Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.
Q: It occurred to me (and two other people I was just talking to) that Microsoft might be running a worldwide scam with their subcontracted tech support. When something bad happens to my computer (and I have Windows 10 and a Dell Inspiron), I call Microsoft technical support and get through to someone in India. It always costs $100 to fix something, and the people are constantly pushing me to buy a $150 annual support plan — which I can’t afford.
On two occasions they have taken control of my computer to fix something.
My question is — what is there to stop these people from installing a time-release virus that screws something up, and forces me to go back to another Indian subcontractor?
In other words, these days no one at Microsoft will answer a simple technical support question (on the phone) without getting paid first.
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Are there other people out there complaining about this (possible) scam?
— Name withheld, Seattle
A: Obviously, I can’t tell if you’ve reached a legitimate Microsoft support person or not. Yes, while Microsoft does charge roughly $100 if you have a problem that requires an extended, personal support session, and while you can buy an annual support plan for $149, I’ve never found Microsoft tech support to be pushy about getting users to cough up for those options.
At the same time, there are a lot of scammers out there purporting to be Microsoft tech support staff. Microsoft offers a webpage to help avoid such scammers: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4013405/windows-protect-from-tech-support-scams. The long and short of it is that you may have malware on your computer that pops up an alert warning of a problem and instructs you to call tech support at xxx-xxx-xxxxx. Microsoft also offers a page where you can report such a support scam: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/reportascam/?locale=en-US.
And the Microsoft support site — https://support.microsoft.com/en-us — offers a lot of free options for getting support, including a navigable set of solutions to common problems, video and a link to contact tech support directly.
From how you describe your experience, I have to suspect you were dealing with a scammer. As for whether a scammer can upload malware through a remote link, yes, absolutely. So it’s important to make sure you’ve gone through Microsoft’s website and are connected to “real” Microsoft tech support.
Q: I’m running Windows 10 on an older computer. Lately I’ve been getting an annoying pop-up from my Edge browser. It’s an Edge page with “click.adservinganalytics.com/redirect …” in the URL field. In fact, the browser doesn’t even have to be running for me to get the pop-up. I will wake up my computer in the morning and I’ll have 15-20 tabs with the message open. Frustrated.
— Ken Puhl, Enumclaw
A: I’m afraid that you have a piece of malware on your computer. While I haven’t found specific steps for uninstalling that particular piece of malware, you can likely squash the critter by first uninstalling any suspicious software from your computer and then running a good anti-malware scan.
First, call up the Control Panel and launch the Programs and Features utility. Scroll down the list of installed programs and uninstall any that you don’t recognize. Next, run scans of your computer using both your anti-virus program and a good anti-malware program.
It goes without saying that if you don’t have anti-virus and anti-malware software installed, I urge you to do so without delay.
Finally, if you still encounter the problem, I recommend disabling any extensions you may have recently added to the browser.