Your Computer Probably Doesn't Have a Security Problem if You Get a Popup Warning Message
Keeping your software updated and never sharing passwords are just two ways to keep yourself safe
If you're on your computer and you get a warning message, stop for a moment. Common tech support scams use pup up messages that claim you have a security problem. The warning messages vary a little bit, but they usually give you some kind of dire warning that you will lose access to your data unless you contact the tech support number displayed or click a tech support link. Don't fall for the scam.
Not every website is clean
Not every website out there is free of viruses and malware. If you access a website that is infected, a popup message may turn up that prevents you from navigating away from the page until you contact the scammers. Rebooting the computer might not occur to you, but it's an easy way to escape the website. Thankfully, most modern web browsers will block websites that are known to be infected.
Downloading software is risky
You should be very weary of downloading anything from the Internet, but downloading any kind of executable software. A lot of software out there is masquerading as other software. The file might be marked as an antivirus program, but unless it's coming from a trusted source it could be anything. While it may be relatively easy to escape from a website that is preventing you from navigating away, installing a malicious program on your computer can cause a lot of problems. You may find yourself locked out of your computer at each boot until you call the scammer.
Free scans are seldom free
Visiting a website from a free virus scan, system scan, or other type of scan might seem like a good idea, but it could put you at risk. While there are websites out there that give you genuinely free scans, it's usually a prelude to hitting you with a pitch to purchase something you didn't want. But many websites that offer free scans don't actually scan your computer. They merely make it look like your computer is being scanned before warning you that a problem was found and giving you costly options to fix it.
Some popups look like your existing software
When you get a popup message that looks like it's from your antivirus program, make sure it's actually from that program. Many tech support popup scams mimic the look and feel of antivirus programs or even your operating system.
What do they want?
The thieves behind tech support scams are usually after money, but they're often also after your sensitive personal information. This information can include Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and website passwords.
What happens if you call or click
When you call one of the scammers, you will probably be directed to do something that will give them the ability to remotely control your computer so they can run fake virus scans in an attempt to sell you other software or services you don't need. They may also install addition software that can harvest your information. If you click the links, you may give the scammer remote access or even install unwanted software.
When in doubt, don't click or call
Most security or operating system software error messages won't ask you to call for assistance, which costs a lot of money to the company that has to hire staff. Those companies opt instead to give you a self-service option. But most of these types of popup messages should be taken with a grain of salt. If you get one of these messages, it's best not to call or click.
Microsoft does NOT display a contact phone number and does NOT ask you to call to discuss viruses or any other kind of security problem on your machine.
Update your software and operating system
Make sure your antivirus and other security software is always updated. This will help to ensure that connections to websites and downloads are scanned in real time. Keeping your operating system updated is also important as security holes are plugged frequently that can allow scammers to remotely access your system without your knowledge.
Don't allow remote access to your computer
Allowing someone to access your computer remotely opens you up to hackers. Some legitimate tech support lines might request to access your system to help you diagnose a problem, but the vast majority of remote access requests are from people looking to do bad things. If someone is asking to access your computer remotely, stop dealing with that person or company.
Look up your tech support number yourself
It's just like getting email from a company claiming to be your credit card company. Whenever you are asked to call a company, you should look up the contact information for the company directly and not use the information that is displayed to you.
Notify your credit card company
If you have entered credit card information into a a scammer's website or provided it to a scammer, contact your credit card company immediately to report it compromised. Doing so will prevent unauthorized charges and will limit your liability for unauthorized charges that have already been processed.
Report all suspected scams
Report any suspected scams to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. If you live outside North Carolina, report suspected scams to your state's Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).