By Zac Amos, Features Editor,

Technology connects more people today than ever, opening the door for new attachments and risks. One of those risks takes advantage of people’s need for help – the tech support scam.

This guide explains what tech support scams are, how they work, and what you can do to protect yourself and your devices.

What Are Tech Support Scams?

Tech support scams are a form of cyber crime that relies on scare tactics to throw the victim off their guard. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received almost 143,000 consumer reports of tech support scams in 2019 alone.

The scammers’ goal is to convince you that your device or software is experiencing technical difficulties to trick you into giving them remote access to your device. Once they have control of your device, scammers can proceed in a few different ways:

  • They may “fix” your technical issues and ask for payment for their fake services.
  • They may hold your device hostage and refuse to return control until you’ve paid a ransom.
  • They may install actual malware to steal your personal or financial information.

When they ask for money, they’ll likely want you to use a payment method that’s hard to reverse or cancel. This method might look like buying a prepaid credit card or gift card, wiring the money, or using cryptocurrency or a money-transfer app.

How Do Tech Support Scams Work?

Technical difficulties can create stressful situations that tech support scammers prey on. Scammers either take advantage of your existing stress or step in to create it themselves:

  • Advertising and search results: Tech support scammers use misleading URLs and keyword optimization to get their websites into online search results for tech support. They may also pay to run ads at the top of the search page so that their scam is one of the first results you see.
  • Direct calls: Scammers may cold-call you with a spoofed caller ID to make them look like tech support from a reputable company. They tell you that they’ve detected malware on your device and try to convince you to install remote-access software so that they can help.
  • Pop-ups: You’re most likely to encounter these by clicking a link to an insecure address. Pop-up error messages will claim your device is infected and include a phone number where you can reach tech support. Once you call the number, the scammers proceed as they would with a direct call.

Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed

While no two tech support scams are exactly the same, following these tips will help you protect yourself:

  • Research before you trust: If you’re thinking about working with unfamiliar tech support, search for previous reports on them first. You can do this through Google, a reverse phone number lookup site, or even social media like LinkedIn or Facebook.
  • Verify phone numbers: Some tech support scammers pose as representatives from reputable companies to take advantage of name recognition. However, most reputable companies won’t call to report an issue with your device or include their phone number on error messages. If you think you need to call a company’s tech support, use the contact information on their official website. If you receive a call about tech support for your device, tell them you’ll call them back using official channels.
  • Be careful with links: If you’ve received an unsolicited message, don’t download attachments or click on any links without looking them up first. Only download software from trustworthy sources to avoid accidentally loading malware onto your device.
  • Install anti-malware: Anti-malware software offers an extra layer of protection that can give you more peace of mind. Running frequent sweeps will give you confidence against tech support scams. You can even find free anti-malware programs to install.
  • Guard your personal information: Only share personal or financial information when you can confidently verify the recipient’s identity.
  • Pay attention to the language: Tech support scams rely on fear tactics to push you into hasty decisions. Watch for wording that encourages you to act quickly and creates a sense of urgency.

Avoiding Tech Support Scams

Tech support scams are all about selling you a fake solution to an imaginary problem. These scammers want you to act before you can think better of what they tell you. Your best defense against these scams is to take your time, do your research, and make an informed decision.

For more from Features Editor, Zac Amos, please click here. Lastly, to receive cutting-edge cyber security news, exclusive interviews, expert analyses and security resources, please sign up for the newsletter.