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

Don't be fooled by fake technical support

If you receive a phone call or pop-up window from someone claiming to be from Windows Support, and that person tells you there's a problem with your computer, you're on the receiving end of a PC Support Scam. Here's everything you need to know about this type of con and what to do if you fall victim.

What Is The PC Support Scam?

PC support scammers want you to think there's something wrong with your computer. They prey on your fear or lack of computer knowledge to gain your banking information, then they charge you to fix a problem that never existed. They might also install malware such as keyloggers or backdoor Trojans on the computer to gain your personal information.

How Does The PC Support Scam Work?

You receive a call from someone claiming they're from Windows Support. The caller ID looks legitimate. They say your computer is sending off errors, sending out spam, or reporting a virus. The polite person on the other end of the phone has a strong foreign accent and seems very eager to help you fix the problem. They direct you to open your Windows Event Viewer so they can show you the errors, then ask you to download something called Ammyy, TeamViewer, or another tool so they can connect directly to your computer. They also want your credit card number so they can bill you a small fee for the service.

Hooded and masked person using a laptop - PC Support Scam
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

Alternatively, you might receive a pop-up message on your computer. It might look like an error message, and it might have logos from companies you trust. It tells you there's a security issue on your computer and gives you a phone number to call. But, real security warnings never ask you to call a number. It's a scam.

The PC Support Scam goes by many other names as well:

  • The Fake Microsoft Support Scam
  • The Tech Support Scam
  • The Ammyy Scam
  • The TeamViewer Scam

Whatever the name, a lot of people get duped by these criminals. This scam has been going on for many years and the success rate only seems to encourage more criminals to take part in it. At first, only Windows PC users were targeted, but now Mac users are becoming targets as well.

How Do The PC Support Scammers Find Victims?

PC Support Scammers generally find their victims in the following ways:

  • Cold calls: This is probably the most common way people encounter tech support scammers.
  • Pop-ups: This method looks like a legitimate error message, possibly from a company or website you trust. But, it wants you to call a phone number to fix the issue with your PC.
  • Online ads: Some scammers run advertisements online or they try to get their sites to show up in online search results.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved In This Scam?

Don't answer the call. If you get a pop-up, don't call that number either. And if you truly need tech support, go directly to a company you trust.

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

If you've fallen victim to a PC Support Scam, there are a few things you should do.

Call Your Financial Institution and Tell Them What Happened

If you do business with a larger, well-known bank, they have experience with this type of scam and will tell you what they can do in terms of putting a security alert on your account, dealing with fraudulent charges, and other issues. Speak to the bank as quickly as possible. If you wait too long, they might not be able to help you with the bogus charges.

Isolate and Quarantine Your Computer

Unplug the affected computer's network cord and turn off its wireless connection. If you installed the remote admin tool as the scammer directed, they could be rooting around on your computer even after the phone call is over.

Once you've disconnected the computer from the network, find out what to do if you've been hacked, then back up your data, wipe its disks, and reload your computer. If you're not comfortable doing this, take your computer to a reputable local computer repair technician.

Monitor All of Your Accounts

Sign up for a credit ​monitoring or identity theft protection service so you can be alerted if and when scammers use your personal or financial information.

Change Your Passwords

After you ensure your system is free of malware and keylogging software, change your important passwords. ​Choose strong passwords when creating new ones.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted for the PC Support Scam?

While you can't prevent scammers from cold calling you, there are a few steps you can take to avoid this scam. If you get an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to be tech support, hang up. If you get a pop-up on your computer, ignore it. If you think your PC needs tech support, contact a company you trust directly.