Can You Spot a Tech Support Scam?

November 6th · 5 min read

Did you see a pop-up warning message on your computer screen? Maybe it was an unsolicited email alerting you of a virus or a problem with your computer? Or, perhaps a phone call claiming to be from Apple or Microsoft? Any one of these may have been a tech support scam. But, how can you be sure? What should you do if you’re targeted by a tech support scammer?

The Federal Trade Commission reports that adults over 65 are five times more likely to fall victim to a tech support scam[1], but everyone regardless of age is a potential target.

Spotting a Tech Support Scam

Tech support scammers use several different tactics to fool their victims. In general, they try to sound legitimate by claiming to be from a real company, like Microsoft or Apple. They’ll present the “problem” as urgent so you’ll act out of panic or fear instead of using your better judgement. A tech support scammer’s end goal is to gain access to your computer, your billing information, or direct payments. None of those scenarios are how real tech support works.

By being aware of the tactics tech support scammers use, you can avoid the feeling of panic when you’re made to believe there’s an urgent security matter. Then, and only then, will you be savvy enough to escape a scam attempt.

Phone Calls

A tech support scammer who calls you on the phone will pretend to be a computer technician from a well-known company, like an antivirus provider, Microsoft, or Apple. They’ll let you know that they found a problem with your computer and ask you to grant them remote access to your computer so they can fix the problem. Once they’re in, they’ll pretend to run a diagnostic test.

At this point, the call may go one of three ways. They may end the call after running their supposed “diagnostic test”, unbeknownst to you that they actually installed malware on your computer, allowing them unhindered access to your computer in the future. They may lock you out of your computer altogether and demand a ransom payment to restore your access. Or, they may show fake security threats and require payment to fix a problem that never existed in the first place.

If you receive a phone call you didn’t expect from someone who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up. Do not provide them with any information and absolutely do not grant them remote access to your computer. No unsolicited phone call from a computer repair technician is legitimate. They will only contact you by phone if you requested a call back.

Pop-up Warnings

A tech support scam attempt may surprise you with a pop-up window that appears on your computer screen. It might appear as an error message coming from your operating system or antivirus software. It may appear as a page or pop-up within your browser, and it might use logos from trusted companies, such as antivirus providers, Windows, or Apple.

The message that appears will warn of a security issue on your computer and instruct you to call a phone number, perform a scan, or download a program to your computer to remove the security threat.

Guardio tech support scams pop ups

By downloading the program or calling the phone number, you’ll find your computer infected with malware, be locked out of your computer altogether, or receive a demand for payment to fix a nonexistent problem or restore access to your computer.

The bottom line: If you see a pop-up warning, don’t call the phone number or download the program. Real security alerts will never ask you to call a phone number or download a program to fix a problem.

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Search Result Listings

Tech support scammers may use a marketing technique called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to have their website appear on the front page of search results or may pay for ads online. A common misconception is that a website appearing in search results is legitimate, but that is not always the case.

Like tech support scams originating from phone calls and pop-up warnings, the goal of the tech support scammer appearing in search result listings is to either gain access to your computer, get malware onto your device, or make money by fixing a nonexistent problem on your computer.

How to Handle Computer Problems

If you think there’s a problem with your computer, start with your antivirus provider. If you use Guardio, perform a cleanup or contact support to describe the problem and we can help you determine what “next steps” you should take.

Always use a trusted company. If you need in-depth help, try contacting your computer’s manufacturer for a list of trusted repair technicians or visit the service desk of your local computer repair or sales company.

If you don’t already use browser protection, activate it now. Browser protection stops threats before they enter your computer and have a chance to cause (sometimes irreparable) damage.

If You Fell Victim to a Tech Support Scam

If you used a credit or debit card to pay a tech support scammer, contact your card issuer right away. Tell them what happened and in many cases, they can reverse the charge. They may also issue a new card to ensure that you don’t begin to see fraudulent charges on your card. If you paid a scammer with a gift card, contact the gift card issuer to have the card deactivated and your money refunded.

If you granted a tech support scammer remote access to your computer, contact a trusted computer repair professional. They can then identify how the tech support scammer is able to access your computer and prevent future access.

Finally, if the tech support scammer has your login information, change your password right away. You should also update the password for any other accounts where you used the same or a similar password. To learn more about password security and how to choose a strong password, see Everything You Need to Know About Password Security.

Key Takeaways

  • A legitimate tech support provider won’t contact you by phone, email, or text message to alert you of a problem.

  • A real security alert will not instruct you to download a program or call a phone number to fix a problem.

  • You should never share your billing information, Social Security number, or any personal information with someone who contacted you first.

  • Use a trusted computer repair professional when you need help fixing a problem. Don’t rely on an internet search.

  • Legitimate companies will never request payment in the form of a gift card, money transfer, or Bitcoin.

  • Use browser protection to block scams and other threats from infecting your computer.


Clean up your browser and remove popups

Enable full protection to keep safe from malicious popups, malware & phishing scams.

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