scam isn't the only type of phone scam you need to watch out for. Scammers are defrauding people over the phone because it's worked so many times in the past, and they hope you will fall for the same tricks.
Here's what the government has to say:
"Telephone scammers try to steal your money or personal information. Scams may come through phone calls from real people, robocalls, or text messages. The callers often make false promises, such as opportunities to buy products, invest your money, or receive free product trials. They may also offer you money through free grants and lotteries. Some scammers may call with threats of jail or lawsuits if you don’t pay them."
There are various red flags you should look out for when someone contacts you and claims to be from Microsoft.
- If someone calls you and says you need to download antivirus software onto your computer and then tries to charge you for this service, it's probably a hoax. You can download antivirus software for free on the Microsoft website, and there's no charge for this service.
- If someone asks you to pay via wire transfer or PayPal for a service over the phone, it's probably a hoax, too. Microsoft doesn't accept payment for services via these methods.
- If someone from Microsoft asks for your Social Security number or any other type of personal information, it's probably a scam. Watch out!
- If someone from Microsoft calls you late at night, ask yourself about the timing of the call. This could very well be a scammer who is trying to steal your hard-earned money.
Actually, if someone calls you and says they are from Microsoft, it's most likely a scam! Microsoft rarely contacts customers over the phone (unless they have specifically requested a call back after contacting the company in the first instance.) So, if someone says they are from Microsoft, your first thought should be "Is this a genuine call?"
Find out whether a call from Microsoft is genuine by heading over to Phone Lookup and running any unknown numbers through the free database.
What Should You Do If You Receive One of These Calls?
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, you first need to establish whether it was a genuine call. This will determine the next steps you take.
- Check the Phone Lookup service and run the number through the database.
Was the call genuine?
If yes, you can contact Microsoft via the number on their website or wait for them to call you again.
If no, take the following steps:
- Block the number on your phone.
- If you handed over your financial information, contact your bank immediately.
- If you handed over any sensitive information, check your online financial accounts.
- If you have had money stolen from your account, contact law enforcement.
Remember, Microsoft will never usually contact you with unsolicited technical support over the phone. If you receive one of these calls, it's best just to hang up the phone. To prevent scammers from contacting you in the first place, download the RoboKiller app onto your device here.
You might want to just block the number and move on, but this isn't a good idea. Here's why: Many scammers use auto-dialing programs and can generate many different phone numbers in a short amount of time. Just because you block one number, it won't stop scammers from contacting you on a new number unless you use an app like RoboKiller.
Sure, you could just contact your carrier and change your number, but this won't work, either. Scammers often scrape the internet for the latest phone numbers and steal data from marketing companies who might have your details. If you change your number, you might not receive scam calls for a little while, but it's very likely that they will come back again.
Scam calls have become a huge problem in the United States:
- In 2017, around 2.7 percent of all phone calls were scam calls. However, this increased to 26 percent in 2018 (the last full year of data that's available). What will the percentage be in 2019? What about 2020?
- Experts predict that more than 90 percent of all scam calls by the end of 2019 will use area codes that are local to the call recipient. Scammers do this by spoofing phone numbers, which makes it seem like someone from your local area is calling you. This is why so many people fall for hoaxes like the Microsoft scam.
- One in 10 Americans have lost money in a phone scam, and this number is likely to increase in the next few years.
Microsoft Security Best Practices
There are some other precautions you can take if you are a Microsoft customer. All of these can stop your personal information from getting in the wrong hands.
- Use Microsoft's security products on your device in order to detect the latest threats. Many of these products are completely free, and you can download them from the Microsoft website.
- Never disclose your personal or financial details in an email, even if you are trying to contact Microsoft about a problem. It's always best to contact the company on the phone number on their website.
- If you happen to download malware on your computer, follow the security advice from Microsoft or contact a registered IT expert in your local area. You might need to carry out a System Restore on your computer in order to remove any infected files and folders.
- Change your passwords regularly across all of your Microsoft devices and never share these with anyone, even those closest to you.
- Use the latest security procedures when logging into your bank account online.
- Be careful when connecting to WiFi hotspots on your laptop or mobile device.
- If you experience a security issue, contact the Microsoft technical support team as soon as you can. The problem might get worse if you leave it or stick your head in the sand.
What does Microsoft have to say about all of this?
"Scammers may call you directly on your phone and pretend to be representatives of a software company. They might even spoof the caller ID so that it displays a legitimate support phone number from a trusted company. They can then ask you to install applications that give them remote access to your device. Using remote access, these experienced scammers can misrepresent normal system output as signs of problems."
As you can see, Microsoft is very aware of these phone scams and is trying to stop them. However, this can be a challenge. You need to do your part to solve the problem, too.
Microsoft has published some details on their website on what else you can do if you receive a call from someone saying they are from the company:
- You can report the scam via the FTC Complaint Assistant form here. This won't stop scammers from contacting you, though.
- Reach out to one of Microsoft's technical support experts at the Microsoft Answer Desk at 1-800-426-9400.
What Are the Other Types of Cyber Security Scams?
As we mentioned before, scammers don't just pretend to be from Microsoft. They could claim to be from any kind of tech company, including the following:
The list is endless.
Here are some of the most common scams right now:
Your account has been compromised
A scammer might call you and say that one of your computer systems or accounts has been compromised by cyber thieves, and you need to do something about it. Many people rely on their devices for work or personal relationships, so they take these calls seriously.
In this kind of scam, the caller will try to convince you to pay a fee in order to complete a service, such as get your system or account back up and running. This is just a hoax. There's probably nothing wrong with your computer in the first place. Scammers just want to take your financial account details so they can steal money or open up credit accounts in your name.
The "diagnostic test" scam
In this scam, someone will call you and claim there's something wrong with your computer or mobile device and that they need to perform a diagnostic test in order to find out the cause of the problem.
Although technical teams often carry out diagnostic tests, they rarely do this over the phone unless you have explicitly asked them to contact you. If someone makes an unsolicited call and wants to perform a diagnostic test, hang up the phone immediately and check the number with RoboKiller's Phone Lookup free service.
Just like with the previous scam, the caller will ask you to pay a fee for this service and ask you for your bank details or credit card number.
In other variations of this scam, the caller might ask you to download some software or visit a particular website so they can carry out the diagnostic test properly. However, you will just end up with malware on your computer or device instead. Once a scammer has installed malware onto your machine, they can remotely search for financial information and access your files and folders.
The "your license is out-of-date" scam
This scam is becoming increasingly popular in recent years. Many technology companies require you to pay for a license in order to use their products and services. If you have been using a particular product for a while, you might be unaware that your license is coming to an end.
In this scam, the caller will usually offer you a "special deal" if you update or renew your license over the phone. They will then ask for your financial information so they can facilitate the transaction. Unfortunately, this is just a hoax to steal your money and other personal information.
Often, the caller will ask you to pay for your license via bank transfer or PayPal. This makes it harder for law enforcement to trace these payments and find the criminals. Many scammers operate from outside of the US.
It's important to note that technology companies will rarely contact you over the phone to remind you to update your license. Usually, they will send out a reminder via email.
The Growing Problem of Scam Calls
Scam calls, in general, are on the rise, and they show no signs of slowing down. The US is the eighth-most scammed nation in the world, and scam calls increased by 35 percent in 2019.
In addition to the Microsoft scam, there is a wide range of phone scams you need to know about. These include:
- Social Security number scams, where scammers will convince you there's a problem with your Social Security number in order to steal your sensitive information.
- Government scams, where scammers pretend they are calling from a government department, such as the IRS or Immigration Services.
- Debt collection scams, where scammers promise to reduce your debt in exchange for a fee. Callers will try and convince you to hand over your bank details or wire money into their accounts.
- Student loan scams, where scammers will promise to wipe out your student debt in exchange for a fee. Again, callers will encourage you to hand over your bank details or transfer money into their accounts.
Scammers are relentless and use all kinds of tricks to make you believe them. Unfortunately, many Americans fall victim to these scams, and some even lose their life savings. All it takes is a conversation over the phone.
Here's what the FTC has to say about this ever-growing issue:
"People lose a lot of money to phone scams — sometimes their life savings. Scammers have figured out countless ways to cheat you out of your money over the phone. In some scams, they act friendly and helpful. In others, they might threaten or try to scare you. One thing you can count on is that a phone scammer will try to get your money or your personal information to commit identity theft. Don’t give it to them."
If you have received a missed call or answered the phone from someone saying they are from Microsoft, you can check whether the call is legit really easily. Just head over to Phone Lookup and enter the number you received. You can soon tell whether the caller is genuine.
With Phone Lookup, you can also:
- Check how many people have received a call from the same number.
- Find out the most common scam calls within the previous hour.
- Find out the most common scam calls within the previous day.
Using Phone Lookup, alongside the RoboKiller app, is the strongest weapon in the fight against phone scammers. You can discover whether someone is genuine and prevent future calls from scammers who want to steal your personal and financial information.