How to avoid fake tech support

The internet age has made it possible for people to keep in touch with their nearest and dearest wherever they are in the world and businesses to work globally, but it has also made it possible for scammers to operate at a safe distance, knowing that even if their activities are criminal, there are high barriers to finding them, let alone prosecuting them.

One of the most common scams doing the rounds at the current time is the “fake tech support” scam, which goes by a variety of names. The basic scenario is that you are contacted and offered tech support to fix a problem with a networked device, be it a computer, tablet or phone, only for your “helper” to take control of it. Here are four tips to spot (and therefore avoid) this scam.

1. They contact you

Legitimate technical support agencies do not contact customers individually to tell them that there is a problem with their computer and to offer advice for them to fix it. Neither does Microsoft. They either put out generic updates for everyone to download themselves or they wait for individual customers to realise there is a problem and contact them.

Therefore, if someone does contact you to offer you technical support, then you should probably work on the basis that they are a scammer unless they provide some very compelling proof to the contrary.

NB: Remember that caller IDs and legitimate-looking email addresses can be faked fairly easily. If you really think there is a possibility the caller or emailer is genuine (it’s unlikely) then do independent research as to the genuine company’s contact details and call them directly.

2. There is a slight pause after you pick up the phone before the other person speaks

Most scammers use autodiallers, which essentially keep on dialling and dialling until somebody picks up and then they connect you with a human. There is a short but noticeable pause while this happens. If somebody was contacting you directly, they’d already been on the line and you’d speak to them straight away.

Bonus tip: Callers may ask you to “confirm your details”, this should be a red flag for any caller. Companies do not need your personal details just to provide free technical support and, if they are calling you, they should already know who you are.

3. They emphasise problems rather than solutions

Quite bluntly, these companies are looking to frighten you into doing what they say. This is the exact opposite of genuine IT support technicians who will aim to reassure you that they will sort out your problem.

In this vein, callers may ask you to look at your Windows logs to see details of a problem, knowing full well that the average PC will almost always have some minor problem which will be highlighted here. Alternatively, they may try to blind you with jargon. Ignore it and put down the phone.

4. They sound too good to be true

Sure, your computer may be running slowly or your internet connection might be a bit hit and miss. Scammy callers will highlight these problems because most people experience them from time to time.

If someone promises they can fix everything and all you need to do is give them remote access to your machine, say no and hang up the phone. Don’t give anybody remote access to your computer unless you are fully confident they are who they say they are.