Tech support scams are an industry-wide issue where scammers use scare tactics to trick you into unnecessary technical support services that supposedly fix contrived device, platform, or software problems.
At best the scammers are trying to get you to pay them to "fix" a nonexistent problem with your device or software. At worst they're trying to steal your personal or financial information; and if you allow them to remote into your computer to perform this "fix" they will often install malware, ransomware, or other unwanted programs that can steal your information or damage your data or device.
How tech support scams work
Scammers may call you directly on your phone and pretend to be representatives of a software company. They might even spoof the caller ID so that it displays a legitimate support phone number from a trusted 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 signs of problems.
Scammers might also initiate contact by displaying fake error messages on websites you visit, displaying support numbers and enticing you to call. They can also put your browser on full screen and display pop-up messages that won't go away, essentially locking your browser. These fake error messages aim to trick you into calling an indicated technical support hotline.
Microsoft error and warning messages never include phone numbers.
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.
Windows 10 comes with Windows Security, a built-in security app that updates automatically to help keep your device safe. For more info, see Stay protected with Windows Security.
What to do if a tech support scammer already has your info
- Uninstall applications that scammers have asked you to install. For more info on how to uninstall applications, see Repair or remove programs in Windows 10.
- If you have given scammers access, consider resetting your device. To learn how, see Recovery options in Windows 10.
Performing serious recovery methods like resetting your device can be a bit time-consuming, but this may be your best option in some situations—for example, if fake error codes and messages pop up continually, all but preventing you from using your device.
- Run a full scan with Windows Security to remove any malware. Learn how
- Apply all security updates as soon as they are available. To see available updates, select the Start button, then select Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update. For more info, see Update Windows 10.
- Change your passwords. Learn how to change your Microsoft account password
- Call your credit card provider to contest the charges if you have already paid. Let them know what happened; they'll probably want to cancel and replace your affected cards to prevent the scammers from using them again.
- Monitor logon activity. Use Windows Defender Firewall to block traffic to services that you would not normally access. For more information, see Firewall and network protection.
Reporting tech support scams
Help Microsoft stop scammers, whether they claim to be from Microsoft or from another tech company, by reporting tech support scams:
You can also report unsafe websites in Microsoft Edge by selecting Settings and More > Help and Feedback > Report unsafe site when you encounter something suspicious.
For urgent situations, use one of the following options:
How to protect against tech support scams
First, be sure to follow these tips on how to keep your computer secure.
It is also important to keep the following in mind:
- Microsoft does not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information, or to provide technical support to fix your computer. Any communication with Microsoft has to be initiated by you.
- If a notification appears with a phone number, don’t call the number. Error and warning messages from Microsoft never include a phone number.
- Download software only from official Microsoft partner websites or the Microsoft 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 dialog loops used by these sites.
- Turn on Windows Security real-time antivirus protection in Windows 10. It detects and removes known support scam malware.
- Microsoft technical support will never ask that you pay for support in the form of Bitcoin or gift cards.