Avoid tech support scams

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 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 or infiltrate your company. 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.

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How tech support scams work

Scammers may call you and pretend to be representatives of a trusted software company. They might even spoof the caller ID so that it displays a legitimate support phone number or company name. 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 messages 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, apparently locking your browser. These fake error messages try to trick you into calling a fake technical support hotline.

Important: Microsoft error and warning messages never include phone numbers.

If you engage with the scammers, they 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.

Note: 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.

How to protect against tech support scams

It's 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; that software 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 Microsoft Defender SmartScreen. Also, Microsoft Edge can stop pop-up dialog loops used by these sites.

  • Windows Security real-time antivirus protection in Windows 10 detects and removes known support scam malware. It's turned on by default, but you can go to Settings Update & Security > Windows Security to confirm that it's still on and working properly.

  • Microsoft technical support will never ask that you pay for support in the form of Bitcoin or gift cards.

What to do if a tech support scammer already has your info

Note: 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 & SecurityWindows 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.

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:

www.microsoft.com/reportascam

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:

Popular types of scams

There are several forms of tech support scams, all of which aim to trick you into believing that your computer needs to be fixed and you need to pay for technical support services.

Phone scams

In this type of scam, scammers call you and claim to be from the tech support team of Microsoft or other vendors. They then offer to help solve your computer problems.

Scammers often use publicly available phone directories, so they might know your name and other personal information when they call you. They might even guess what operating system you're using.

Once they've gained your trust, they might ask for your user name and password or direct you to a legitimate website to install software that will let them access your computer to fix it. If you install the software and provide credentials, your computer and your personal information are vulnerable.

Although law enforcement can trace phone numbers, perpetrators often use pay phones, disposable mobile phones, or stolen mobile phone numbers. Treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism. Do not provide any personal information.

Warning: If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls.

Web scams

Tech support scam websites make you believe that you have a problem with your PC. You may be redirected to these websites automatically by malicious ads found in dubious sites, such as download locations for fake installers and pirated media.

These websites can use any of the following tactics to convince you that there's a problem with your PC that needs fixing:

  • A fake blue-screen error

  • A fake Windows activation dialog box

  • Various fake system errors

  • Supposed malware infection or malicious activity

They can also use the following techniques to make their claim more believable:

  • Put the image or your browser on full screen, making the error appear as though it’s coming from Windows instead of the webpage

  • Disable Task Manager

  • Continuously display pop-up windows

  • Play audio messages

All these techniques are meant to persuade you to call the specified tech support number. Remember, the real error messages in Windows 10 never ask you to call a tech support number.

Other forms of support scams

Scammers may also use other ways to reach you, such as email or chat. These email or chat messages may resemble phishing emails; however, instead of pointing to phishing sites designed to steal credentials, the links lead to tech support scam websites.

See also

Protect yourself from phishing schemes and other forms of online fraud

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