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Crime & Safety
Every week, join Whitney Quick as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Computer Pop-Ups And Tech Support Scams

Better Business Bureau

As far as you know, everything is fine with your computer. Then, out of the blue, you either get a call or a pop-up on your screen that things are bad... REALLY bad. 

The caller, who may claim to be from a well-known computer company, tells you that they have to fix a computer bug that you didn’t even notice. If you get a pop-up blocking your screen, it might be accompanied by a high-pitched noise. A phone number will flash on your screen. You’ve got to make a call, and make it fast. 



In both scenarios, you’ve been targeted by a scammer. They will create a sense of urgency, claiming that if you don’t act quickly, you’re going to lose all of your data and bank records, priceless family photos, and other personal files are just seconds away from being destroyed. None of that is true. 

Credit Better Business Bureau
Example of a pop-up screen that consumers may encounter in a tech support scam.

The scammer wants access to your computer. They say they will run a scan for viruses and when they claim to have found a problem, they’ll offer to fix the issue for a fee. If you allow the scammer to access your computer, they may install malware, which can scan files for personal information and open you up to becoming a victim of identity theft. 

How can you protect yourself if you’re targeted in a tech support scam? 

  1. Never give up control of your computer to a third party unless it is the representative of a computer support team you contacted. Legitimate tech support companies don’t call consumers out of the blue. 
  2. Ignore warning screens. Nearly half of all tech support scams begin with an alert on the victim’s computer screen. Instead of calling a number on a pop-up screen, shut down your computer and restart it. 
  3. Don’t click on links in unfamiliar emails. Scammer emails may point consumers to websites that launch pop-ups with fake warnings and phone numbers.