A message from a company like Microsoft or Apple probably seems like something you can trust. It seems hard to argue with a tech expert from an established company who is telling you that your computer needs to be fixed.

However, skilled scammers can pose as experts from these companies and trick you into losing a lot of money. Scammers may also place pop-up ads within websites to force you to believe your device is infected with a virus. It’s alarming to see an alert like that on your screen, and millions of people fall for it each year. Microsoft estimates that people lose about $1.5 billion annually because of tech support scams, averaging out to about $450 per person affected.

These types of scammers are opportunistic, waiting for a chance to strike when you are fearful of losing your security and privacy. Luckily, there are several ways you can thwart these malicious efforts before they take advantage of you.

Ignore calls you’re not expecting. If you didn’t already reach out to a legitimate tech company for support, they won’t call you first. Anyone claiming to be a customer service representative asking about your satisfaction with a product you just bought could be a scammer, too. They may ask for your bank account information to deposit a refund, but their motives are much more sinister than that.

Protect your passwords and financial information. Memorize them, store them in a secure password manager, and don’t share them over the phone or in messages.

Update your computer’s virus scanners, and make sure your computer is running these diagnostics multiple times per week. You can sometimes set them to update and scan automatically, and although they won’t guarantee protection, they are a good first line of defense against scammers.

Remove pop-ups by shutting down your search browser when you see them. How you do this varies between device brands. For a Windows PC, press Control-Alt-Delete to bring up the Task Manager. For a Mac, press Option-Command-Escape, or use Force Quit in the Apple menu.

Contact your bank or credit card company if you fall for a scam. If you’ve given your financial information to the scammer, continually check your statements for unwanted charges, and try changing cards or accounts if necessary. 

Pay attention to the source and wording in the messages you receive. If you’re suspicious of a scam, check to see if the email address is legitimate. The grammar may sound strange within the actual message, and spelling errors could be a useful hint that the sender isn’t who they say they are.

Tech support scams can affect individuals, or they can target entire businesses. Be wary of the warning signs, and report any suspicious activity to the Federal Trade Commission.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams.

You can sign up for Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or by calling 800-646-2283. By joining the Fraud Watch Network, you’ll receive alerts and notifications about new scams as they emerge.

File a consumer complaint with the Washington Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov.