The Tech Support Scam: What It Is And How To Protect Yourself From It

Be wary of unsolicited calls from so-called 'tech support'

Masked person at a computer - Tech Support Scam

 Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

Be on guard when you receive unsolicited phone calls saying you've got computer problems. You may be the target of a PC support scam. This con job is known by many names, including the Fake Tech Support Call Scam, the Event Viewer Scam, the Ammyy Scam, and the TeamViewer Scam. Here's what you need to know to avoid becoming a victim.

What Is The Tech Support Scam?

A tech support scam is when a criminal tries to convince their victim, usually over the phone, that they're from an official technical support service like Windows Support. The goal is to get the victim's personal information or to install malicious software on the victim's computer.

How Does The Tech Support Scam Work?

It starts with an unsolicited phone call by someone claiming to be tech support for a company like Microsoft or Dell. They tell you there's a problem with your PC. They often ask for remote access to your computer so they can fix it, but they use that opportunity to dig for personal information or install malware instead. Then, they try to make you pay for their phony technical support.

Microsoft, Dell, and other major company's tech support organizations don't waste resources calling you. If you have tech support problems, they know you will call them. The scammers will tell you their call is a public service. This is a lie.

There are a couple of other red flags to look out for, including:

  • Spoofed caller IDs: It's a trivial matter to spoof the caller ID system to display any name or number the scammer wants. Just because your phone says Microsoft or Dell, it doesn't mean these companies are on the other end of the line.
  • Name and accent mismatches: Scammers can have an extremely thick foreign accent but claim their name is something decidedly Western, such as Brad. Many of these scams are run from giant call centers in places like India and Pakistan, or parts of China or South-Central Africa.
  • Your computer is sending out errors: Scammers might also say your PC is sending spam, infected with a new virus undetectable by current scanners, or something similar. Even if all of these problems were true, corporate tech support wouldn't reach out to you about it.
  • The Event Log Viewer Trick: The scammers want you to think they're knowledgeable and that there's a problem with your PC. They do this by asking you to open the Windows Event Log Viewer so they can attempt to prove their case. Some kind of minor error or warning will almost always appear there. The presence of these routine glitches doesn't mean your system is having any real problems or is infected.
  • Tool installation: This is the part where the scam gets dangerous. The scammers want to take control of your computer, but not for the purpose of fixing it. The scammers want to infect your computer with malware, rootkits, keyloggers, or other harmful apps.

There are free remote connection software packages that are legitimate tools designed for remote tech support. Some of the popular ones used by scammers include Ammyy, TeamViewer, LogMeIn Rescue, and GoToMyPC.

How Do The Tech Support Scammers Find Victims?

Cold calling potential victims is the usual way these scammers operate.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved In This Scam?

If you get a phone call from someone you suspect is a scammer, hang up. If you're on a cellphone, block them and send a spam report to Apple or Google. If you're still concerned the call was legitimate, contact your computer's manufacturer directly for tech support.

I’m Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you suspect you've been hacked by a tech support scammer, take appropriate steps to protect your information.

  • Run anti-virus and anti-malware on your computer.
  • Change your passwords.
  • Alert the financial institutions you do business with.
  • File a police report, especially if money was stolen from you.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted For The Tech Support Scam? 

While there's no way to prevent an unsolicited phone call, the quickest way to get tech support scammers off the phone (other than hanging up) is to tell them you don't have a computer.