Technical support scams work by tricking a victim into believing they have a serious problem with their computer that needs fixing, such as a virus. The scammer then provides instructions to the victim on the promise that this will fix the problem, when in fact the scammer is actually just tricking the victim into installing malware onto their device.
Technical support scams are on the rise as cyber crooks exploit people’s lack of technical know-how to their own advantage. Technical support scams are typically initiated in two different ways.
Unsolicited phone calls
The victim will receive an unexpected phone call from someone identifying themselves as a technical support agent. They may claim they are representing a well-known brand such as Microsoft, Apple or an antivirus company. However these are scammers, and will claim they are contacting the victim because they have a virus on their device.
Alternatively a victim may be presented with a pop-up advising them their device is infected with a virus and to call a number on the screen to remove it. The pop-up will typically appear when the victim is surfing the Internet.
In either of the above cases, when on the phone, the crook will pretend to be a technical support agent and will provide instructions that they claim will help the victim remove malware, but in reality the crook is tricking the victim into infecting their computer with malware.
The crooks may charge the victim to do this, or they make money from the malware itself. For example, if the malware steals financial data from the victim’s device. Or the crooks could do both.
The crux of this scam is to make the victim believe there is a problem with their computer and that they need technical support to fix it. However there exists no such problem, and the victim doesn’t really need technical support help. However the crooks rely on the victim not realising this.
Many crooks have a variety of social engineering tricks to convince victims that they have a virus. Some crooks may instruct a victim to do several tasks on their computer that they claim will show evidence of malware being present, when it actually shows entirely normal files.
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How to avoid Technical Support scams
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from technical support or from Microsoft telling you that you’ve got a virus, hang up the phone. No companies or entities will contact you out of the blue to tell you this, so if you do receive such a call, you know it will be a scam. This is especially true if the person over the phone wants you to download software or wants you to perform certain tasks on your computer.
The same applies to unexpected pop-ups when you’re surfing the Internet telling you that you have a virus and to call a phone number (or download software.)
The best course of action is to install a reliable security software program that you trust, whether it’s a free or a premium program, and to use that to determine if you’re infected with malware. You can use that program to run regular virus scans to look for any malware that may be lurking. Our recommended security software is here.