How to Avoid Tech Support Scams

I can’t think of anything more frustrating than fraudsters pretending to offer help to users, only to steal valuable personal information and payments for services not needed. Apple does a good job protecting its users, but as Apple products become more popular, the size of the target on macOS and iOS grows with it. Here’s how tech support scams work and how to avoid them.

How Tech Support Scams Work

Tech support scams start by trying to get you on the phone. You might see an alarming pop-up message informing you of some problem and giving a number to call for help, end up on a web site that offers a free “security scan” that will pretend to find problems and urge you to call, or even receive a direct cold call from someone claiming to be from Apple, Google, or Microsoft.

Once you’re on the phone, the scammers’ goal is to convince you to pay them to solve your “problem.” They do this by throwing around technical terms and having you look at low-level files that, they’ll say, show evidence of issues like malware infection or file corruption. They may even ask for remote access to your Mac and show you log messages that look like concerning errors.

If you fall for this legitimate-sound technobabble, the scammers close in for the kill. They may ask for your credit card number to pay for the “services” they’ve rendered, enroll you in a fake maintenance or warranty program, sell you software that is normally available as a free download, or install malware that will give them continued access to your computer.

How to Protect Yourself from Tech Support Scams

Luckily, it’s easy to ensure that you don’t get scammed.

  • Never call a phone number that appears in a pop-up dialog, no matter what it says. Legitimate messages will never ask you to do that.
  • If you get an unexpected call from someone you don’t know claiming to be tech support, hang up immediately. Don’t be fooled by caller ID, since it can be spoofed to look like the call is coming from a legitimate company, like Apple.
  • Don’t give your passwords to anyone who contacts you on the phone, and never allow anyone you haven’t met in person (and trust!) to control your Mac remotely.

Of course, the awkward part here is that, if you are my customer, I may need to call you and even ask for remote control of your Mac. I will always identify myself clearly, and if you’re at all concerned, you can call me back at the contact number you already have or ask me for some piece of information no scammer could know. Hopefully if you are my client, you will recognize my voice or one of my bad jokes and feel confident you are talking to just me.

How to Recover from Being Scammed

First, we’re here to help for real, so please feel free to contact us for assistance. That said, there are three main things to focus on:

  • Change any passwords that you shared. Plus, if you use the same passwords on any Web sites, change those passwords too. (And start using a password manager like 1Password or LastPass so every site can have its own secure password without you having to remember and type them.)
  • If you have legitimate anti-malware software, run it to make sure the scammer didn’t install anything evil on your Mac. If you don’t have up-to-date anti-malware software, contact us to see what we recommend.
  • If you paid for any bogus services, call your credit card company and reverse the charges. You can also report the incident to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.

Finally, beware of the “refund scam.” Several months after you’ve been scammed, you might get a call asking if you were satisfied with the service and offering a refund if you weren’t happy, or saying that the company is filing for bankruptcy and providing refunds. Either way, the scammer will then ask for your bank account or credit card number to process the refund, but instead of depositing money, will extract more. If you get a call like this, hang up immediately.

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