The man on the phone has a thick Indian accent. He says his name is James Mirrer and that he is calling from Microsoft technical support in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s received notification that there is a really dangerous virus on my computer. If I’m close to my computer, he assures me, he can help to secure it. …
Recently, a number of locals have received phone calls from people claiming to be computer support technicians. But really, it’s just the latest spinoff of the old telephone scam.
Although they start out with a list of numbers that were bought, stolen or discovered online, Mr. Mirrer and his cohorts will try to finish with either information that can be sold, or quick cash from a trusting victim.
Rick Porter, of Rick’s Computer Services in Homer, said he is receiving more and more phone calls from clients who have answered a phone call and ended up with a mess.
“How far did you go?” is one of his first questions.
From paying money for false “security” subscriptions, to giving access to their computers, locals are being tricked by these computer support scammers.
The words can be different, said Porter, but the model is the same. Someone calls out of the blue and says they are from a well-known company. When they offer to help by gaining access to your computer, or having you visit their website — don’t oblige.
“They want something from you,” said Porter. “They are looking for something.”
Porter said when the callers are pressed for more information, they will have all sorts of answers.
“They’re very convincing,” he said. “They’ll say anything to keep you online and keep you going.”
Some people have had to close accounts because money for false antivirus subscriptions kept disappearing.
One person who contacted Porter lost $800, another one lost $325.
Still another had given access to her computer, then brought it in to have it checked over. Porter found a Trojan backdoor, which could have allowed remote access to the computer at any time, had been left in it by the scammer.
Porter notes that these days, information is valuable — whether it’s credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers.
“It’s all about the money,” he said.
On a recent visit to Homer, Cynthia Parkin, of Anchorage, shared about her experience with this particular scam.
About a year-and-a-half ago, she received a phone call. Already chronically frustrated with her computer, Parkin said that when someone called offering technical support, it seemed to make sense.
The caller didn’t ask for access right away, or even money. Instead, the person had her go to her computer and coached her through steps to “fix” it. When that didn’t work, he asked to work on it remotely. He also reiterated that this virus was bad — extremely bad.
“It’s a rabbit hole and they lead you right down it,” said Parkin. “And remember — I was desperate.”
When her husband got home from work and Parkin told him what had happened, she said he couldn’t believe she had allowed someone to access their computer. The cost could have been worse. She paid less than $200 for the faulty help, and hasn’t had another call since then.
Although the experience was frustrating, Parkin said others who have fallen for the scam should remember that life is a learning process.
“We all make mistakes,” she said. “And you hope that you learn from your mistakes.”
Craig Forrest, owner of Tech Connect in Homer, says he has had about five clients this month who were victims of the tech support scam.
“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” he said, adding that the scammers tend to hit older people, and those who are not as computer literate.
“At best, it’s destructive,” he said.
Sometimes people don’t instantly realize they’ve been scammed. Their computer might seem a little slower, or certain programs may no longer work.
When the supposed technician is “fixing” a person’s computer, they may also be stealing information, deleting files or leaving viruses.
It depends on what they feel like doing, said Forrest.
Sometimes a false tech will spend a couple of hours going through a person’s computer. One client came in because all the photos of her grandkids had been deleted.
“It’s just a whole litany of troubles,” he said.
The cost of repairing a computer that has been tampered with can range from half an hour to several hours of shop time and may include buying new programs to replace ones that were destroyed.
Besides these “cold calls,” where someone calls a house at random, there are online ads that pop up with a number to call for tech support. They may seem legitimate, but are not.
Scare tactics is how Forrest described it. People think that their computer is at risk and do whatever the screen says, whether it’s clicking on a website or calling a number.
Just close out of it, said Forrest. Don’t click on it and don’t call the number.
Although there seem to have been a high number of calls in the area recently, Forrest said he doesn’t know whether it’s getting better or worse.
So far, he’s been called nine times by various people claiming to be from tech support.
“The lies that they use to tell you what’s going on are just incredible,” he said.
So what do you do when someone calls up and says your computer has a virus?
“They’re full of it,” said Forrest. “If you get a phone call from anybody saying something’s wrong with your computer, don’t believe them.”
Toni Ross is a Homer writer.
What to do …
If you have given someone access to your computer: Contact a local technician who can check for viruses and backdoors.
If you have paid money for a false subscription or services: Check your bank statements carefully to ensure that more money is not being taken out of your account.
If you were given a phone number or website to visit: Do not go to the website, you could get a virus simply by visiting it. Do not call the number. Some phone numbers can be setup to function as premium rate phone numbers, generating additional charges on your phone bill.
If you see pop-ups or ads stating that your computer is slow or infected: It is a scam. Contact a local technician.
If you have friends or family who aren’t technically savvy: Pass the word about this scam so they are on the lookout and don’t fall for it.
• To place your phone number on the national Do Not Call Registry: donotcall.gov
• To report phone scams with the Federal Telecommunications Commission: ftc.gov/complaint
Other Phone Scams
AARP has released a list of phone scams to be aware of in 2015. Besides the computer tech scam, here are three other common ones:
• Calls from someone saying they are with the IRS and that you owe money.
• Calls saying that you have missed jury duty and there is a warrant for your arrest. They will say they need your name, address and social security number.
• Calls to grandparents claiming that a grandchild needs monetary help in an emergency.
For more information on these scams, visit www.disabled-world.com/communication/phone-scams
The Federal Trade Commission also has a list of scam alerts at www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.