Tech Tips: Tech support scams can be all too convincing

Tech support scams are a continuing menace to consumers. Here’s how to spot a tech support scam and how to find real tech support options.

One of the most common tech support scams is the unsolicited phone call. The scammer pretends to be a technician from a big-name company who just happens to have detected problems with your computer during a routine scan. They’ll even spoof the caller ID, so the call really looks like it came from Microsoft or Apple. But big tech companies don’t make unsolicited calls to random consumers, and they don’t scan the internet looking for computer problems to solve. If you receive a call like this, don’t provide information, and hang up immediately.

Another trick is using fake pop-ups that look like legitimate error messages. Some of these pop-ups can look so convincing, it's easy to end up clicking before you realize it's a fraud. Some viruses also display errors like these, hoping you'll click and thus bypass your security
software. You can reduce pop-ups by using reliable antivirus software plus browser extensions that block malicious code.

Scammers also place ads on social media sites that mimic Microsoft and Apple tech support. Combining them with websites that imitate the look and feel of the originals, criminals quickly can harvest your username, password and other key information. With that data, they can
go on a hacking spree: changing your logins, delving into your email, and breaking into your bank accounts.

One hallmark of these scams is that the criminals will try to make the problem seem as urgent as possible. They want you to react before you have a chance to think about it, because their scams depend on getting you to do something that lets them in. Usually, this means fooling you into enabling remote access to your computer, but they also might try to convince you to divulge your password or otherwise reveal information that could be used for fraud.

Once into your computer, they’ll sneak past your security protections, set up hidden back doors into your network, and commandeer any other vulnerable devices they can find. They’ll claim normal messages in your system logs are warnings of imminent failure. They’ll charge you for useless troubleshooting, then charge you more for fake monthly “maintenance” or phony “security software.” They’ll steal your credit card number and banking information. They’ll try to trick you into revealing your two-factor authentication codes.

You can avoid tech support scams by refusing to respond to unsolicited phone calls or pop-ups offering tech support. Never grant remote access into your computer unless you're absolutely sure who the person is, and turn it off afterwards. Use well-known antivirus and security programs to scan your computer. If you need to contact Microsoft or Apple for
tech support, do so directly through their phone numbers or websites.

If you’ve been the victim of a tech support scam, you can contact your local police department or report it to the FTC’s Report Fraud website. You’ll find additional troubleshooting resources on my Tech Tips blog.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business writing services. Visit her Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com to receive weekly tech news by email.