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Tech support scams
Tech support scams use scare tactics to trick you into paying for unnecessary technical support services that supposedly fix contrived device, platform, or software problems.
Some tech support scam malware may also come in the form of executable files downloaded on your PC, just like malware. Similarly, when executed, they may display fake error notifications about your computer or software.
These fake error messages aim to trick you into calling an indicated technical support hotline. Note that Microsoft error and warning messages never include a phone number.
Some scammers use cold calls. They call you directly on your phone and pretend to be representatives of a software company. They can then ask you to install applications that give them remote access to your device. Using remote access, these experienced scammers can misrepresent normal system output as sign of problem.
When you engage with the scammers, they can offer fake solutions for your “problems” and ask for payment in the form of a one-time fee or subscription to a purported support service.
The latest evolution in technical support scams is the use of websites that automatically opens the default communication of phone call app with the phone number ready to be dialed. This technique streamlines the entire scam experience, leaving potential victims only one click or tap away from speaking with a scammer.
For information on the latest tech support scam attacks, techniques, and trends, you can read these entries on the Windows Security blog:
How do I recognize tech support scams?
Tech support scams rely on social engineering. They make you believe that you have a problem with your PC. They can use any of the following to convince you that there is a problem with your PC that needs fixing. Click the following sample images to enlarge.
They can also use the following techniques to further make their claim believable:
All these techniques are meant to persuade you to call the specified tech support number.
In contrast, the real error messages on Windows 10 don’t ask you to contact a tech support number.
For more tips on how to spot web browser scams, call scams, and email and chat scams, watch these videos:
How can I become a victim of support scam?
You can get to tech support scam websites when you visit malicious or compromised websites. Links to these offending websites may also be sent to you via spam email.
Furthermore, some sites, for example torrent sites where you can download illegal copies of software or key generators, may also have web ads that can redirect you to tech support scam sites.
Some support scam malware may also be downloaded by other malware. They may also come bundled with applications known as software bundlers -- these are software that try to install malware or other applications without your consent.
How do I avoid tech support scams?
If you receive an unsolicited email message or phone call that purports to be from Microsoft and requests that you send personal information or click links, ignore or report the email, or hang up the phone.
Note that Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request for personal or financial information, or fix your computer.
Treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism. Do not provide any personal information. For more details on how to deal with phone (and other) scams, read this page on how to avoid phone scams.
Download software only from official websites, or from the Windows Store. Be wary of downloading software from third-party sites, as some of them might have been modified without the author’s knowledge to bundle support scam malware and other threats.
Use Microsoft Edge when browsing the Internet. It blocks known support scam sites using Windows Defender SmartScreen (which is also used by Internet Explorer). Furthermore, Microsoft Edge can stop pop-up dialogue loops used by these sites.
You can report tech support scam sites to Microsoft using Microsoft Edge. While you are on a suspicious site, in Microsoft Edge click More [...], then click Send feedback. Then click Report unsafe site and use the web page that is displayed to report the website. In Internet Explorer, click the gear icon and then point to Safety. Then click Report unsafe website.
Enable Windows Defender Antivirus on Windows 10. It detects and removes known support scam malware, such as the following:
What should I do if I have engaged with a scammer or my computer is infected with support scam malware?
When you receive a phone call or see a pop-up window on your PC and feel uncertain whether it is from someone at Microsoft, don’t take the risk. Reach out directly to one of our technical support experts dedicated to helping you at the Microsoft Answer Desk.
You can also contact your local government scam reporting department, such as the following:
In case you have already engaged and paid for fake support:
How do tech support scam websites look like and what hotline numbers do they use?
Scammers constantly tweak their support scam websites and change the hotline numbers they use. Here are examples of tech support scam websites:
The following are technical support hotlines that scammers have recently used. Don't call or accept calls from these phone numbers: