Avast Academy Security Scams How to Identify & Prevent Tech Support Scams

How to Identify & Prevent Tech Support Scams

Ever worry about computer scams tricking you or your loved ones? Ever had someone shady contact you offering technical support? A tech support scammer tries to gain remote access to your computer by posing as an expert. We’ll show you how to identify a tech support scam and how using strong security software like Avast One can help prevent you from being hacked.

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Written by Domenic Molinaro
Published on July 15, 2021

What is a tech support scam?

Tech support scams are fraudulent activities in which scammers try to gain people’s confidence by pretending to offer technical support services. Through phone calls, pop-ups, texts, or emails, a tech support scammer tries to fool victims into paying for fake services or providing remote access to their computer.

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    What are remote access scams?

    Remote access scams are when scammers trick victims into installing remote access programs that let the scammer control the victim’s computer remotely over the internet. After gaining control through remote access, a scammer can cause fake computer problems, install malware, or steal personal and financial information.

    Giving someone remote access to your computer is dangerous. Scammers can manipulate your computer to make it appear like there’s a problem, then trick you into paying for an unnecessary fix. Remote access scammers can also install malware to cause real computer problems.

    Tech support scammers have many ways to target their victims, and they can hack people just as well as computers.

    With computer viruses and other kinds of malware, scammers and hackers can steal your identity, your passwords, and your bank account details, among other things. Giving a scammer remote access is like handing a burglar the keys to your home.

    Just like phishing attacks, remote access scams and tech support scams use social engineering to appear plausible. Scammers research their prey — often on social media — before they launch an attack. Fake pop-ups can scare you into believing your computer has a virus, fake emails can be sent to your inbox, and fake tech support numbers often look legitimate.

    No one is to blame for falling for a tech support scam. Tech support scammers have many ways to target their victims, and they can hack people just as well as computers. If you or someone you know has been a victim, report the internet scam immediately.

    How tech support scammers target their victims

    Older people are more likely to be victims of tech support scams, remote access scams, and other types of online scams. Some scammers phone victims and pretend to be from Microsoft, and they’ve also been known to use email to target unwitting victims through spear phishing attacks.

    A Microsoft scammer will usually invent a fake Microsoft tech support number or email handle, but they can also use a technique known as spoofing to cause a real Windows tech support number to show up on your caller ID.

    What the experts say

    "The use of malicious browser push notifications... (are) becoming a preferred tool for scammers across various domains, from adult content sites to technical support scams and financial fraud."

    Jakub Křoustek, Malware Research Director, Avast 2023 Threat Report

    Scammers may also pretend to be computer repair companies, which is why tech support scams are also known as computer repair scams. They’ll pose as internet security companies, internet service providers, or tech juggernauts such as Apple through Apple ID phishing scams.

    Whatever form a scam takes, the scammer’s goal is to make victims believe their computer needs to be fixed and then convince them to install unsafe remote access software. From there, scammers can cause error messages, connection problems, or other technical issues, and offer to solve the issues for a fee. Or, they can hijack all the sensitive information on your device.

    Thankfully, strong malware removal software can identify and block malicious software. Avast One features a built-in Behavior Shield to detect and prevent unusual and fraudulent applications, like those used by tech scammers, from infecting your system. Plus, get 24/7 protection against viruses and other malware.

    For more targeted protection against tech support scams, get Avast Premium Security for our special Remote Access Shield, which prevents unauthorized remote access. If a scammer ever tries to take over your computer, they’ll be blocked before they can get in.

    How to identify a tech support scam

    Unexpected phone calls, emails, or pop-ups from Microsoft and other companies are big red flags signalling a possible tech support scam. As company policy, Microsoft never sends unsolicited phone calls, emails, or online messages.

    If a caller is claiming to be from Microsoft, but you don't remember contacting them, it's probably a scam. If a pop-up or email asks you to call a tech support number, it's probably a scam. If you get a weird feeling in your gut, it's probably a scam.

    Tech support scams scare you into thinking there's a problem with your computer, often by showing you fake malware warnings.Tech support scammers can use fake malware warnings to scare you into giving them remote access to your computer.

    Tech support scams often originate from India. An email may ask you to contact a secure helpline that’s actually the unsecured line of an Indian tech support scammer. A pop-up may make you believe your computer has crashed and prompt you to call tech support. Googling known Indian scammer numbers can help, but it's safer to simply never call unknown numbers.

    Download software only from trustworthy sources, and avoid suspicious websites. Also remember that true tech support will never ask you to pay in gift cards, via bank transfer, or with cryptocurrency.

    Example 1: Telephone-based scams

    Telephone scammers research vulnerable targets and call them using cheap robocalling services. Typical victims include less tech-savvy elderly people, or children engaging in risky online behavior. If you’re worried about a loved one’s browsing habits, you can set up a VPN to keep them off a scammer’s radar. Check out our dedicated guide to learn more about VPNs (virtual private networks).

    A telephone scammer poses as an expert and claims to detect and then fix your computer “problems.” They may pretend to report to their boss or switch to a different department to seem authentic. After the “repair,” they demand payment through gift cards, money transfers, or cryptocurrency, since these forms of payment are difficult to reverse.

    Here’s how a telephone support scam works: You’re sitting at home and get a phone call supposedly from the Windows tech support center. They say your computer has an urgent problem that needs to be fixed immediately.

    Before you have time to think, you’re headed to a website that confirms what the scammer is saying through pop-ups or bogus computer scans. Now the scammer needs remote access to your computer to fix it, and you agree. Just like that, Windows phone scams claim another victim.

    Example 2: Online scams

    Since many people are wary of strange phone calls, tech support scammers often prey on their victims online. Pop-ups can send you to fake tech support websites, while fake emails can do the same with malicious links or attachments that send you “alerts.” Fake tech support alerts can lock up your PC or keyboard and have you scrambling to get help.

    Imagine you're surfing the web without a tool that blocks malware or scans for dangerous websites. You reach a website that freezes your screen or floods you with scary pop-ups. Among these is a very official-looking pop-up with the Microsoft logo and a tech support number — but calling the number connects you with a scammer instead.

    Tech support scams often start by showing you fake warnings that direct you to call a fake tech support desk. Tech support scams often use fake pop-up warnings that urge you to call fraudulent helplines.

    How to protect against tech support and remote access scams

    Boost your internet-scam smarts with dependable security software that can keep you safe and hidden from predators. You can also set up a firewall to build a security fence between your device and your network.

    Using one of the best ad blockers in your browser will keep scammer pop-ups at bay. Pop-ups can install malware that scans your computer for valuable info such as login credentials or passwords. That’s why it’s important to keep your accounts safe with strong and unique passwords, and then manage them with one of the best password managers out there.

    Sometimes a scammer won’t even bother trying to extort you with fake threats. Instead, they’ll install ransomware that takes your computer hostage until you pay up. Get strong antivirus software to keep greedy scammer hands out of your pockets.

    Defend against scammers with Avast One

    For ironclad protection against tech support scams, get Avast One to prevent viruses, spyware, and other threats from infecting your computer.

    If a scammer infects you with malware, Avast One will quarantine it right away. If a pop-up tries to set up a scammer’s shop on your machine, Avast will blast it to smithereens. And if a scammer tries to charge into your computer with a shady app, it will bounce straight off the Behavior Shield.

    The best way to battle fake tech support is with real cybersecurity. Download Avast One today and leave scammers shaking in their boots.

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    Domenic Molinaro