Got a Suspicious Pop-Up? 8 Ways to Protect Yourself From Tech Support Scams

Internet scammers are savvy. They have to be. How else would they be able to swindle thousands of people out of millions of dollars?

One scam in particular has sent the Federal Trade Commission on a warpath this week as officials filed 16 new actions, including legal complaints, settlements, indictments and guilty pleas against deceptive tech support companies.

These scams generally work the same way: A pop-up in your internet browser will instruct you to call a toll-free phone number to get help with a security issue or risk losing your data.

Once the scammers have you on the phone, they will attempt to gain remote access to your computer to run fake security scans and eventually try to sell you expensive software you don’t need to solve your fictitious problem.

According to the FTC, this scam has already cost consumers millions of dollars in hard-earned cash. Although the FTC’s legal battle against the scammers could slow down scammers, there are several steps you can take to make sure your money stays with you.

Protect Yourself Against Tech Support Scams

The FTC recommends taking this series of steps to avoid being the victim of a tech support scam.

1. Keep Your Security Software Updated

It’s important to keep your anti-virus software updated and know exactly what an alert from that company looks like. If you do that, it’s less likely a scammer will be able to fool you with a look-alike. This will also help fight back against any malware a scammer could potentially install.

2. Don’t Call the Phone Number

The scammer’s goal is to get you on the phone and convince you they are real tech support employees. That way, when they offer you services or software, you will be willing to pay up.

Remember, Microsoft will never display a pop-up warning asking you to call a toll-free number to talk about viruses or security problems on your computer, the FTC said.

3. Never Give Anyone Control of Your Computer

If you make the mistake of calling the phone number and the person on the other end asks you to give them remote access to your computer for any reason, don’t do it. Hang up immediately. That same rule applies if the person asks you to send money for any software or service.

4. Report it to the FTC

Although you WON’T be calling the toll-free phone number, don’t just close the pop-up. If you see something suspicious, make sure to report it to the FTC. Record as much information as possible, including the phone number the pop-up prompted you to call. That could help the FTC in its effort to catch the scammer and protect other people from getting swindled.

5. Spread the Word

Once you’ve reported the incident to the FTC, be sure to tell your family and friends about it, too. Sometimes, letting loved ones know this type of crime exists is the best way to protect them.

6. Never Share Your Passwords

Don’t share passwords to your computer or private accounts with anyone. If you’ve already done this, make sure to change those passwords immediately on every account that might be compromised.

7. Do You Need Tech Support? Find the Right Phone Number Yourself

Of course, there may be times when you need someone to walk you through a security issue. While you should never call the phone number in a pop-up, you can still feel comfortable calling your security software company directly. Just be sure to look up the correct phone number on its official website.

8. Think You’ve Been Scammed? Call Your Credit Card Company

If you’re finding our advice a little late and already missed the chance to follow all the steps above, it’s not too late. The scammer may have your money, but you can still call your credit card company to ask it to reverse any fraudulent charges. Be sure to keep checking your statements to make sure no future charges appear.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.