Have you received an email or phone call telling you that your computer is infected with malware? It sounds scary, like there’s a serious problem with your computer. And the caller offers to fix the problem for you, if only you’ll pay the fee for their tech support.
This is an increasingly common type of scam which targets people who are worried about losing access to their computer due to a virus. Unscrupulous scammers will make up problems with your computer and take your money for a fix you don’t need.
We’ll show you how to spot and avoid these fake tech support scams.
How Tech Support Scammers Contact You
There are a variety of ways that tech support scammers will try to convince you that your computer is infected with malware. Often you will receive a phone call or an email from someone who claims to be a representative of Microsoft. They’ll tell you that they have identified a threat on your computer, or that they have detected suspicious activity on your account.
Sometimes they will say that your computer has a virus or has malware. Other times they’ll say that someone is trying to hack or access your computer without your permission. Or they might say that your computer is in need of optimization or updating.
They’ll then tell you that you need to get this problem fixed or that your computer will stop working. Sometimes they’ll say that if you don’t fix the problem you will lose all your files like your photos or your music.
An alternative version of the scam uses popups on websites. When you visit a dodgy site, a popup will appear like the one above saying that a virus has been detected. These popups can be cleverly designed to look just like real Windows popups or error screens.
What Happens When You Respond to a Tech Support Scam
If you respond to these scams by calling the phone number provided, one of two things will happen. The first and most common option is that the scammers will sell you software they say will fix the problem. They will direct you to a website where you put in your credit card details and download the “security software”.
When you run the fake security software, often it will do nothing at all but will give you a message saying that your computer is now free of malware so you think it worked. Other times, the software can actually install real malware onto your computer.
The second option is that the person on the phone will tell you they need to remote access into your computer. They will instruct you to give them access to your computer in real time, while you are on the phone, and then they will take control of your computer.
They will pretend to be fixing your “malware”, but in reality they are installing software onto your computer which can be used to steal your identity or credit card details.
You should only ever let someone your really trust like a friend or a family member have remote access to your computer. Learn more about how to use remote access safely and securely.
How to Tell a Real Malware Issue From a Fake One
The only way that you can tell if your computer has malware on it is if you check it for yourself. You should never believe an email, telephone call, or chat message which tells you that you have malware.
Remember that Microsoft will never contact you in these ways to inform you of a problem with your computer. If someone calls you claiming to be a Microsoft representative, they are almost certainly lying.
The messages you receive can look scary. They can say that a serious threat has been detected, that urgent action is required, or that you are in danger of losing all your files. But this is all untrue, intended to scare you into handing over money for “support” that you don’t need.
If you want a quick and simple way to detect malware for yourself, you can use Windows Defender in Windows 10. This is a built-in suite which offers real-time protection and detection of malware.
What to Do If You Really Have a Malware Problem
If you do find that you have malware on your computer, don’t panic. You can easily fix the problem yourself using free tools that are available online like Malwarebytes. Or you can use Microsoft’s free and official Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.
For step by step instructions on cleaning malware off your computer, see our Complete Malware Removal Guide.
Watch out for Related Scams Even From Reputable Companies
You might think that these types of tech support scams would only be created by disreputable companies. If you go to a well regarded and well known office or PC store, you wouldn’t think that you could be the victim of a scam.
Unfortunately that’s not the case. In 2019 alone there have been two examples of well known stores offering fake tech support to their customers.
Recently, two big names in office products, Office Depot and support.com, have paid $35 million to settle a lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that both companies participated in a malware scam. They offered a “PC Health Check Program” to their customers, but this program always reported that it had found malware even when it hadn’t.
Customers were then tricked into paying for the companies to remove the non-existent “malware” from their machines.
A second related issue arose last year in Britain with the Currys PC World chain. For years the retailer charged customers an extra £40 on top of the price of a new laptop for “pre-configuration” which they had not requested. This charge was for the inclusion of a USB stick for recovery.
In fact, users can easily perform a factory reset or use system restore on Windows 10 without any additional software.
This proves that you need to be careful of any offers of paid tech support, even from “trustworthy” companies.
Don’t Fall for Tech Support Scams
The best way to avoid tech support scams is to learn about malware protection yourself. Don’t believe phone calls or emails that claim to come from Microsoft which warn you that your machine is infected. Perform your own malware scans using free tools which can detect and remove any malware that you do find.
To keep your computer safe from malware in the future, you should also use some kind of malware protection software. To find suitable software, check our list of the best security software for Windows 10 malware protection.
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