Tech Support Scams to Watch Out For

Technical Support Scams to Watch Out For (and How to Spot Them)

Technology has helped the world in many ways, but there’s no denying that there’s a dark side to it. For instance, phones, computers, and the internet can be exploited by fraudsters to deceive unsuspecting users into giving up personal information, and to some extent, their properties too.

Tech Support Scams to Watch Out For

Technical support scams do just that—they fool the unaware into thinking that there’s something wrong with their system and equipment, make them contact an unknown number, and steal personal information as victims are unknowingly being tricked. There are also instances wherein the scammers are the ones who call the user.

 

Tech Support Scams in Numbers

These types of cons are nothing new, but admittedly a lot of people still fall for it, especially since criminals keep finding new ways to conduct their fraudulent activities. A 2016 survey sponsored by Microsoft found that 2 in 3 people have experienced a type of tech support scam within the past 12 months; 1 in 10 have lost money.

In 2017, Microsoft’s Customer Support Services received 153,000 reports of such scams from 183 countries, with a 24% rise from the previous year. Approximately 15% of those who reported lost an average of $200 and $400.

Virtually anyone who owns a connected device is vulnerable—even though Microsoft is often namedropped by tech support scammers (with the company receiving 12,000 complaints every month globally), having a device other than Windows cannot protect a person either, as these deceptive acts can also fool those who use MacOS, iOS, Android, and other operating systems.

In terms of age, scams reported to Microsoft tend to be from older customers. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found evidence that the elderly are more impacted by fraud as compared to the younger generations. However, it was also found that millennials (ages 18–34) are more likely to continue with a fraudulent tech offer compared to other age groups.

The underlying cause, though, is that many people are fooled into thinking that they are working with a legitimate business, whether that user is old or not.

 

The Fallout

As mentioned, tech support scams are designed to trick users into believing that their devices are compromised. The frauds will then coerce the user into purchasing unnecessary support services. In some instances, they will request access to the user’s device by getting sensitive information or making them install dubious apps that can remotely retrieve the details they need.

In December 2014, when tech support scams hit mainstream media, Microsoft sued several companies for unfair and deceptive business practices and trademark infringement. Later in 2015, the FTC announced the shutdown of several tech support scammers that pretended to be associated with Apple, Microsoft, and Google, and stole a combined $17 million from consumers.

In another case, the FTC had to give out partial refunds to around 37,000 victims of a fraudulent tech support company named Inbound Call Experts. This is after the company tricked consumers into buying unnecessary products and services by pretending that there is something wrong with their computers, all of which happened from April 2012 to November 2014.

No matter how big a business is, taking a legal action remains to be an arduous process. In this instance, Microsoft had to deal with the consequence of additional costs to fix issues that the company didn’t intend to put themselves into.

Despite Microsoft proving their innocence, there’s no denying that negative news like fraud can have a lasting impact on consumers. Those who don’t know better would likely continue to associate Microsoft with the fraudsters.

 

Spotting the Sham

The best way to avoid falling into shady acts is knowing what constitutes a tech support scam.

 

  1. Unsolicited Calls

This outdated yet effective sham is done through cold calls. The fraudster who claims to be from a reputable company will call the target and say that the company found something wrong on the computer.

Microsoft and other companies often employ outsourced tech support, but no tech company will ever reach out to the consumer, even if it’s in the name of public service. Microsoft’s security bulletin reads, "Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support. Any communication we have with you must be initiated by you." That means users will only receive a call if they request it.

In addition, caller IDs can be manipulated to show only the company name, but not the number, so it’s not reliable either. Hang up if this ever happens, and never give any personal information.

 

  1. Phishing Emails

It’s easy to fall for a phishing email because it does look like a message from a legitimate source. But once the target clicks and visits a malicious link included for a fake site that the scammers control, they will then be fooled into filling out a form with their sensitive information like email password, credit card details, bank account number, etc.

Again, the best way to avoid this practice is to ignore it (and delete the email, too) and never reply. Don't click any of the links on it, either. Remember to change passwords regularly as well.

 

  1. Sketchy Advertising or Pop-ups

Pop-ups appear when users are browsing the Internet and visit a website that contains suspicious links that, when clicked, will redirect them to a site hosting the pop-ups. These pop-ups can get so intrusive that it can become difficult for the user to close them as they appear.

Often, these pop-ups will contain a message stating that the computer is infected or that it will be locked down, blocking internet access, or making it unusable. The message will usually be accompanied by a phone number which the user can contact to fix the problems, or so it claims.

First off, you should know that legitimate IT support groups will not use pop-up messages to alert you of issues, so it’s best to ignore these messages. Aside from that, scrutinize the message and look for poor spelling or grammar and lousy imagery, which would usually imply fraud. A quick Google search can also support the legitimacy of the contact details included.

 

  1. Confusing Search Results

Interestingly enough, fraudulent companies also have budgets to use legitimate paid search channels to advertise their fake support services. To be on the safe side, study the website chosen before retaining a company’s services and always keep an eye out for trust signals.

 

In Conclusion

As long as technology continues to advance, so will the swindlers who continue to take advantage of users, especially those who aren’t well-versed in the technological aspect. The responsibility remains with users and consumers, as they need to stay vigilant in this thriving yet perilous age of information security. Tech companies, meanwhile, should do their part and ensure better protection for their clients.