How to Recognize and Avoid Tech Support Scams

January 26, 2017


Don't click too quickly if a pop-up tells you your computer has a virus.

Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Iowa, Quad Cities and Siouxland Region has recently experienced an increase in tech support scams reported by phone and through BBB Scam Tracker.

In the tech support scam, computer users receive a message telling them they have a virus on their computer, and they need to get it fixed.

The message is usually delivered in one of two ways:

  • You see a pop-up on the screen that says that a problem, such as malware or a virus, has been detected. The pop-up links to a site where you can download a program to fix the problem.
  • You receive a call out of the blue from someone who claims to work for a tech support company. They claim to know that your computer is infected with viruses or malware, and they offer to help remove it.

Both of these scenarios are scams. There are no external sources monitoring your computer to see if you have malware. Only security software that you have installed can tell you about the health of your machine. 

It’s important to want to protect your computer from viruses and malware and to learn about the firewalls and antivirus software that will best protect your computer. Then you can be confident your computer is protected and you will avoid being frightened or pressured into falling for a tech support scam.

If you’re not sure if the person contacting you about viruses on your computer is helping you or scamming you, here are some red flags to alert you to a tech support scam.

They claim they’re working for Microsoft or another prominent tech company.  Microsoft’s employees do not call customers who haven’t asked to be called; they’ll never reach out to you if you don’t request it first. This is true for almost all other big tech companies.

You see a pop-up notification on your computer, but it’s not from a program you installed.  Scammers make tech support scam pop-ups look like they’re coming from your computer, but they’re actually ads that are displaying in your internet browser. Don’t click on pop-ups that aren’t system alerts from your machine.

You’re offered a “free security scan,” or a pop-up says a free security scan already has found a virus on your machine. Many antivirus software providers offer free trials of their software, but no programs can scan your computer before you’ve installed them.  If you haven’t installed the security software, any claims about that software scanning your computer are a scam.

They want you to give them access to your computer.  Remote access programs make it possible for people to “take over”. However, just like you wouldn’t physically hand your machine to someone you don’t know and trust, you shouldn’t give access to your computer to someone you don’t know or didn’t hire. 

Research tech support companies before you decide to do business with them. You can check a company at to see if they’re BBB Accredited, what their BBB rating is, and what complaints and reviews their customers have filed about them.

Double-check all the details.  If you’re directed to an official company website, make sure that it’s the real company’s site by double-checking the spelling of the company’s name in the website address. Anything that comes from “Micorsoft,” for example, is a scam.

If a caller claims to work for a reputable company, ask them to tell you their name or their employee ID, and in which department they work. Then look up and call that company’s official customer service line and ask to be directed to that employee.  Do not use a phone number provided to you by the caller.

If you think that you already have fallen for a tech support scam, here’s how to slow down the scammers:

Don’t panic. You may still be able to get your machine fixed.  Scammers are relying on you to make hasty decisions; you’ll be better able to avoid their traps if you slow down and don’t rush.

Make sure you have a quality, up-to-date antivirus software—then run it.  Make sure that you’re using a reputable program and that you’re running the latest version.

Change all your passwords. First change the password to any account or machine the scammer has or could access. Then change the passwords on any account that you were logged in to on your machine, as well as any accounts for which you use the same or very similar login credentials.

Call your credit card company. If you made a payment using your credit card, they’ll help you to appeal any unauthorized charges and to get a new card.

About Better Business Bureau: Better Business Bureau is committed to marketplace trust. For more than 100 years, BBB has been creating a community in which businesses and consumers can trust each other through programs that encourage best practices, create marketplace role models, and denounce substandard business behaviors. People turned to BBB more than 132 million times last year, and BBB reviewed more than 4.5 million businesses and charities. BBB Serving Greater Iowa, Quad Cities and Siouxland, founded in 1940 and is one of 106 local, independent BBBs across North America. You can reach us at 515-243-8137 or online at