Tech support scammers often operate a network of websites to support their operation. The genuinely-looking sites not only borrow legitimacy to the scammers but also host the payment pages to take payments from their victims.
In this article, we explain how you can report websites associated with tech support scams on the appropriate forums, and have them taken down from the internet temporarily or permanently.
The facade of a legitimate business
Websites belonging to tech support scams are usually indistinguishable from legitimate ones ran by genuine IT companies. They typically feature a list of services the scammers supposedly provide, the companies they serve, and the contact details such as telephone numbers. As opposed to a legitimate business, the registered business name, address and the directors are typically missing.
Secondly, content on these web pages is heavily tailored to search engines rather than humans. Scammers tend to rely on black hat SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) techniques to push their websites to the top of search results on Google.
The scammers take their time to build an array of backlinks pointing back to their website (aka. money page). The goal is to trick search engines into ranking the website higher. For example, scammers post dozens of links on social media (Twitter, Facebook), link sharing services (Scoop.it) and platforms with high page ranking (e.g. Vimeo, Wordpress.com, YouTube) to make it appear the business is in high demand.
Once the backlinks are up, Google will bubble up the money page higher up on the search results. As a result, tech support scams will come up first instead of legitimate IT businesses or genuine tech support forums if someone is Googling for a solution to a computer problem.
Thirdly, tech support scam sites may feature payment pages. These are key to the operation as the scammers direct their victims to these pages to charge their credit cards.
Therefore, the unavailability of the tech support websites can disrupt the normal operation of tech support scams. Without the sites running, it is more challenging to convince the victim that they are calling from a legitimate IT business. Secondly, it becomes more difficult to take payments.
Services to Report Tech Support Scams
If you become aware of a website associated with tech support scams, you should take a comprehensive approach by reporting them on as many platforms as you can.
The first platform to report the page should be Google Safe Browsing and Windows SmartScreen. They are URL lookup services preventing Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer users from visiting websites on the block list.
- Google Safe Browsing: https://safebrowsing.google.com/safebrowsing/report_general/
- Windows SmartScreen: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/wdsi/support/report-unsafe-site-guest
- Suspicious Site Reporter browser extension (reports to Google Safe Browsing)
You should also report the offending domain name from the various website reputation lookup services ran by antivirus software and cybersecurity companies. For example, if you request to recategorise the website as 'Dangerous' on the Trend Micro Site Safety Center, the website will trigger the antivirus software running on the victims' computer. Just like with Google Safe Browsing, the browser will show a warning page instead of loading the actual website of the tech support scam.
- Fortinet: http://url.fortinet.net/rate/submit.php
- McAfee: https://www.trustedsource.org/en/feedback/url
- Trend Micro: https://global.sitesafety.trendmicro.com/index.php
- Symantec: https://sitereview.bluecoat.com/
- Barracuda: http://www.barracudacentral.org/report/website-category
Thirdly, you should contact the corresponding hosting provider as well. Some of them take these reports seriously and will take the necessary actions to disconnect the website from the web. If the hosting provider is hidden behind Cloudflare, you should report the site to them instead.
- Hosting provider lookup: https://www.whoishostingthis.com/
- GoDaddy: https://supportcenter.godaddy.com/AbuseReport
- Cloudflare: https://www.cloudflare.com/abuse/form
- DigitalOcean: https://www.digitalocean.com/company/contact/#abuse
- OVH: https://www.ovh.com/abuse/
If the website features any payment page, you can try reporting the abuse to the payment provider.
If you live outside of the US, you may want to try local organisations:
Tech support scams rely on websites to make the business look genuine or take payments from the victims. Rather than building a good reputation with hard work, they employ various SEO tricks to be on the forefront of tech support search enquiries. The normal operations of these businesses can be disrupted by reporting them on the appropriate forums and platforms.
Image credit: Ken Teegardin