Scams are nothing new on the Internet. But one that has become more prevalent recently is the “pop-up tech support” scam. For example, while browsing the Internet, a user sees a pop-up or a page that warns that their Mac might be infected or malware might be installed on it. The pop-up will include a toll-free number to call for immediate “Apple” support tech help or something similar.
I recently heard a father report a worst-case scenario. His daughter, who is away at college, had fallen for one of these scams, and she called the number for “support” and gave them her debit card to pay for the “fix”. She followed instructions to download and install a third party remote access utility to allow them to “fix” the problem on her Mac. (Hopefully she had a backup from before the support company’s “fix”, as an erase and reinstall of the OS should be done in cases like this. Yet another reason to have backups of your data.)
Of course users should never call any of these “support services”. If you see an instance of this, force quit the browser and if you’re using Safari, re-launch with the shift key held down and disable any extensions, remove website data/cookies and verify homepage settings. If you do fall victim to this, you should also change your passwords, notify your bank, cancel any used debit or credit card and monitor your accounts, etc.
And always avoid installing any software/add-ons from any where other than the developers’ website as sometimes general “software download” sites may include adware or – even worse – installer packages for other software.
For users of older OS X versions (10.6.x, for example), Safari hasn’t been updated, therefore other browsers like Firefox should be considered as they’re updated frequently. But regardless of browser, you still should avoid installing software/add-ons from untrusted sources. And be aware that even some “trusted” sources such as Java have been reported in the past to have included bundled browser add-ons/toolbars.
If you suspect you have adware/malware installed (search engine settings changed, pop-ups and redirects occurring, etc.), here are some resources to help you remove it. And it’s worth reading regardless of whether you have the suspicion.
- Apple’s article on removing adware that displays pop-up ads and graphics on your Mac including a list of some example Safari ad-injection extensions: support.apple.com/en-us/HT203987
- AdwareMedic removal utility for OS X 10.7 and later. (Note: some adware blocks access to AdwareMedic)
- TheSafeMac’s Adware Removal Guide
- Apple’s basic guide on protecting your Mac from malware: support.apple.com/kb/PH18656
Note: Both Apple’s removal guide and Adware Medic have been updated over time in an attempt to address new variants but might not cover all examples.
Another commonly reported concern for Apple customers is phishing emails that appear to come from Apple asking to verify account credentials (they often include a warning about your account being used for a recent purchase by a new device, etc.). Apple states they never ask you to provide personal information or sensitive account information (such as passwords or credit card numbers) via email. Here are some Apple support articles on the subject:
- Identifying fraudulent “phishing” email: support.apple.com/kb/HT4933
- Identifying legitimate emails from the iTunes Store: support.apple.com/kb/HT201679
- Safety tips for handling email attachments and content downloaded from the Internet: support.apple.com/kb/HT201675
Tech support scams are common via phone as well as online, and the FTC has sued several “phony tech support” companies over their practices. You can find more information here: consumer.ftc.gov/blog/ftc-cracks-down-tech-support-scams and get advice if you have been a victim of these scams.