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Identify and Avoid Tech Support Scams

For businesses operating in the digital age, tech problems are inevitable. Unfortunately, our reliance on tech experts to solve these problems has given rise to a dangerous type of fraud: tech support scams.

Tech support scammers try to trick you into believing that your business is having a problem with one or more of your computers. The scammer may then want you to pay for tech support services to fix this problem—even though in reality it doesn’t exist—or they may use other tactics to steal sensitive information.

Understanding how these scams work and knowing the red flags to watch out for can help your business avoid getting reeled in.

How do tech support scams work?

Fraudsters often pretend to be from large companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Apple or a well-known antivirus software company. You may get a phone call or email from someone posing as a technician from one of these companies. You may also get a pop-up on your computer that looks like an error message from your operating system or antivirus software. These messages will likely contain technical terms to help convince you the problem is real, and they may even ask you to open files or run a scan on your computer.

From here, scammers may try a number of tactics to gain access to your money or information. They may:

  • Ask you for your passwords and remote access to your computer, which can give them access to the information on your machine and the network it’s connected to.
  • Install malware on your computer that mines your data and gathers information, such as names, phone numbers, addresses and passwords.
  • Try to sell you repairs or software that will fix non-existent problems.
  • Try to enroll you in useless warranty or computer maintenance programs.
  • Ask for your credit card information to bill you for phony services.
  • Send you to a website where they have you fill out credit card, bank account and other personal information.

Scammers may ask you to pay for services by wiring them money or using a money transfer app, because they know these transactions can be hard to reverse.

How to protect your business from tech support scams

When it comes to tech support scams in particular, there are a few points employees should be aware of:

First, chances are if an employee gets a call or email out of the blue telling them that they need tech support, someone is trying to scam them, even if the caller appears to be from a legitimate company. Instruct employees to hang up when they receive these calls. Don’t call numbers included in tech support emails, and don’t open any links.

Additionally, tell employees to ignore pop-up messages that ask them to call a tech support number. Some pop-up messages are real, and if an employee is worried about a threat to a business computer, contact the company that appears to be sending the message. Get the company’s phone number from their website, a sales receipt or product packaging.

Make sure employees use a unique network password, as well as a different password for every account. Password management software can help them keep track of the login information.

What to do if you fall for a tech support scam

If your business falls victim to a tech support scam, there are steps that can help control the damage. If an employee gave out a password, change it immediately anywhere it is used. 

Use trusted antivirus software or a tech security professional to determine whether the computer in question has been infected with malware and, if so, to help you get rid of it.

If you or an employee has been convinced to buy fake services, contact your business credit card company and ask them to reverse the charges. Keep an eye on credit card statements to see if there have been any other unapproved charges and to be sure scammers don’t try to bill you again.

Finally, report scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Doing so helps the organization stop scammers and build cases against them.

Tech problems can be a headache. Don't let scammers create an even bigger headache by convincing you to deal with a problem that doesn't exist.