Column: Beware of the latest tech support scam

Be aware of the latest version of a tech support scams. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

Q: When I searched Google for the tech support number for Norton Antivirus, the person that answered sounded extremely foreign and wanted my credit card number, so I hung up.  How can I get the real number?

A: What you ran into is just the latest version of the tech support scams that have taken various forms over the years.

They initially started by randomly calling people claiming to be from Microsoft or other large tech firms to tell them that their computer was infected with a virus.

They used clever tricks to fool non-technical victims into believing that their computer had been infiltrated by walking them through some “tests that would prove that you’re infected.”

Since the word is out on this scam, they’ve expanded to a much easier approach; they simply buy ads on Google that display whenever certain keywords are used in a search term.

For instance, when I searched “Norton antivirus tech support,” the first three links are ads that prominently use the word Norton, even though they have nothing to do with the software company.

Of the 21 links on the first page, only five of them would actually take you to either a Norton or Symantec (their parent company) website.

In fact, the first ad was blocked by my Trend Micro web security for being a known malicious website.

The other two had the typical image of a support person along with a toll-free number, but if you look closely, there were disclaimers stating that they were independent third-party service providers.

One of them did their best to have the disclaimer blend in with the image it was posted on and the other had a short paragraph with a “click here for full disclaimer,” but there was nothing to click.

Another trick they use is to post a fake 800 number in the ad itself, knowing that some people will just dial the first number that they see.

The vast majority of websites that come up in a search claiming to list tech support numbers for all the major companies are just a part of the scammer’s network of websites, so don’t trust them either.

Norton doesn’t help things as they don’t publish their support numbers and require users to fill out a form in order to get a phone number.

Google does its best to police these types of misleading ads, but it’s a constant game of whack-a-mole because of the sheer size of their ad network.

It shut down more than 500 million ads last year, but that’s a tiny fraction of the total number being created.

Instead of using search engines to find a support phone number, always start by manually typing in the website for the company that you wish to contact.

Or a faster way to get to the support information for just about any major company is to add the word “support” to the front or back of the web address (often times both will work).

Examples: http://support.company.com or http://company.com/support

Also, I highly recommend the combination of Trend Micro’s Internet Security suite combined with the free Web of Trust plug in for all your browsers to warn you against suspicious websites before you click on a link.

Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question you have on his Facebook Page.

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