How to recognize and avoid tech support scams

woman working on desktop

Tech support scammers use social engineering and fear tactics to get victims to take the bait. There are three main ways this scam is executed: cold calls, pop-up messages, and incorrect search engine results.

Note: If you think you have been the victim of a technical support scam involving one of our products, please visit our technical support page for help.

A tech support scam is a form of fraud gaining momentum on the internet. The scam implements social engineering and fear tactics in order to get the victim to take the bait.

There are three main ways this scam is executed: via cold calls, pop-up messages, and incorrect search engine results on a Mac operating system or Windows computer.

Cold calls and fake phone calls

Technical support scammer cold calls are when an individual calls the target, claiming to be from tech support at a reputable company and stating they have found malware on the target’s computer.

The scammer will then try to get the user to install a type of remote access desktop software under the pretext of helping to remove the infestation. This would allow the attacker access to the target’s computer in order to install real malware. It can be difficult to stop scammers with security software once you grant remote access.

In addition to attempting to install malware on the target’s machine, these scammers will often ask for a fee via cryptocurrency or credit card to fix the issue. That’s one way they can steal financial information.

Pop-up warnings

Tech support pop-up warnings occur when a user is browsing the Internet.

Usually, the target is viewing a website that contains links to related content and, when the user clicks on one of those links, it will redirect them to a website hosting the pop-ups. These pop-ups can be terribly intrusive, making it difficult for the user to close the window.

The pop-ups will then display a message stating that the computer is infected with malware and offer a phone number for help with removing the malware. Often, these pop-ups will look like they come from a legitimate source, including some claiming to be related to Norton products. Tech support scammers can have many tricks up their sleeves.

Advertising, paid search, confusing search results

Fraudulent companies frequently use paid search to advertise their support services. Here’s an example of how a scam might unfold.

The Microsoft tech support scam

Scammers like to take advantage of name recognition, pretending to represent well-known software companies such Microsoft or Apple.

With the Microsoft tech support scam, a fake representative will call you, even spoofing the caller ID so it looks like the phone call really is coming from the software giant.

The scammer will walk you through the process of installing applications that allow remote access to your computer. Or, the scammer may initiate contact by displaying fake pop-up messages on your screen that trick you into calling a fraudulent ‘support’ hotline.

With both scams, the goal is to get you to pay, in the form of a one-time fee or subscription, to fix the problem.

If someone claiming to be a representative calls you, hang up. Microsoft doesn't initiate contact via phone or email messages to fix your computer issues. Microsoft also never includes phone numbers on its error and warning messages.

In fact, communication always has to be initiated by you. Visit Microsoft’s official website and follow prompts to get help if you're having device problems and to report scams.

When you download software, make sure it's only from official vendor websites or the Microsoft Store. Software from third-party sites may have been modified to support scam malware and other threats.

Technical support scam motivation

The common motives behind these tech support scams are to extort the victim to gain money as well as installing malware such as keyloggers or backdoor Trojans in order to gain access to personal information.

How to identify and avoid pop-up and cold-calling tech support scams

Here are some tips that can help.


Examine the message closely — look for obvious signs which might indicate fraud or deception, such as poor spelling and bad grammar, unprofessional imagery, and language that creates a sense of urgency.

You can also do an Internet search for the phone number or business name that is listed in the pop-up to verify its legitimacy.

There are many websites where people report scammers. If it is a scam, there will likely be an abundance of search results, often on the first page of the search, that clearly point out the scammer.

Cold-call telephone scams

You will never receive an unsolicited call from Norton Support to fix issues with your computer for money. You will only receive a call if you request it.

Most importantly, official Norton Support is always free to current subscribers.

If you do happen to get a pop-up on your computer from an official Norton product, it may look like the examples below, depending on what product you may have. Keep in mind that when the software detects a threat, it will never ask you to call support via a toll-free number.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

  • Change your passwords: to your computer, to financial institutions, to your Norton Account and to any other password-protected websites that you visit.
  • Run a Full System Scan for viruses on your computer.
  • Contact your bank to report that there has been fraud performed on your account.
  • Download and run Norton Power Eraser, a free virus and malware removal tool which uses a more intensive method to scan your computer to detect more complex threats than what some traditional antivirus programs can detect.

There are many different ways to get official Norton support

In order to make sure you are visiting the correct Norton support page, be sure to type in in the URL bar of your web browser.

You can use Norton Support: Live Chat, which is the fastest first step towards solving your issue.

There is also the Norton Forums, where you can browse through a library of Top Solutions around common problems.

Request help via Norton’s phone support.

Additionally, you can stay up-to-date on the most current threats and scams on the Norton Internet Security Center blog.

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Alison Grace Johansen
  • Alison Grace Johansen
  • Freelance writer
Alison Grace Johansen is a freelance writer who covers cybersecurity and consumer topics. Her background includes law, corporate governance, and publishing.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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