Are Scammers Taking Over Your Computer? Here’s How To Tell

Scammers have numerous ways to try and steal your data. Here’s how to tell if someone is remotely accessing your computer.
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Remote access scammers have one goal: hacking your computer and stealing your info. They'll trick you into installing malware or sharing sensitive data willingly. A successful remote attack usually results in some form of identity theft. The criminals can steal your money, medical benefits, and even the title to your home.

So, to detect remote access you need to protect your identity. Ideally, you'll recognize the scam before the criminal takes over your computer. If you don't, your device will show signs of remote access. These include security warnings, slow performance, camera and microphone activating, and more.

Keep reading to learn how to tell if someone is remotely accessing your computer and how to regain control.

In this article
How to recognize a remote access scam
How to detect and confirm unauthorized remote access
What to do if someone is remotely accessing your computer
How to prevent remote access attacks
How to tell if someone is remotely accessing your computer FAQs
Bottom line

How to recognize a remote access scam

Remote access scams usually start with a phishing attack. They'll prompt you to click a link, install a malicious program, or share your info. However, if you don't follow these instructions, the attack will fail.

Most attempts to access your computer remotely have a recognizable pattern. Learning to spot it makes the difference between proactive protection and damage control. Here’s a full anatomy of a typical remote access scam:

  • The initial contact: The attacker can use emails, phone, SMS, social media, or any other type of electronic communication.
  • Delivering the bait: Phishing usually employs social engineering scams to create a sense of urgency. For example, they will tell you that your device is infected, or your account has been compromised. Fake tech support is one of the most common remote access scams. The attacker will build trust by impersonating an agent of a renowned company (Microsoft, Apple, Norton, etc.). They'll then create urgency (telling you that you have a virus, device issues, or unattended remote access) and then will ask you to help them fix it.
  • Offering a solution: The next step provides a miraculous solution to your alleged problem. All you have to do is share your login info, install this tool, or click this (malicious) link. Some scammers will outright ask you to share computer access so they can "fix" your issues.
  • Taking over your computer: Once you've taken the bait, the hacker will take control of your computer.
  • Locking you out: At this point, the scammer can change your passwords, use different emails for your accounts, and deny you access to your computer.

How to detect and confirm unauthorized remote access

If you've missed the initial signs of an attack, the scammer has likely accessed your computer. Now, you're in a race to protect your information and regain control. The first step is detecting and confirming remote connections.

Here's what to look for:

  • Phantom cursor movements: A cursor moving without your input can be a sign of remote access.
  • Slow/unresponsive device: Malware will tax your operating system like any other program. Take note of laggy performance or unexplained freezes.
  • Security warnings: These include antivirus alerts, firewall warnings, notifications about changed security settings, user account alerts on a Windows computer, and more.
  • Suspicious activity on online accounts: You might notice fraudulent charges on your credit cards or messages you didn't send.
  • Microphone/camera activating: The attacker can remotely activate your mic and camera to spy on you.
  • Unknown programs/files: New programs you haven't installed or files you don't recognize are strong indicators of remote access.

Confirming the intrusion

You can confirm the attack using the steps below if you find enough indicators. We also recommend making them a part of your monthly security routine.

  • Check the recent activity on your computer: Look for anything you don't recognize -- recently accessed files, login events, browser history, and system logs.
  • Review installed programs: Look for remote access programs you didn't install. Some of the most common apps include LogMeIn and TeamViewer.
  • Check active connections: Ensure you're the only user logged into your computer. The easiest way to do this is by running your Task Manager and inspecting the User tab.

What to do if someone is remotely accessing your computer

Acting quickly is essential in these situations. As mentioned, the attacker will try to cut you off the moment they access your computer.

Here's how to stop that:

  • Disconnect from the internet: Cut your internet connection right away. Scammers can't use remote access programs if you're offline. This step can also sandbox malware infections. However, they can still access your accounts if you've shared your passwords.
  • Run a full antivirus scan: Use a good antivirus program to find and remove suspicious files and programs.
  • Change all passwords: Use a non-infected device to change all important passwords. This includes passwords for your bank accounts, social media, emails, and Google account. Never use the same password twice, and consider keeping track of them with a password manager.
  • Wipe your device: As a last resort, you can wipe your hard drive and restore your system. This will revert it to its default settings and eliminate the problems caused by an attack. Make sure to back up your computer to avoid data loss.

How to prevent remote access attacks

As mentioned, we recommend preventing attacks rather than dealing with the fallout. Here's how to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals:

  • Update your software regularly: New versions always bring security updates and patches for known vulnerabilities.
  • Install a virtual private network: Quality VPNs, like NordVPN and Surfshark, will boost your online privacy and security.
  • Use a password manager: The best password managers will save your account credentials and keep them secure.
  • Enable two-factor authentication: 2FA helps protect your accounts by requiring an extra step to log in.
  • Learn to recognize and avoid phishing scams: Stay educated on the typical practices.

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How to tell if someone is remotely accessing your computer FAQs


How can I check if my computer is being monitored?

You can detect remote access by checking the processes on your device. Sometimes spyware and other malware are running in the background. You can also check your active network connections for monitoring programs and review your installed applications for unauthorized software. Another indication that your computer is being monitored is that your webcam’s indicator light is on or your cursor has phantom movements.


Can someone see me through my computer camera?

Hackers can see you through your computer camera. If they get access to your webcam by infecting your device with malware, it allows them to see anything in your camera’s field of vision. This is the reason many people cover their webcams to prevent someone from watching them and to make them feel more secure.


Can hackers see my screen?

Hackers can see your screen if they obtain remote access to your device. That happens when malware gets installed that can monitor your screen activity, whereby the hackers can watch data exchanges. That can give them all the information they need to steal financial information and other personal details.


What happens when a hacker gets remote access to my computer?

When a hacker gets remote access to your computer, you can lose control of the device. Hackers can monitor your data exchanges and steal your passwords or other sensitive information.


How can I block remote access to my computer?

If you want to block remote access to your computer, you can disable that feature. You can do this from your Settings application in Windows and turn off the remote desktop feature. For macOS, you go to System Preferences and make sure Sharing is turned off.

Bottom line

Remote access scammers can take over your computer and cause irreparable damage. Fortunately, you can learn how to spot these attacks and prevent them from happening. Learning to recognize phishing scams is the most important step in this process.

Using good security tools and monitoring your accounts is another piece of the prevention puzzle. We also recommend installing a strong VPN, an antivirus program, and identity theft protection.

Hackers are becoming ever craftier with their attacks, but they all rely on tricking you to do something. You can avoid being their next target if you recognize the attack and simply refuse to comply.

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Author Details
Patti Croft is a seasoned writer specializing in technology, with three years of experience. With a B.S. in Computer Science and a background as a technical analyst and security specialist, she covers a range of topics like data security and parental control software.