Tech Support Phone Scam: How to Identify and Protect Against Fake Tech Support Phone Calls

Your computer company calls, claiming they've detected a virus on your PC and want to help you resolve the threat. To verify their authenticity, they cite key personal information and your computer's model and serial number.

You begin to worry and listen to the caller. What they are saying seems to make sense, but don't be so quick to follow their instructions.

It turns out that this is a very common phone scam. In 2015 alone, tech support phone scams conned an estimated 3.3 million Americans out of $1.5 billion by making phony calls pretending to be Microsoft, Google and other tech giants. To get ahold of you and sound convincing, cyber criminals often pull your personal information from public records on the Web. More alarmingly, a recent onslaught of scam calls targeting Dell customers seems to have been the result of a data breach. Many consumer complaints reported that scam callers knew their technical support history, this fueled suspicion of a data breach within the company earlier this year.

Paired with stolen information and number spoofing, a scammer can be quite convincing. However, it can be very easy to identify these tech scam phone calls if you know what to look for.

How to identify a tech support scam call

Regardless of the information the caller provides, if a supposed tech company representative rings you and asks that you do any of the following - hang up immediately.

1. Give remote access to your computer.

Never give control of your computer to a third party if you haven't initiated the call with a verified service provider. A scammer may claim to be fixing a computer issue, but they can use remote access to make changes to your settings that will leave your computer vulnerable to cyber attacks.

2. Download and install a solution.

Don't download any software from unverified sources, especially if it comes with a subscription fee. You could be downloading malware that enables scammers to steal sensitive data, like the usernames and passwords for your online accounts.

3. Provide credit card or other personal information for billing purposes.

Never give financial information over the phone to a technical support representative, or follow their directions to enter it online to purchase software, a service, or a warranty. Microsoft and other legitimate technology companies will not call you unsolicited and require that you pay for computer coverage or software fixes.

Close and ignore pop-ups

A fourth way of identifying a tech support scam is if the number you are calling is from a pop-up that you received while browsing the internet. If you receive a pop-up that says your computer is infected and that you must call XXX-XXX-XXXX to fix it, ignore it. Call directly to your PC's manufacturer if you are having issues with your computer. Just last year the Federal Trade Commission shut down a tech support scam that had stolen over $17 million via pop-ups that instructed users to call a certain number.

How to report tech support scammers

If you're unsure of whether or not you've been contacted by a tech support scammer, play it safe. Hang up and call your computer company directly via a verified help desk line to inquire. Ignore pop-ups on your computer and be skeptical of unsolicited calls, even if the caller has personal information and account details.

If you have already been targeted by a tech support scammer, report their phone number and alleged company to the Federal Trade Commission's Complaint Assistant. Make sure to immediately change any personal information that may have been compromised, such as usernames and passwords for your computer, email accounts and online financial accounts.