Avoiding Tech Scams
Almost weekly, a client will call for advice about a scam they have encountered. Most have taken me up on my ‘call anytime’ policy – If you’re not sure, call me for help -before making a decision. Some, however, contact me after the damage is already done.
It’s not easy to spot the numerous manners in which dishonest ‘tech support’ companies manipulate their victims for profit, and new scams are invented as the old ones become common knowledge.
A common theme to these scams is that the bad guys will claim to be with Microsoft, Google, Dell, Comcast, or some other major technology company. They will almost always want you to let them connect to your PC. They will always find some scary problem that needs to be corrected immediately, and they will always charge you a good deal of money.
If you let them connect to your PC, they will likely install software that collects your personal information, and let them connect again without you being aware.
Here’s a list of scams, and a bit of advice on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Cold-Call Support Calls
These are unsolicited calls you may receive on your home or cell phone. The caller will alert you that malware, viruses, or other damaging software is being spread, or has been detected on your computer. They will likely offer to remotely access your PC to do a scan. The scan will be fake, and report that your computer is heavily infected with malicious software, and then offer to remove the offending code for a couple hundred dollars.
Fake Antivirus Renewal Offer
This scam fools you into visiting a fake website to renew the antivirus software you have on your PC.
Bogus Pop-Up Warnings
While browsing about the Internet a web page or pop-up window will appear, warning you that a threat has been detected, and that you should coll the number provided to have the issue corrected. If you call the number, you will encounter the same scam as the ‘Cold-Call Support’ routine.
Fake Malware Removal Websites
If you are somehow able to figure out that your PC had malware installed, it’s likely that you would search the web to find a DIY solution to fix your machine. These sites will generally reflect poor English skills, and repeat the name of the malware exhaustively in an effort to maintain high search-engine results. Many of the sites have not-so-catchy domain names. Here’s a list of fake sites. The site will tell you how destructive the particular bit of malware is, and then offer to do any or all of the following:
- Provide an utterly overwhelming (and useless) process for you to remove the malware yourself
- Offer a link to some commercial malware removal tool to buy (while they make a commission on the sale)
- Offer you a link to some fake malware tool that will actually install additional malware
- Provide a chat link, or phone number to call for help to remove the malware (and charge you lots of money)
- Let you download the “fix” to solve your problem (again, installing more malware instead
Fake Tech-Support Phone Numbers
Lets say your Canon printer isn’t working properly, and you decide to call Cannon for some assistance. A while back you could just Google “canon tech support phone support” to find the number. But now, the bad guys have posted thousands of web pages on their scam sites with fake numbers to Canon, Dell, Norton, Microsoft, etc. When you call one of these numbers the person answering will pretend to be a representative for the company you wanted to contact, but will lead you along a trail that will include a remote connection, and ultimately, a demand for your credit card info.
Free Antivirus Software
Some legitimate (but sketchy) antivirus companies will allow you to install a “free version” of the product they sell. Aside from the free version not actually providing full protection, you probably now be pestered by pop-ups to upgrade to the full version of the utility, in exchange for your money, of course.
Third-Party Software Distributors
There’s plenty of safe, quality software available for free on the Internet.
Fake ‘Hacked Software’
Occasionally, you may run across software that might sound very appealing. Offers for a ‘patch’ that will activate a second copy of Windows on your extra PC, or a patched version of Adobe Photoshop, for example. You can be sure that there is a great chance that these downloads include any number of threats to your system. Don’t be fooled into
Malicious “Driver Update” Software
You may be tempted to try to avoid, or repair a poorly performing computer by installing a ‘Driver-Update’ utility. The reality is that you don’t need to chase updated drivers (software that operates your hardware devices – video, audio, printer, etc.) because the official updates are usually pushed out with Windows Updates.
Fake ‘Tech-Advice’ Websites
Fake Software-Review Websites
Before you download and install any software (free or not) on your PC, you should have already done your homework. Search for reviews of the product on at least a few reputable sites. Reading a review posted at the site owned by the software’s author cannot be considered reliable.
Fake Security Scans
Some web pages may display an offer to perform a ‘security-scan’ of your machine. This is just another attempt to lead you down the trail to either installing malware, or paying someone to do it for you.
Scam Warning List
Easy tips to avoid being victimized by tech scams.
- No legitimate company will cold-call to warn you about a problem with your PC. If someone has called you, it’s a scam
- If your PC wants you to call a number, it’s a scam
- If you need to call tech-support for a computer product you are using, go to the official website for their number
- Download software exclusively from the actual author’s website
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