What Are Tech Support Scams? Guide For Non-Techies

While surfing the internet, you might encounter alerts from Windows Defender or Apple Support claiming your device is compromised or has issues.

You should stay calm, as these alerts are usually a scam. Such situations often arise when visiting infected or ad-heavy websites that display unauthorized ads unrelated to legitimate platforms.

In these alerts, one consistent element is the display of a phone number on the screen. This number is meant to provide “help” for the issue. When you call, the person on the other end will claim to be a support team member guiding you through the problem.

What are tech support scams?

These are called tech support scams, targeting less tech-savvy users for profit. They create webpages mirroring the genuine Windows or Apple interface using multiple javascript elements.

Tech Support Scam Webpage Image
Example of a tech support scam

This creates a deceptive moving interface, making users believe they’ve left the browser. However, it’s just a copycat display. This fake webpage loads in full screen once it has fully loaded, hiding the browser’s top bar and enhancing the illusion.

They make money by urging users to dial a displayed number, creating a false sense of legitimate support. Yet, in these scams, this is never the reality.

Users are coerced into fulfilling the support’s demands, often involving payment to “fix” a device that wasn’t broken to begin with.

How does a tech support scam work?

Over time, these scams have continued, as scammers replicate device interfaces with remarkable precision. They often use cloud services like Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure, or their own domains to host fake pages.

These scams are promoted through misleading ads on sites like torrenting and streaming platforms, which resort to unaccepted ads for revenue.

Legitimate platforms avoid accepting these sites due to their nature. In some cases, infected sites with vulnerabilities are used, allowing cybercriminals to display fake tech support pages to their visitors.

Once unsuspecting users get redirected to the tech support scam, these pages go full screen, obscuring the browser’s identity. This misleads users into thinking it’s not a browser page, prompting calls to the scammers behind the operation.

Users are coerced to call the number in these tech support scams, preying on their panic after encountering an infected device alert. The scammers exploit this fear, often triggered by visiting the scam webpage.

When users dial the provided number, the scammers request various actions, including payment before resolving the issue. In some cases, users are asked to install a remote administration tool, granting scammers unauthorized access to their devices under the guise of fixing it.

However, scammers frequently misuse this access, attempting to steal valuable accounts and data. Additionally, they commonly introduce malware, allowing them to secretly gather information and monitor user behavior.

Legitimate vs fake support

The tech support scam leads to a seemingly authentic system warning, but remember, it’s all a façade. Your device won’t be infected unless you engage with fake support.

Legitimate tech support doesn’t use scary pop-ups; they’re reachable only through official channels like Microsoft’s website. In addition to that, official support won’t display a phone number in such warnings.

Differentiating genuine tech support from fake ones can be both simple and challenging, depending on your tech expertise. Key focus areas include where warnings appear – system notifications are real; browser warning pop-ups signal scams, especially if different types of errors and messages pop up from the notifications tab.

Authentic Microsoft alerts don’t emerge from browsers and won’t induce panic with threatening messages. We also suggest users verify the provided phone number – search if it’s truly linked to the official company support. If not, it’s likely a scam.

If you do decide to call tech support, watch out for several noticeable red flags right from the start. Legitimate support speaks confidently and displays expertise in troubleshooting.

They’ll engage in meaningful technology discussions. In contrast, fake support often focuses on tricking you to do as they say and creates fear about fixing your computer. They might use poor language and grammar and when asked about technology, they’ll consistently evade the topic.

A common tactic used by fake tech support is inducing panic by falsely claiming they’ve analyzed your computer, highlighting multiple hackers accessing it. In truth, it’s often just one individual from the scam operation attempting this, and guess who that might be?

How to protect yourself against these scams

These scams appear frightening due to their design, although they’re merely web pages. However, not everyone perceives them this way. Victims often lack tech knowledge, including basic phone settings.

Hence, for the ordinary individual, guarding against these scams is crucial. Tech-savvy individuals are less susceptible, which is why scammers target those less knowledgeable in technology.

Use an antivirus program

Using antivirus software is vital today, even if Windows Defender and Mac system software effectively block much malware, not all threats are covered with the built-in systems.

Windows Defender is a robust tool, however, its developer’s focus isn’t solely on antivirus and cybersecurity as a whole. Dedicated malware-detecting software is crucial in the case of serious malware attacks that can be brought on by tech support scams.

Some claim Windows Defender and common sense suffice to protect users from malware, but it is important to note that not everyone is tech-savvy. Each user has vital accounts needing protection, regardless of expertise.

Numerous antivirus programs are available, allowing you to choose what suits you. Some excel at scanning, utilizing less hardware, or efficiently removing malware. Do your own research to find the right fit for your daily computer needs.

Determining the best antivirus is complex due to varying user needs and ongoing debates. We’re not taking sides; your choice matters most based on your specific computer usage.

Implement two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) enhances login security by requiring extra verification steps.

As we have mentioned in a blog post regarding two-factor authentication, imagine it like entering a bar: one bouncer lets you in, then another inside asks for more before access. With 2FA, even if someone has your login details, they can’t get in without added verification.

2FA is crucial for all of your accounts, safeguarding your identity and blocking unauthorized access. It’s not just for initial logins; apps use it for confirming actions too. When logging into new devices, two-factor authentication is very common and verification of ownership will always be prompted.

Another usage of two-factor authentication, although not universally used by all companies, 2FA is common in workplaces, especially for remote staff needing secure system access. It’s also used in online shopping, where an OTP on your phone is required.

This ensures that tech support scammers cannot access important data without going through a verification process. In order to enable 2FA, go to Settings on the platform or site you’re using.

Change your account passwords

If a tech support scammer gains remote access to your device, they might have installed malware and tried to access accounts that are logged into the device. Changing passwords immediately is very important in this case and we believe it is a must.

Just enabling 2FA isn’t sufficient. Shared passwords across platforms can lead to more risks. Scammers exploit these to hack multiple accounts. Using different passwords is key to preventing a security chain reaction if one password is compromised.

After the tech support incident, ensure you change all your account passwords. Use distinct passwords that are memorable but not easily cracked.

Avoid using predictable patterns like your name and birthday. Incorporate special characters like exclamation and question marks.

Consider using complex combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols, even hash-generated ones. Save these in a designated notes section to avoid forgetting if you decided to do so.

Report the scam

Reporting the scam to relevant authorities and web hosting services (like Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS) is crucial. This prevents others from falling victim to the same tech support webpage scams.

Doing so doesn’t just inform authorities; it helps protect others. Once a scam is reported, authorities investigate and block it, sparing others from the same experience.

Reporting all online scams, including tech support scams, is important. Taking these small steps can lead to significant savings and prevent potential scams from spreading and ruining the lives of others.

To report a scam, you can opt to visit our website’s report a scam page. There, you’ll find a list of relevant authorities to report to. Include thorough details to facilitate the reporting process for these authorities.

Bottom Line

We hope you won’t be deceived by these false alerts in the near future. This scam exploits panic psychology, urging quick action and calls to a number for help, when the outcome is actually the opposite.

Remember the warning signs and safety measures. Learning these can lead to potential savings from scams. Stay vigilant, as the digital world holds both good and bad surprises. Stay safe and prepared.

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