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fake tech support scamsYou’re sitting at home, minding your own business. Suddenly, the phone rings. You pick up, and it’s Microsoft (or Norton, or Dell, or …). Specifically, it’s a support engineer, and he’s concerned – concerned for your well-being, and for your computer’s health. You see, his company’s servers have detected your computer has fallen prey to a dangerous virus that’s been making the rounds. Untreated, this virus will steal all of your personal data, credit cart numbers and all, and will then proceed to spread to your loved ones and other contacts, wreaking havoc on their lives.

Oh, and it will also ruin your computer. If you’re reluctant to believe, the technician can easily prove it. He shows you how to open your Windows Event Viewer. Those errors you see there? That’s the virus right there; conclusive evidence. Fortunately, the technician is here to help. If you could just let him assume remote control over your computer for a few minutes, they would make all of this go away….for a modest fee, of course.

If this were to happen to you, you’d probably laugh and hang up, realizing you’re being conned. In fact, this is exactly what happened to our own Tim, who related his experience Cold Calling Computer Technicians: Don't Fall for a Scam Like This [Scam Alert!] Cold Calling Computer Technicians: Don't Fall for a Scam Like This [Scam Alert!] You've probably heard the term "don't scam a scammer" but I've always been fond of "don't scam a tech writer" myself. I'm not saying we're infallible, but if your scam involves the Internet, a Windows... Read More in detail. That was in September of last year — so, more than a year ago. But according to recent news, these scammers are still very much active.

This Post Isn’t For You

fake tech support scams

It’s for them – your friends, your parents, your other family members who might fall for something like this, because these “technicians” can be very convincing, and because there are always some errors in the Window Event Viewer. The rest of the story goes like this – the “technician” does assume remote control over your computer, and doesn’t really do anything major (if you’re lucky). He just moves the mouse around, opening and closing windows, typing important-looking (yet meaningless) commands into console windows. Because, of course, your computer isn’t infected with anything at all, and he’s not even from Microsoft, Norton, or Symantec. He then charges you anywhere from $49 to $450 for his “services”, and moves on to the next sucker.

The FTC recently cracked down on tech support scams just like this. They got a court order against six scams, but that doesn’t mean they were just six of them in existence. It is well worth knowing about these, and letting your friends and family know as well, before they get a concerned call.

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The take-home message: Microsoft, Symantec, or any other company will never proactively call you about anything remotely like this, much less ask to take control over your computer. Don’t fall for it.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only way such “fake support” scams find victims – there’s one more way you should know about.

The Google Way

fake tech support scams

When you think about it, from a scammer’s point of view, cold-calling people like this can be pretty time-consuming. What if they have a Mac, or if they only have a tablet? What if they’re not home? Fortunately (for the scammers, that is), there’s a much more efficient way to siphon your money away and focus on lucrative clients – they already think they have a virus, making them ideal candidates for your “services”. And not only that, but you can use the most powerful ad system on earth to track them down – Google Adwords is at your service.

This version of the fake tech support scam works like this – the hapless users search for something like “Sophos Tech Support” and get prominent links leading to official-looking support pages. The links may be ads (as the FTC says), or they may just be the result of gaming Google to obtain higher search rankings, which is possible for short periods of time (and focused terms like this). The support page directs users to call a number for help. Now the scammer just has to sit by the phone, waiting for the calls to come in. When you call asking for help, they will gladly “help” you, for $300 or so. This is brilliant for the scammers, because people tend to trust Google search results, and because it saves a lot of cold-calling.

The take-home message: If you see an “official” link for a support center that isn’t actually on the exact website for the company you need (i.e, “norton.com”, not “nor-ton.com”), don’t call any number on that page, and don’t follow instructions, either. Keep searching for more reliable advice online, or go directly to your antivirus vendor’s site and search there.

Share This Message

I don’t usually sign off with a request to share the post, but this one time I think it could save some heartache (and money). If you’ve got family or friends you think should know about this, just show them the post, or take a few moment to talk to them and explain the concept. Good luck, and stay safe online!

Image credits: Fun Germ image via ShutterStock, Call Center portrait via ShutterStock, Search Toolbar image via ShutterStock

  1. harley
    March 8, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    I don't trust anyone over the phone, there are so many crooks out there.

  2. tuxedo
    December 1, 2012 at 1:56 am

    Thanks its open source and linux. free of virus and scam.

  3. Michael Meredith
    November 28, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Even the scammers make mistakes, they phoned my 85 year old mother in-law to "solve" her computer problems, she is almost completely deaf so wasted a lot of their time while they tried to explain what they wanted to do. Only to find out that she does not have a computer.

  4. Jim Spencer
    November 27, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Good article! It is hard to believe, that in today's savvy business world, and with so much out there in the public domain, that some people will still fall for the con artist!

  5. Abba Jee
    November 27, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    thanks for sharing such an important information with us :)
    I liked the way you wrote this article

  6. Ayan Panja
    November 27, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. Till now i have not got such phone call, now I shall be alert. Thanks.

  7. Allan Hansen
    November 27, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I do not see the Facbeook share button!!??

  8. stephenes junior
    November 27, 2012 at 10:25 am

    i want to protect ma email adress

  9. Robin
    November 27, 2012 at 12:09 am

    Yep, my sister got one of these calls a while back. She let them rabbit on for a bit then told them how interesting it was that they should have found a virus on her computer - because she didn't have one! I hang up straight away on these sorts of calls without engaging in any conversation. And, personally, I don't entertain any unsolicited calls from people wanting to use my phone and time for their advertising purposes. When I want something, I'll do my own research.

  10. Christine
    November 26, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I had a similar thing happen but in a more nefarious way - I had called Netgear's tech support and the phone tree had been hacked such that I thought I was in their tech support group, but that turned out not to be the case. They tried to sell me a support contract; they did give me a separate company name but told me that they were subcontracted to Netgear. I did not opt for their contract but immediately afterwards I Googled their company name and pulled up many scam stories. I then tried to get through to the real Netgear support; when I did, they told me that it sometimes happens that calls within their phone tree got hijacked.

    • Erez Zukerman
      November 27, 2012 at 5:59 pm

      Wow, that's the craziest story! So you call a company's official support line and get routed through to a scammer? Shocking, and even more shocking is that they know about it and don't fix it!

  11. Canadian WebDog
    November 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Yeah, I get these call every month and every time I have a good laugh at them… since I run linux. "Hello Sir, we are calling about your Microsoft windows installation" I should one day push it, since I did get new windows installed… in my house… lol

  12. Anonymous
    November 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    great info

  13. Paul Hays
    November 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    OMG. How many times have I been called out to a friend's or client's locale to follow up on this kind of scam! Thank you for writing this article. I'll be sharing it.

  14. Mart
    November 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Been on the receiving end of this one myself a few months ago - the whole thing had my nose twitching right from square one, so I just happened to mention that I worked in tech support. The scammer couldn't hang up quick enough, :D

  15. Austen Gause
    November 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I remember when this happened to my dad when this happened to him i remember him watching as the guy took control over his pc and stole everything it was sad and just goes to show that this happens a lot.

  16. Rajaa Chowdhury
    November 26, 2012 at 3:37 am

    Thank GOD, this kind of IT scam calling has not yet started in India, though we are pestered with other types of scam calling, SMSes, etc.

    • alex
      April 29, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Ironically, every one of these 'Rogue' operators I've come across have been Indian. Funny they don't bother their own country. Probably want some distance between the scammer & scamee, along with law enforcement.

  17. vamshi krishna
    November 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks for warning...

  18. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    November 25, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I've known someone who downloaded a rogueware to solve her virus problems, which of course happily beeping to tell her she's got all sorts of virus in her computer. She freaked out, asking others to remove the viruses. If it isn't enough, remember that we also have to get the rogueware off her computer in addition of actual virus. Not pretty.
    The bottom line is while we like to solve our own problems and will try a google search or two to find 'solutions', don't ever promote this way to non-tech savvy people because most of them can't distinguish between real help and con.

  19. Andrew
    November 24, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    I get 3 or 4 of these bloody calls a week. After I start yelling at them, they hang up.

    • dragonmouth
      November 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      I would suggest that Andrew and all those that receive such offers of "help" examine their computer habits. What are you doing that may indicate to the scammers that you are a potential victim??? Are you one of those that is constantly connected to social networks? Do you constantly send and receive messages on your smart phone? Are you naive enough to believe that you do all that in perfect secrecy? If your answer to any of those questions is "Yes" then wonder no more where the scammers get your name.

    • Wade Marsden
      November 26, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      As a Mac user and not a frequent social site user, I have received a number of these calls. I managed to keep them online for ages, with inane questions, and the pretence of not understanding what it was they wanted me to do. At least it gave me a laugh, whilst preventing them calling people who are not as savvy as Make Use of readers. When they find out they are very annoyed and hang up on me for some reason......

    • John Wilson
      March 5, 2013 at 12:21 am

      It might be something like what you suggest but it's far more likely that they're cold calling using data sold to them of published telephone numbers. Y'know, the good old white pages. It's something legit telemarketers do all the time as do political parties and polling firms. Unless you have an unlisted number the scammer only needs to grab numbers and start calling. Which explains, by the way, why people with no computers get the calls as do companies of all sizes whose computer networks aren't attached to the pubic switched network.
      While it may be that some people are leaving trails a blind horse could follow these scammers don't really need to do that much work. Just go buy the published telephone numbers in an area and you're done.

    • dragonmouth
      March 5, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Are you saying that the scammers finally got to Andrew's name part of the phone book? /grin/ It is probably a combination of all the factors.

      Interestingly, ever since I started posting on MUO, the volume of my spam email has risen. Where I would get one or two e-mails a week, now I get one or two a day.

    • dragonmouth
      March 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      John,
      I can only offer anecdotal evidence of one individual. I have not joined any of the social networks. The closest thing is GMail. I do not have a cell phone. I run Linux, not Windows. My land line is listed in the white pages. I have yet to receive a solicitation to help me solve my "virus" problem. It may be pure, dumb luck. The scammers may not have gotten to my name yet but I do run an ad blocker and do not open every email that comes to me. I don't click on ads indiscriminately. In other words, I try to take precautions.

  20. Anon
    November 24, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I wouldn't have fallen for this when I used Windows because I'm a rather "savvy" user. I'm on Linux now anyway, so I'd just get a good laugh out of them calling. But it is important to educate certain segments about this. You'd be surprised the number of people who'd fall for something like this, especially amongst the elderly and the otherwise computer illiterate (which is a shockingly large number of computer users).

  21. Bob
    November 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    These scammers tried to get my 84 year old father and rang repeatedly, several times a week until I was staying with him. This is despite my father telling them he wasn't interested and one of his sons would be able to sort anything out.

    When my father told me about this I first of all checked his computer for peace of mind and the next time they called I picked up the phone and was extremely blunt with them! As far as I know they got the message and haven't called since.

    Incidentally my father tried to trace the call but it wasn't possible. Fortunately his ignorance of computers and my bluntness seems to have stopped the problem but I wonder about those older people who are not so sure about what is happening but think they should do something as their machine may be infected/ have a problem.

  22. Adam Campbell
    November 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    great article, thanks for sharing. I guess I will never understand why people would intentionally destroy someone else's stuff.

  23. 3616833
    November 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    I've been getting these calls for years from a group in India, I love them they obviously have no idea what there talking about and they read everything from a script, the best thing to do is go along with it until they ask to remote in to your pc, at this point you ask them to prove their credentials (ask for a id number or what office there calling from) they then get really grouchy and say they will speak to their manager I've had them swear and shout at me before and even directed them to a webpage explaining their own scam. just think that if you spend 10 minutes making a fool of them then that is 10 minutes less that they can con someone less knowledgeable that you.

  24. john swiman
    November 24, 2012 at 11:11 am

    You will find this also happening on Skype where you get a incoming call from support services (Skype). Do not answer it. It is a scam.

    Since Skype is now part of Microsoft and will soon replace their instant messenger people should be very aware of this.

    I have attempted to contact Skype about this in the past.

  25. Kieran Colfer
    November 24, 2012 at 7:02 am

    I finally managed to train my mother into how to answer these - anyone but me tells her there's something wrong with the computer, her reply is "thanks very much for letting me know, I'll get my son the IT engineer to sort it out for me so" :-) Likewise with pop-ups/emails, her first reaction is now take a pic with her phone camera and send it on to me before she clicks anything......

    • Terafall
      November 24, 2012 at 7:40 am

      That is a good method.I'll need to teach my mother to do that

  26. Zhong Jiang
    November 24, 2012 at 4:02 am

    If I have an issue and require support, I would have done the proper research and methods to solve it. Contacting or calling a support company should be the last resort if people cannot find the solution capable of resolving their problems. There are many additional resources available online for lost users who are unable to solve it on their own.

  27. Efi Dreyshner
    November 24, 2012 at 2:37 am

    Thanks for warning!
    Haven't seen this yet, but I will keep my eyes open ;)

  28. Márcio Guerra
    November 24, 2012 at 1:17 am

    Luckily for me, or not, that I know, there are no such kind of services here in Portugal... Anyway, nice article!

    Cheers!

  29. kybaig
    November 24, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Thanks for sharing this, a lot of people have been scammed this way.
    Think of your computer as your own house, you wouldn't let anyone nose around your house claiming they are looking for "bugs" now will you? Same goes for your computer. You could lose confidential data like credit card information or account details or just have your system messed up by these people.
    They may even fool some people into "buying" software that is already available on the internet for free.

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