When your computer is working well, it can be your best friend. When it misbehaves, it can be annoying—or even downright dangerous, if your computer gets infected with a virus. There are dozens of companies that legitimately provide antivirus, antimalware, and other PC software and hardware. Unfortunately, there are probably just as many scammers out to get your money or your personal information. Here are some examples of computer virus scams and other tech support scams to be aware of.
If you get an unfamiliar pop-up while browsing, an email or other seemingly official message about problems with your computer, stop. The same is true if you get a phone call from someone pretending to be a computer tech associated with familiar companies like Apple, Microsoft, or Yahoo.
Do not click any links, give control of your computer to anyone, or send any money. Some computer virus scams send or attach pop-up messages warning of bogus problems, like viruses or malware, on your computer. Claiming to be tech support, they will ask for remote access to your computer, eventually diagnosing a fabricated concern and tell you need to pay for unneeded—and potentially dangerous—services. If you allow someone to remote into your computer, this can also lead to a ransomware scam; the scammer may even steal private data on your computer—resulting in identity theft.
Or, you may get a phone call or email that says your antivirus is outdated or no longer compatible with your computer. The scammer may offer to give you a credit, and will ask for your online banking credentials to process the credit. Here’s how the scam proceeds:
The scammer tells you they will issue you a credit for $99.99 as soon as you provide your banking information. Unknowingly, you give them your username and password and they set up a bogus ACH credit or conduct an internal transfer for $1,099.99. They call you back, saying there was an error: they gave you a credit of $1,099.99 instead of $99.99, and ask you to send them the difference back via MoneyGram or other money transfer service. The credit they issued you bounces back a few days later. You have been taken advantage of, and are now the victim of an internet virus scam—you don’t even have their antivirus software.
How Scammers Do It
Scammers will do anything they can to convince you that they and the threats to your computer are genuine:
- Send you to websites to sell you antivirus or antimalware software that gives them access to your computer and sensitive data such as user names and passwords, that’s worthless, or that you could get elsewhere for free
- Attempt to enroll you in a monthly security contract, computer maintenance, or warranty program
- Ask you to access your computer and open certain files and then tell you those files are corrupted when they are not
- Pretend to be employed with a well-known company to assure you they are legitimate
- Persuade you that your computer has issues, then ask you to give them remote access to your computer; they may make changes to your computer settings that guarantee your computer is susceptible to future external threats
If You Get a Call or Pop-Up
If you receive a peculiar phone call or email from an individual claiming to be tech support from any company, do not provide any information to the caller and hang up. Unfortunately, caller ID isn’t helpful in these situations since scammers set up fake phone numbers that appear legitimate.
If you see a pop-up message on your computer informing you to contact technical support, ignore it. Do not call any number listed on that pop-up. It’s a fraudulent warning created to convince you of imaginary threats to the security of your computer and con you out of your money.
If you’re ever concerned about your computer, call the manufacturer’s technical support number in the user’s manual, or the number of your own computer repair company.
If You Were Scammed
Download or update current—legitimate—antivirus and antimalware programs, and scan your computer regularly. Quarantine and eliminate malware. Delete anything the software says is a problem regardless of the program’s level of threat. Change your password for all accounts you access on your computer.
If you paid for fraudulent services with a credit card or bank card, call the issuing company and request the charges be reversed. If there are charges on your statement you did not make request those be reversed as well. Unfortunately, most of the time the businesses you are transacting with are illegitimate and do not exist. If you release your credit card information or OLB username and password you may be liable for the losses.
Scammers want your money and access to your computer, but there are things you can do to stop them. Never share passwords with others, give any personal or financial information, or give control of your computer to anyone who contacts you.
There are plenty of credible computer repair services out there. Thoroughly research any prospective service you are considering. Read online reviews of the company, consult the terms and conditions on its website and know all pricing information upfront. If the business is located in the U.S., you can verify whether it is registered and legally operating in a specific state by visiting the state’s official website. You can usually find this information under the state’s Department of Commerce or Secretary of State Department.