When Tech Support calls you

Out of the blue, someone calls and tells you your computer is infected or has a problem. Here's what you should do.

Diane Shotbolt received a call from an alleged tech support person who "wanted me to make changes to my computer." She asked for my advice.

If there are people monitoring your computer, and there probably are, they're not doing it to provide tech support. In fact, they don't want you to know that they're watching you.

Unless they're returning your call, legitimate tech people don't call you. Think about the last time you called tech support. You were probably on hold for an uncomfortable amount of time. Do you really think they're going to call you and offer support you didn't know you needed?

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

So if you get this type of call, consider it a scam. It almost certainly is.

Quite often, the people calling claim to be from Microsoft or another legitimate company. They may try to convince you to download their "repair program," which is actually malware. They'll try to trick you into giving them remote access to your PC, allowing them to look for passwords and other sensitive information. Remote access also lets them change settings and lower your PC's protections.

And, of course, since they're providing you with a "desperately needed service," they expect to be paid for their trouble. Your credit card number is a valuable asset for a criminal.

So what should you do when you get a call of this nature?

First and foremost, don't do anything they ask. Don't install their software. Don't give them remote access to your PC. And don't give them any useful information.

But play along long enough to get some information on them. If you have caller ID, note their number. If you don't, ask for their phone number and promise to call them back.

Then, as soon as you're off the phone, call your local police and report the incident. This probably won't result in an arrest, but it's better than nothing.

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