Securing Our Communities: Tech Support Scams

Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.

(example of a tech support scam pop-up)

Have you ever received an unsolicited phone call or email from someone offering to help fix a computer problem? How about a pop-up or error message indicating your device was infected and urging you to contact a support person who could help? If so, you were a target of a tech support scam.

Tech support scammers can impersonate technical support professionals through many avenues, but their end goal is always the same—to steal your money, information, or identity.

Some victims report receiving calls from phony tech support specialists warning them to rectify a serious computer or device problem. Other victims were tricked into placing calls to these scammers after seeing fake error messages or pop-ups displayed on their computer screens. No matter the scenario, once a scammer has a victim on the phone, they often employ a host of tactics to convince the victim that they are legitimate while pretending to offer technical support. They claim affiliations with companies such as Microsoft or Apple to lend credence to their ploys. They may direct victims to observe normal system files, suggesting those files indicate a serious computer problem. They also may attempt to convince victims to download fraudulent security updates or system scanning tools—software that, in actuality, can infect computers or give scammers access to personal information, usernames and passwords, or saved credit card information. Some tech support scammers ask victims for payment in exchange for fraudulent computer maintenance or warranty programs. Scammers may request remote access to a victim’s computer under the guise of troubleshooting software or hardware issues. By accessing a computer remotely, these scammers can install data-stealing malware or encrypt the contents of a hard drive, holding the files hostage until the victim pays a ransom demand.

To avoid becoming a victim of a tech support scam, please keep the following information in mind:

  • Microsoft and Apple will never contact you for matters of technical support by telephone unless you first initiate a request. Likewise, no legitimate Microsoft or Apple security pop-up or error message will ever urge you to contact a telephone number for help.

  • Never dial any phone number that appears on an unexpected error message, pop-up, or questionable email.

  • Ignore and immediately disconnect any caller claiming to have an urgent message about the security of your computer or a caller who offers to provide technical support services.

  • Avoid sharing financial, banking, or personal information over the phone.

  • Never let anyone you don’t personally know or trust take remote control of your computer.

If you suspect there may be an issue with your computer or device, contact a legitimate customer support number on the official website of the vendor or manufacturer or take it to a reputable repair specialist.

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.