Tech Support Scam

A common “tech support” internet scam is on the rise, and educating yourself may be the best defense against it.

Say you’re browsing the internet. Suddenly, you get an unexpected pop-up, call, or other urgent message about a problem or virus on your computer. The urgent message or suspicious website also locks up your browser so you can’t leave the webpage.

Pause for a moment. Remember you’re still in control. No one has stolen your information yet. These attackers sometimes claim to be “tech support” from well-known companies like Microsoft or Apple, but they are trying to steal your information, infect your computer, or take your money.

Most frequently, these scams begin when you visit a malicious website whose code locks up your web browser. A popup then appears that says you have a virus, please call Microsoft at this number: ###-###-####. If you were to call the number, the people on the other end may ask to connect to your computer. They may call it screen sharing, remote access, or remote control. Or they may ask you to follow their instructions to send them information or make changes to your software. Eventually, they’ll diagnose a non-existent problem, find a “fix,” and ask you to pay for unnecessary, even harmful, software services.

So how do you beat these scammers? Don’t click any links, call unknown numbers, or give people from the website or popup remote control of your computer.

The important thing to know is that you can close these popups and exit the webpage without ever calling the number listed on your screen. First, click the Back button (arrow pointing left) several times quickly. If that doesn’t work, try to close the browser with the X button in the corner.

Stick stuck? Windows Task Manager allows you to override these popups and webpages with minimal risk.

To access Task Manager press the keys Ctrl+Alt+Delete simultaneously. (Mac users, press Command+Option+Esc keys simultaneously to access the Force Quit Applications dialog.)

This opens a new screen where you can choose to open Task Manager or shutdown and restart your computer. Opening Task Manager will allow you to select the program(s) you wish to force closed. From the list of currently running programs, select those you suspect are connected to the popup attack and click end task. This should cripple the attackers’ efforts.

If you frequently encounter these “tech support alert” popups, asking you to call a support number to fix your device, it may be a sign that you have a potentially unwanted program installed on your computer. Close all open programs and run a virus and/or malware scan on your computer.

If you are concerned that your computer or personal information may have been compromised, contact a tech support or virus defense agency that you trust.

For further reading, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s webpage on Tech Support Scams.

Seth Mueller is a tech writer, blogger, and creative consultant, who is passionate about technology and learning. He specializes in creating user-friendly guides to explore technical concepts and processes. When he is not writing, he enjoys experimenting with new recipes, collecting fossils, and teaching Latin dance.