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Beware of Technical Support Scams

Posted on June 8, 2016

If you’ve been using computers for long enough, the chances are pretty good that you, a friend, or a family member has been a victim (or almost-victim) of a technical support scam. There are many variations of these scams. Sometimes, your computer screen might get inundated with pop-up ads telling you that you’ve been infected with a virus and that you should call the phone number provided for “technical support.” In other situations, you might just get a phone call from a “tech support” specialist, telling you that your machine has been infected.

The Problem

Regardless of the form that the scam takes, the script is almost always the same. You call the number or answer your phone, and suddenly you’re talking to someone who claims to be a representative of a reputed IT brand. These “tech support” workers would have you think that your computer is in dire straits and will offer to fix the issue for you for a “small fee.”

In reality, there is nothing wrong with your machine. The person you’re talking with on the phone is not a tech support specialist and does not work with Microsoft or any other trustworthy company. Instead, he or she is a scam artist, looking to scare you into giving them money.

The Target

For tech-savvy computer users, these tech support scams are usually little more than minor inconveniences. When you know what to look for, you can just dodge these “tech support” calls or shut down your browser to make the threatening popup windows go away.

For non-tech-savvy users, though, the threat tends to seem much more real. These users don’t necessarily know what real viruses or malware look like, or realize that someone calling out of the blue couldn’t possibly know whether their machine is infected. As a result, some users—particularly the elderly—might pony up hundreds of dollars for “help” from a bogus tech support worker.

Bing Takes a Stand

The good news is that some Internet companies are starting to take a stand against scammers. According to the Naked Security blog by Sophos, Microsoft’s Bing search engine will no longer allow “third party online technical support services” to serve ads to Bing users. This advertising ban applies to legitimate technical support services, as well, an unfortunate bit of collateral damage that will make it more difficult for honest businesses to market their services. However, the ban will also make it harder for tech support scams to hoodwink users with popups or online ads—at least in Bing.

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