You step into your home after a morning running errands when your phone rings. On the other end is a person telling you they’re a technician from Dell and they’ve detected a problem with your computer. Not to worry, they explain, they can fix the problem for you, but first, they need payment. They ask you to transfer $500 to them via a money transfer app.
The person on the other end of the phone isn’t a tech support worker from Dell, however. They’re a scammer, and this is just one version of a tech support scam targeting older adults.
These scams typically start in one of two ways: A phone call like the example above or a pop-up on your machine.
Types of Tech Support Scams
Phone Call Tech Support Scams
Tech support scam callers pretend to be from a well-known company — like Apple, Microsoft or Norton — and they claim to have found a problem with your computer. To fix it, they either need you to send them money, provide them with personally identifiable information or provide them remote access to your machine so they can run a phony diagnostic test.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming there’s a problem with your device, hang up. Well-known tech companies do not contact a customer unless a customer initiates the conversation.
Pop-Up Tech Support Scams
If they don’t get you on the phone, tech support scammers can try and rope you in via pop-ups on your computer. These pop-ups claim you have a virus on your machine and will urge you to call a phone number to get help. You can get these pop-ups on your computer if you unknowingly download infected software or click on a suspicious link in an email.
Like with the caller example, the pop-up may look official, having taken logos from a company like Norton, and they may be accompanied by loud audio or a long list of scary-sounding infected files. The pop-up may even prompt you to download something to fix the problem, which could infect your computer with malware.
Common Warning Signs of a Tech Support Scam
In addition to the scam activity mentioned above, be on the lookout for any of these suspicious signs:
- A pop-up or blue screen that appears on your computer warning you of a virus
- The message contains bad grammar or misspellings
- A pop up that urges you to call a number to fix a problem. Legitimate security pop-ups won’t ask you to call a number
If you think there’s a problem with your computer, update your software to keep it protected from viruses. If you’re concerned about a possible virus or how your computer is functioning, take it to a retailer that offers tech support. Many software companies also offer tech support by phone or online.
What To Do If You’ve Been the Victim of A Tech Support Scam
If you have paid a scammer with your credit or debit card, call your bank or credit card company and ask if you can stop the transaction. If you used a gift card, the FTC advises contacting the gift card company and explaining what happened and ask if they can refund your money.
If you gave a scammer remote access to your computer, update the machine’s security software and delete anything it flags as suspicious. Also, change any usernames or passwords you may have shared.
Don’t forget to report the scam to the FTC regardless if you paid the scammer or not. You can report a tech support scam — or any other scam — to the FTC here.