February 16, 2022 · Education, Savings, Security

A Crook Wants to Fix Your Computer—Don’t Fall for Tech Support Scams

Tech support scams are an ongoing attempt to take victims’ money by convincing them that there is a serious problem with their computer when there is no problem; the scammer then offers to fix the problem for immediate payment. The scammers try to convince their innocent targets to pay them to eliminate a virus, malware, or other issue supposedly harming the victim’s computer before it can cause further damage and put their email, social media, healthcare, financial or other accounts in jeopardy of being hijacked.

Fraudsters may surprise their potential victims by calling them unexpectedly and pretending that they are customer, security, or technical support employees (or third-party service technicians) working for either the computer’s manufacturer, or, most often, the software company that makes the computer’s operating system. Sometimes the scammers may email or text potential victims, but phone calls are a popular contact method, since the more personal voice contact allows them to directly pressure and persuade their targets.

Next, the fraudsters could state that a problem has already been detected by their monitoring system and it needs to be dealt with, or they may ask the person they’ve called to allow them to remotely access their computer. The crooks then pretend to run a fake diagnostic test to check the health of the computer and tell their victims that the test has revealed an infection or other problem, and it’s urgent that it be fixed; they try to scare victims into moving quickly. Their false story continues that, while computer safety is the responsibility of the computer owner, tech support is instantly available and that the problem can be conveniently fixed now for a fee. The scammers then will ask for payment upfront, usually by credit, debit, or gift cards, wire transfer, or some other money transfer service.

The scammer’s targets are most likely to be older or elderly adults whose computer knowledge may be limited and who can be fooled or intimidated into going along with their illegal scheme, but anyone can be a potential victim of this scam.

Why legitimate tech support is not likely to suddenly be calling you 

Here are a few reasons why authentic tech support is probably not likely to suddenly be calling you to offer their concerned and timely assistance:

Computer manufacturers’—hardware companies’—technical support staff almost always respond to your contacting them; they do not usually contact you first. The manufacturer of your computer (hardware) is generally not going to call you if you haven’t called them. Computer manufacturers usually provide technical support only if your machine is still under warranty (often 1-3 years) or if you are paying an annual service fee, but you have to contact them first to make a claim under the warranty or service contract.

Technical support staff have no automatic reporting and maintenance system to know that there is some sort of malfunction with your personal computer; they do not track the health of millions of computers and then contact owners if their monitoring “system” detects something is wrong with the owner’s computer. Again—if you haven’t contacted your computer manufacturer first, then they are not likely to contact you.

Computer operating system manufacturers—software companies—have extremely limited technical support for personal computer users, and they also will not reach out without being contacted first by the computer user. The major personal computer operating systems in the United States (and for much of the world) are Microsoft’s® Windows, Apple’s® MacOS, Google’s® Chrome, and Linux. Operating system software companies prefer to provide corporate support to (and make money from) companies that purchase hundreds or thousands of operating system licenses rather than individual computer users; these companies are not structured and staffed to provide a significant level of individual support to home computer users.

Again, the software company should have no way of knowing the status of your computer and who you are; that information would be considered private, and it would be invasive and illegal for the software company to personally monitor your computer, know about any computer issues you are having, and then be able to contact you directly.

A phone call is pretty much the last method a computer manufacturer will use to contact you. Many technical support questions are first handled by online chat systems or email because they are considerably more time and cost efficient for the company. A phone call is very often the last step in dealing with a computer issue after chat or email have already been tried and haven’t resolved the issue with a computer. If you haven’t previously been chatting or emailing online with technical support about an issue, then you should not be expecting a phone call from them.

What to do if you receive an unplanned call from tech support

If you get a surprise phone call from someone saying that they are computer technical support and that they have identified a potential problem with your computer, then do not talk to them; just end the call.

Do not respond to a surprise tech support call with payments of any kind, including credit, debit, or gift cards or money transfer services. No legitimate company will request that it be paid in gift cards.

Report any fraud, scams, and unethical (or possibly illegal) business practices to the U.S. government’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. The more information that can be given on the contact with the scammer, the more useful your report will be to the government in tracking and shutting them down. The specific information FTC will want to know includes:

  • Your contact information: name, address, phone number, email
  • The type of product or service involved
  • Information about the company or seller: business name, address, phone number, website, email address, representative’s name, the day and time you were contacted
  • Details about the transaction: the amount you paid, how you paid, the date the payment was made

How else can I protect myself and my accounts while online?

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is one of the government agencies that deals with fraudulent commerce as part of its mission, and it has straightforward advice on avoiding many types of scams, including tech support exams, and it’s worth reading.

Delta Community has a few more thoughts on protecting yourself and your accounts online in these blog posts: