How to Avoid Tech Support Phone Scams

How to avoid the logmein scam (and what to do if you fall victim)

SCAM Road Sign on Chalkboard Background

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Someone phones you claiming to be from Microsoft, or an antivirus company, or some random tech support facility. A Microsoft tech support number might even show up on the Caller ID. The person on the other end of the line claims their systems have detected your computer is infected with some kind of virus or malware. And, of course, they're offering to help.

In fact, they're so certain they can eradicate the malicious software for just a one-time payment of X amount, they're willing to offer a full "lifetime" of guaranteed support.

But, there's a catch. Actually, there are four catches.

  1. The scammers generally want you to download a remote access service (usually pointing you to an Ammyy.com or LogMeIn service) and grant them access. This effectively gives the scammers full, unfettered control of your PC.
  2. The scammers want you to install a certain antivirus program. Unfortunately, the antivirus they sell you is usually counterfeit or just a trial version. That leaves you sitting with non-functioning, useless protection.
  3. The scammers recommend the latest Windows version, which is also likely counterfeit. Non-genuine versions of Windows cannot be updated with the latest security patches. This means you now have an unsafe version of Windows to accompany that crippled antivirus you purchased from the scammers. A double dose of risk.
  4. Once you allow the scammers to install software on your PC, they can easily install a backdoor trojan, which lets them access your PC, and everything on it, whenever they want.

So, when the call is over, these criminals have taken your money and left you with a non-functioning antivirus program and an operating system that can't be patched. That means if they did drop a trojan to your system (likely), your antivirus won't detect it and your operating system will be extra vulnerable to any further malware they want to deliver.

How to Respond to Tech Support Scams

If you're contacted by a scammer, just hang up the phone. That's the best way to avoid it. The scammers can't hurt you if you don't allow them access to your computer. Keep in mind no computer company will ever call you to tell you your computer is infected with a virus or malware. They simply don't have the resources to monitor every PC sold. Therefore, the call itself should be your first warning sign something's not right.

What to Do If You Do Fall Victim to Scammers

Unfortunately, scammers can be pretty persuasive. If you've already been victimized by a tech support scam, here's what you should do:

  1. Dispute any charges with your credit card provider. If the credit card companies get enough complaints and chargeback requests, they can close the merchant account and blacklist the company. This makes it harder, and far more expensive, for the scammers to stay in business. The only way to stop a scammer is to remove their funding source.

  2. If you purchased a new version of Windows from the scammers, check its activation status in Settings and contact Microsoft customer service. Don't leave the software installed if it's not valid.

  3. Immediately remove any antivirus or other software purchased from the scammers. It's highly likely the software is counterfeit or it's loaded with a trojan or other malware that will continue to harm your computer or siphon off your personal information.

  4. Wipe your hard drive, reformat it, and then install everything from a backup that was made prior to the scam support call. This is essential if the scammer was granted remote access to your machine. Skipping this step could leave you with an infected system that can leave you vulnerable to bank account theft, credit card fraud, or other financial or computer crimes.