Albuquerque Journal, N.M., Nick Pappas column [Albuquerque Journal, N.M.]
(Albuquerque Journal (NM) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 08--Let's face it, computers have become such a vital part of our lives that the prospect of losing valuable data, getting infected with a virus or crashing altogether is enough to make us consider doing things that we might later regret.
Like giving a scam artist remote control of your computer, thereby allowing that person to access your passwords, credit card numbers and other personal financial information.
The so-called "Microsoft scam" -- variations include individuals posing as Dell, McAfee and Norton employees -- has been around since 2010, which is when Microsoft became aware of it and began cautioning computer owners to be wary of these bogus calls.
And based on recent media reports, it seems to be making a comeback across the country, including here in New Mexico.
Just ask Judy of Albuquerque, who has become somewhat of an expert in fending off these calls over the past two years.
By her count, she has received eight phone calls -- all from the Washington, D.C., area code -- from someone masquerading as a Microsoft Windows technician who insists her computer is infected.
To make matters worse, based on the sound of his voice and general disposition, she is convinced it's been the same person every time.
The first time he called, she says, she was sitting at her computer.
"I'm with Windows," he told her. "We're getting signals from your computer that there's a problem with a virus or something."
At that point, he encouraged her to take a number of steps that would give him remote access to her computer in order to fix it.
Judy was familiar with that process, having relied on a brother in Philadelphia to help her deal with problems in the past.
So her initial thought was just that: He wants access to her computer to remove the virus.
"Then it dawned on me," she says. "Wait a minute. There's something phony here."
That's when she decided to end the conversation.
"I said, 'I'm not going to do this. I don't think this is legitimate.'"
End of story?
That's what she thought until he called right back in what she described as "a very angry voice."
The more they talked, she says, the more she realized it was a scam.
But even that didn't prepare her for the half-dozen calls that would follow over the next two years.
One time she told him she had three computers and wanted to know which one had the problem. Another time she said there just so happened to be a computer repairman at her home. Yet another time she told him she didn't own a computer.
Each time, he responded just as angrily as the first.
"What puzzles me is why he keeps calling my number," she says.
While Judy's experience may seem a bit extraordinary, that's not necessarily the case.
The Sentinel of Carlisle, Pa., reported last month that an Upper Allen Township woman received three phone calls within a 24-hour period claiming that her personal computer was susceptible to a cyberattack -- and that she needed to fork over $249 to fix it.
Last fall, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against six "massive" operations, most of them based in India, that were in the business of conning computer owners into buying services they didn't need or surrendering control of their computers and the sensitive data within them.
In this case, the scammers promised their unsuspecting victims that they would rid their computers of viruses or malware for a one-time cost ranging from $49 to $450. Once they agreed, they were conned into visiting a website and downloading software that gave the callers remote access to their computers.
How common is this scam?
At the time of that complaint, the FTC reported that it was aware of more than 40,000 complaints -- though an official suspected the real number of victims to be "substantially higher" -- that may have resulted in consumer losses in the millions of dollars.
So here are the two important things to remember if you get a call from someone posing as a Microsoft technician:
Microsoft says it does not make unsolicited phone calls offering to fix your computer or seeking personal or financial information.
If you receive such a phone call -- or an email message instructing you to click on a particular link -- hang up the phone or delete the message.
No good deed goes ...
Two weeks ago, you may recall, I wrote about a popular scam brought to our attention locally by Bill Ormerod of Albuquerque, this one involving scam artists who promise to lower the interest rates on your credit cards for a substantial fee.
Suffice to say, they don't read the Journal .
Ormerod called me recently to say that he had received yet another one of these bogus calls -- two days after the column appeared.
And an Albuquerque woman called a few days later to inform me that she, too, had received calls of late offering to lower her credit card rates.
Remember: If you want to lower the interest rates on your credit cards, call the customer service number on the back. It won't cost you anything, and you stand a better chance of being successful than paying some con artist to do it for you.
Nick Pappas is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact him at npappas@abqjournal. com, 505-823-3847 or on Twitter at @nickpapp if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.
(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
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