While tech support scams can seem legitimate, they can rob you blind if you don’t know the red flags to look for.
With the latest waves of cyber attacks taking place across the world, it is important to note that Microsoft tech support scams are much more common and can rob you of your identity, money, and personal information if you don’t know what to look for. Unlike the recent WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks happening worldwide, these tech support scams are less obvious that they are scams for people unfamiliar with how real tech support works for Microsoft and other companies.
These tech support scams can come by phone, email, or screen pop-ups that can lock up your computer. It should be noted that Microsoft does not contact people out of the blue about technical issues, nor are they constantly monitoring computers constantly for problems. You must first contact their legitimate tech support number to begin a dialogue with a real Microsoft support rep. However, scammers tend to target older people because they are perceived to be less knowledgeable about technology and computers in general and thereby are more likely to fall for the deception.
While the delivery methods can vary, each inevitably asks for the same things: access to your computer or your personal information that you provide to them voluntarily. Here is the setup of each method:
Tech Support Scam by Phone
This form of the tech support scams is the most common as it allows the scammers to use direct verbal scare tactics on the intended victim by using multiple steps and your computer system against you in the hopes that you get confused do not understand what is happening. The scammers will call you directly by phone claiming to be a representative of Microsoft that has detected malicious software on your computer, and that they will lead you through the process of removing it.
Over the phone, the scammer will ask you to go through different settings, and task managing windows make it appear as if anything you find is very hazardous. They will then ask you to either download their fake antivirus software or give them remote access to your computer to try and obtain your personal and financial information. Alternatively, they may also direct you to a false landing page in which they will ask you to fill in your credit or debit card information to be “paid for their services.”
Tech Support Scam by Email
Email scams start by sending you a seemingly credible yet deceitful email to your inbox claiming to be from Microsoft. The subject line may have an alarming message within it, saying things like the following:
- Warning! Your system is infected! Contact us immediately!
- Microsoft Team: Your computer may be at risk!
- [###] threats found on your computer! Contact us to fix ASAP!
The point of these subject lines is to create a false sense of urgency and panic among people who are unfamiliar with how cyber threats are detected and dealt with. In reality, there is no threat to your machine, but the tech support scammers want you to think there is to draw you in.
If you open the email, one of two things may happen: you’ll either be directed straight to a false landing page or just be given email text claiming to the Microsoft support team (even using Microsoft imagery branding). The message will inform you that your computer is infected by malicious software and that you do one or all of the following:
- Contact them immediately to get the issue resolved via a fake support number to call
- Download 3rd-party “antivirus software” to remove the non-existent threats to your computer, but in reality is a program designed to make it appear as if they are removing harmful malware while installing viruses in secret; if you download a 3rd-party program, it will give the tech support scammers access to your machine to search for personal and financial information
- Download a screen sharing program in which the scammers can take control of your computer and access your files; they can also delete your files if they want to further harm you (the importance of backing up your files cannot be understated)
Tech Support Scam by Screen Pop-Up
Similar to the email scam, a screen pop up can ask you do do all of the same actions, i.e. contact the scammer by phone or download software from a malicious web page. The difference in approach for pop-ups is that they may do one or all of these things:
- The pop-up window will still allow you to use most of your computer systems but will keep popping back up if your exit out of the window until you perform the action described in the window (contact the scammers or click on their link)
- The pop-up window will lock your computer and claim that your computer has been “infected” and needs these tech support scammers to fix it for you
In all these scenarios, the tech support scams will inevitably ask you to either pay them for their “services” or ask for direct access to your computer. Microsoft maintains this stance on its outreach for technical support:
“Remember, 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.”
Red Flags to Look For
Whether you are a computer whiz or a novice, there are some definite signs that you are being targeted by tech support scammers:
- They are contacting you first without any prior action by you to Microsoft
- They are asking you to enter your financial information into a separate landing page
- They are telling you that you must purchase software from them or pay them for their services
- They are asking for direct access to your computer
- They are trying to direct you to an unverified website
If you are contacted by anyone claiming to be from Microsoft that wants to “help you remove malicious software,” hang up. If you do not hang up at first, DO NOT do any of the following:
- Give them access to your computer
- Purchase anything from them from any source
- Provide any personal or financial information
If you are ever the victim of one of these tech support scams, contact Microsoft to pass on the data to local authorities so they can strengthen their ability to fight the mass fraud prevalent in many countries around the world. Contact My Choice Software for more tips on avoiding tech support scams.