Everything You Need to Know About Windows Tech Support Scams

Everything You Need to Know About Windows Tech Support Scams

Computers are not infallible machines; they need support once in awhile. It’s a fact of life whether you are using Windows, Linux, or Mac OS. That said, there are two kinds of errors: those that exist and those that don’t. Scammers will always try to create problems on your computer that don’t exist in order to somehow profiteer off giving you bogus services. The tech support scam is the most common way that PC users, particularly those who use Microsoft Windows, are hoodwinked into forking over cash. We’re going to explore how this happens and how to stop yourself from falling victim to these scammers.

supportscam-keyboardscam

The tech support scam, by its nature, is one of the most convincing when you consider the fact that most people always feel unsatisfied with their computer’s performance. In many cases there are at least a few problems in everyone’s computer. Given this information, anyone can convince a computer noob that his/her computer needs to be fixed. This is what makes it easy to scam people in this manner.

In earlier times (and even now), many scammers will cold-call someone directly from a phone number registry and tell them that they have problems with their computer. The next step in the scam is to convince the individual to install a piece of software that will find bogus errors in the system. After that the scammer will convince the “customer” (read: victim) to allow him complete access to the system so that he may “assist” this individual in getting rid of the errors. This service, of course, comes at a hefty price which can reach upwards of hundreds of dollars.

A more inbound method involves an advertisement for the software I previously described. There is no “salesperson” involved in this particular scam; the software does all the work. It will find errors and then convince the user to purchase a “pro” version that may cost upwards of $50. This is by far the easier option since little effort is wasted in trying to hoodwink the “customer.”

Often, a combination of both methods will be used for the scam. Once the user purchases the pro version of the software, they will need to call a number to “activate” the software. Upon calling the number, they are greeted by a salesperson that attempts to sell them even more phony software. This combination is the most profitable, often leading to victims paying hundreds of dollars on security software that essentially does nothing to ensure the user’s safety.

Close-up of stethoscope on laptop keyboard

People who fall for these scams often fall into the trap of believing in the good will of others on the Internet. The solution here is to work the skepticism muscles in the brain whenever you are confronted with an ad, an email, or any form of outside contact, whether from another person or as an inbound method of getting your attention (e.g. a video presentation with a link to some software). Do not download software you have not otherwise researched. Type the word “scam” after the software’s name in Google and draw your own conclusions.

As for cold-calling, that is even easier to avoid. Simply hang up the phone if someone tells you that you have problems with your computer. These people often claim to be from Microsoft, Google, or some other large company, and these companies don’t have the time or resources to babysit users’ systems. No company that manufactures software makes it a policy to call any of their customers to inform them that they have problems with their systems. They have tech support numbers for that, and even through those lines of communication, you will have trouble reaching a solution. If they are only moderately capable of helping you when you call them, there’s no reason to think that it’s possible that they may start a new company-wide program to call you and help you with your problems.

Any other ideas on preventive methods? Tell us in a comment!

13 comments

  1. I’m an ex-pat Brit living in France and there is one gang working for “Windows Technical Support” who all speak English with heavy Indian accents that are targeting the ex-pat community for some reason. Easiest way to prevent them getting access to your PC is insist on speaking in French!

  2. If I have about five minutes to spare when I get one of those unsolicited calls from Technical Support, I string them along for a while with questions like, “I have six computers, which one is the one with the problem?” or “That computer doesn’t run Windows, how do you propose to be of any use to me?” I find it very entertaining to frustrate the scammers. My favorite thing is when THEY hang up on ME. Score!!!

  3. I recently retired and have some time. Prior to my retirement, I spent 30 years in IT doing just about everything. I set up one of my older computers with VMware on it. Along with a couple versions of Linux, I have also installed a full Windows 3.1 installation on it. I was even able to find a copies of Netscape 3 Gold and Visicalc! They all run! This machine is set up specifically for “windows technical support”. So I play a game to see how long I can keep them on line and how many different “techs” I can go through before they get tired and start suggesting I do some things that, at my age, are physically impossible. I do this thinking that the longer I can keep them online, the less time they have to scam people who don’t know any better. My record so far is 2.5 hours and 5 different techs.

    I have a whole fictional spiel set up. My son set up the “tv thingy” a long time ago. I use it to play solitaire. I’m hard of hearing and my eyesight is bad so I have to YELL at my “wife” Ethel to get me my glasses. No, the OTHER glasses. She also has to get me the the big black square thingies we use as coasters. I also have an incontinent dog so I have to keep stopping to clean that up. So most of the time is spent with the tech waiting for stuff. But the thing that stops them cold is when you tell them you can’t find the windows key on your keyboard. (And the IBM model M keyboard I have on that box really doesn’t have that key! That, in itself, will get you to a couple levels of support.) As Ward, I’m also a really bad typist! And my AOL dial up connection keeps dropping so I have to keep replaying the modem .mp3 file.

    Is this a lot of work? Not really. I spend most of the time doing something else while the tech waits. When the tech starts speaking Pashtun, Hindi, or Tamil, I know I’m getting to him and I can turn the dial up to 11. It’s actually pretty fun finding audio files to play for the guy and thinking up new things to torment.

    • Ward, you are my hero! I too have gone this route, but only for 30 minutes and they finally realized I was blowing smoke at them. Same spiel, I’m old but have 6 computers but don;t know which one could be causing the problem. As mentioned, if we all wasted their time, they would go home and figure out some other scam. The problem is that I have clients for many years who I have counseled about this, and I still get the sad call from them after they got taken in by these morons.

    • Ward, you are my hero, also!!! I have been laughing for the last 5 mins. and can’t seem to stop. After 30 years in IT, I just bet you have heard every excuse or reason, on the planet, why their computers are not working or heaven forbid, you HAD to go down to them to fix their computers, because, they were dumber than rocks!!!

  4. I love to get these calls. My favorite response is “What computer? I don’t have a computer”. There is dead silence and then a click.

  5. My wife’s first experience with these cold calls had her worried and after getting confused with their instructions to look at the system logs of “errors” she told them to call back when I was home. It was my first exposure to them to, but having a sensitive bs sensor and sceptical nature I quickly caught on to what was happening. They did call back, and after leading the caller on for 10 minutes and then being passed on to the “tech support team lead” and leading him on for another 10 minutes, he started to get irritable and demanding I take him seriously and stop wasting his time. And right on queue, my 3 year old started singing “the wheels on the bus go round and round….” at the top of his lungs. I was laughing so hard I don’t know when he hung up. That didn’t stop them calling again several times in the weeks that followed.

  6. Ward you are the best! I’ve never experienced one of these calls, but reading Ward’s methods makes me want to scare up a 3.1 install disk and try the same thing.. :-) (or a variation, I’m not sure I could convincingly sound like a frail retiree yet..)

  7. So i have had these guys calling my boyfriends work cell phone several times a day. He relies heavily on this phone for his business.
    The first couple times i spoke to these losers i was mean, lots of nasty words and threats to try and stop them from calling. Never worked. It seemed like they started calling more! I tried everything from i don’t have a computer, i don’t have a WINDOWS computer, which computer; name it i tried it.
    Most recently they told me they wanted to refund me 200 dollars.
    I asked for what? He asked “do you want your $200?” When i played along with it he told me that there was a form he wanted to send me. He knew my boyfriends email address??!???! Anyhow, i said so send it, he said he had to do the refund through my online banking. Whoooooa. I knew they were bad but this is a whole new level. I got mad again (short temper) told him that it pisses me off he gets so many innocent people with these scams. He continued the scam still!! I asked what currency was the 200 dollars, at that point he turns to the dude next to him asks him in Hindi, which i speak ;) “what currency is the refund?” I laughed at him….he continued. I asked where he was calling from he said California i asked where in California his answer was “Johnson Street” You Have To Be Kidding Me. I laughed at him again and finally he said ” Fu(K off ma’am” and hung up. Classic right!!!!????? Gets better
    An hour later he calls back with the same crap. I “meowed” to every question he asked me. He said i was wasting his time and again told me to Fu(k off.

    I hope it stops soon….. it’s getting too fun

  8. These calls keep coming! I literally don’t own any computer. For real! When I told him that he asked me if I wanted to buy a computer. I asked him if he knew what he was doing was a scam. He said he wasn’t scamming me & really knew I didn’t own any PC & that they have several on sale which is why they called. I have had soooo many of these calls its not funny.

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