Beware the Tech Support Scams

If you’re looking after elderly loved ones who spend time online, watch out for tech support scams that target seniors.

It all starts innocently enough. Your mom gets a phone call or an email from someone claiming that she has a serious problem with her computer, like a virus. They want your mom to pay for tech support services to fix this problem. They ask your mom to pay for these services by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, prepaid card or cash reload card, or using a money transfer app because they know those types of payments can be hard to reverse.

If you mom does what she’s being asked to do, she has become a victim of a tech support scam. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, tech support schemes are on the rise and 66% of all reports from 2020 were from adults over 60.

Scam Tactics

Tech support scammers use many different tactics to trick people.

Phone calls: Tech support scammers may call and pretend to be a computer technician from a well-known company. They say they’ve found a problem with your computer. They often ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then pretend to run a diagnostic test. Then they try to make you pay to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. These unsolicited phone calls can also come from people impersonating bank representatives and utility companies. If you get a phone call you didn’t expect from someone who says there’s a problem with your computer, hang up.

Listen to a FTC undercover call with a tech support scammer.

Online Ads & Search Engine Advertising: Tech support scammers try to get their websites to show up in online search results for tech support. Or they might run their own ads online. Criminals pay to have their fraudulent company’s link show higher in search results hoping victims will choose one of the top links in search results. The scammers are hoping you’ll call the phone number to get help.

Pop-up Warnings: Tech support scammers may try to lure you with a pop-up window that appears on your computer screen. It might look like an error message from your operating system or antivirus software, and it might use logos from trusted companies or websites. The message in the window warns of a security issue on your computer and tells you to call a phone number to get help.

Email: You receive an email warning of support subscription expiration or a potentially fraudulent charge on their account. The victim is encouraged to contact the fraudulent support via phone.

Tips to Protect Against Tech Support Scams

Here’s what to know to protect yourself and elderly loved ones from tech support scams.

Legitimate tech companies won’t contact you by phone, email or text message to tell you there’s a problem with your computer.

Security pop-up warnings from real tech companies will never ask you to call a phone number.

Legitimate tech support companies will not demand immediate payment, or require payment via prepaid cards, wire transfers, or mailed cash.

Ensure all computer anti-virus, security, and malware protection is up to date

Be cautious of customer support numbers obtained through an online search (e.g. Google).

Resist the pressure to act quickly. Criminals will urge the victim to act fast to protect their device.

Never give unknown, unverified persons remote access to devices or accounts.

If You Were Scammed

If you paid a tech support scammer with a credit or debit card, you may be able to stop the transaction. Contact your credit card company or bank right away. Tell them what happened and ask if they can reverse the charges.

If you paid a tech support scammer with a gift card, contact the company that issued the card right away. Tell them you paid a scammer with the gift card and ask if they can refund your money.

If you gave a scammer remote access to your computer, update your computer’s security software. Then run a scan and delete anything it identifies as a problem.

If you gave your username and password to a tech support scammer, change your password right away. If you use the same password for other accounts or sites, change it there, too.

If a tech support scammer contacts you, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at

Sources: FBI, FTC