Everything You Need to Know About the Microsoft Support Scam

May 12, 2016

Computer scams happen every day, and they’re constantly evolving. Some scams begin with phone calls, some arrive as a message in your email. One recent scam is the scary pop-up window on your computer that shows warnings like “Firewall Alert: Your Computer May Have Adware/Spyware Virus,” or “Computer Security At Risk!,” or “System crash and identity threat detected.” There may also be a warning not to touch your computer. The warning may even come as a voice alert. Sometimes the pop-up window is accompanied by a strange noise emanating from your computer. 

The pop-up message will direct you to call immediately for assistance to remove the potential virus.  A toll-free phone number is provided. These warnings might appear to be part of your operating system, but actually they are not.

If you call the phone number, often times they will tell you that you are speaking with a Microsoft  technician. But the 'technician' is likely an Internet criminal, and rather than removing a virus, they install malware on your computer instead. Once malware is downloaded onto your computer, they may have access to passwords, and important documents. 

They may even ask you for payment at the end of the conversation, further exposing you to identity theft.

What Microsoft Says
Microsoft says it will never prompt you to call an 800 number for tech support—you should always be the one to initiate a call for help. According to Microsoft:

The popup with the telephone number you are seeing is the malware/adware issue on your computer.  It's a new wrinkle on the cold call scams and the fake anti malware programs that were previously being installed on computers that we have heard about for years. It's nothing but a scam to get your money and credit card info. Some of them use what appears to be a local number but in reality the scam may be from a country which will not cooperate with law enforcement agencies trying to identify the scammers.  

Whenever 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. You can reach out directly to one of Microsoft’s technical support experts at the Microsoft Answer Desk or at 1-800-426-9400. 

How to Protect Yourself
Never browse the internet without up-to-date anti-virus software. Be aware of the links you click on and avoid any suspicious websites. If possible, change your browser settings to block pop-ups. If you see a pop-up alert, don't click on it, no matter how threatening it may be and definitely don't call the 1-800 number. Close your internet browser instead. If you are using an Apple computer, you may have to force-quit your browser. If you are running Windows, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to bring up a link to launch the Task Manager. From there you should select your browser and click "End Task." 

What to do if You Have Been Scammed
Call your bank or credit card issuer and report the fraud. Change your passwords. If the scammer was given remote access to your computer, it's safe to assume they had access to all of your information, so be on the safe side and change all of your passwords, including passwords to your online banking accounts, credit card accounts, email accounts, etc. Don't trust any software installed by the scammer, it may be malware.

Even if you didn’t see them download something, they still could have placed malware on your machine.

If you are computer-savvy, you may be able to remove the malware using the guidelines provided by Microsoft or by using the directions on another reputable website. However, if you’re not sure if the malware is in your computer, or your computer is slow or otherwise acting strange after the episode, assume the worst and get help. You can search for and compare Accredited computer repair businesses at bbb.org.

Report the Scammers
Be sure to report all scams to the BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker. You can also report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission, contact your local law enforcement agency, and report the crime at the internet crime website of the FBI.

If you need help identifying a scam, contact your local Better Business Bureau at bbb.org