You’re browsing the web, maybe checking your email or updating Facebook when a message appears: Your computer may be infected. Please call the following number for Technical Support. The exact message can vary, but the end result is the same: scam artists are using scare tactics to convince you to pay for so-called “tech support” to fix your computer. These technicians are usually based in a foreign call center and will assure you that they can fix your computer for a “modest” ($199 and up, usually) fee. At best, these people may only take your money while convincing you that they’ve repaired your computer. At worst, they install background software to spy on your computer while they attempt to steal any and all financial information they can get their hands on.
These scammers make their profits by targeting the not so tech-savvy with tactics meant to confuse and scare. The best way to combat this is with knowledge, so please help spread awareness and you might just save a friend or family member from being scammed out of their hard earned money.
Tech Support scams are hardly new, but my fellow technicians and I have seen a disturbing new trend arising: not only are more of our customers encountering these scams, the perpetrators seem to be based in the US. In the past, these organizations were largely found in call centers overseas, particularly in India. These new scammers appear to be largely based out of Florida and are using that to convince victims of their trustworthiness.
Here’s a few points to keep in mind when dealing with potential scams:
- Microsoft and other technology companies will never cold call you for virus removals or any other service.
- Likewise, no reputable company will display unsolicited messages on your computer about calling support to remove viruses.
These scams typically start one of two ways. The first is unsolicited or cold calls. The person on the other line will introduce themselves as a computer technician working for Microsoft or a similar company. They’ll inform you that their servers have detected a virus on your computer and they need to connect to your computer to remove it. The second method is by displaying a warning message on your computer. This message typically states that your computer is infected or at risk and that you can fix the issue by calling a toll-free number. Calling the number usually results in a similar conversation about connecting to your computer to repair it.
Once persuading the user to allow the technician to connect to their computer, they’ll usually resort to scare tactics to convince them of infection. One common tactic is to pull up the Event Viewer, a program built into all versions of Windows which keeps a log of various Windows functions. By filtering the log to show only errors, the tech will insist that these errors are clear evidence that the computer is infected and in desperate need of repair. This tactic is an outright lie though, as Event Viewer has absolutely nothing to do with viruses.
After scaring the user into believing their computer needs urgent service, these scammers will typically offer antivirus software, virus removal and sometimes even extended support. At best, you’ll end up paying an exorbitant price for software like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium (Which is sold by Malwarebytes directly or through resellers like SAMSA for $24.95). More often than not, you’ll end up with a fake antivirus program that doesn’t offer any real protection.
So what should you do if you ever receive a call like this? Do not give any financial information to the caller and hang up the phone. You can also file a police report if you manage to get a name or phone number from the caller. If a message is displaying on your screen, then your computer very well could be infected- mostly likely by the very same people attempting to “fix” it for you. Give SAMSA a call and let us take a look at it. We won’t charge you anything for a diagnosis and we’re more than happy to provide a second opinion. Like anything else in the world of technology, err on the side of caution. If you’re unsure, shut it down and let someone knowledgeable you trust look at it.
Sources and further reading:
- Malwarebytes Security Blog: Beware of US-based Tech Support Scams
- Malwarebytes Security Blog: Tech Support Scams Help & Resources
- Microsoft Safety & Security Center: Avoid Tech Support Phone Scams
- How-To Geek: Tell Your Relatives: No, Microsoft Will Not Call You About Your Computer
- How-To Geek: The “Tech Support” Scammers Called HTG