Hacked and scammed

March 23, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Tom Claridge

My experience with computers dates back to the 1970s, when they were introduced to the Globe and Mail newsroom and a couple of years later to the Citizen and its parent, the Shelburne Free Press and Economist. But it wasn’t until last week that I experienced my first computer scam.

It was late one evening when I was getting ready to head up to bed. Having turned off the TV, I picked up my trusty iPad, a birthday gift from a couple of years ago after I mentioned that I hardly ever got to use the other one, thanks to Pam’s love of Facebook.

That was a fatal mistake.

Having opened up Safari without any real thought as to what website I’d search, I found the screen suddenly filled with a warning that I was being hacked and unless I took immediate action the hacker would be able to get all my personal information.

My initial reaction was that it was a scam, and my first action was to shut down the computer to “reboot” it, something that normally eliminates a problem. But when I restarted the iPad and clicked on Safari, back came the same screen. There seemed to be no alternative but to call the toll-free number for the promised fix.

Well, the initial phone connection was faint but the female who answered the call said she would put me in touch with the manager who would be able to help me.

On came a male voice with assurance that the problem could indeed be fixed once he had some information about the computer that had been hacked.

However, there would be a fee – $99.99 to get a year of protection from future hacking or $133 for three years’ service.

That should have been more than enough for me to deduce that this was, in fact, a scam. But maybe it was just the hour or simple curiosity; whatever the case, I opted for the lower price.

There followed the usual questions as to a mailing address and credit card details, and after he had been given the address and noted it was in Canada, he clarified that the $99.99 was in U.S. funds and it would actually cost about $128.

Next came questions as to the type of computer. When I said it was an iPad, he asked how old it was, and when I said it was about two years old he proceeded to give me instructions which disclosed his obvious familiarity with the particular computer.

I was directed to go into “settings” and enter areas I never knew existed. It took only a few minutes before we reached a point where he said that if I waited another five minutes I would find the computer was back to normal.

Curiously, his last action was to ask me to take down the name and phone number of his company, and when I did (noting the number was the same one I had called) it struck me that the firm’s name seemed to have more to do with medicines than computers.

Next morning we received a promised receipt, and sure enough it was for the ostensible purchase of $99.99 worth of medicine, removing any remaining doubt that I had been scammed.

A call to BMO confirmed that the outfit was based in New York City and since the transaction had already gone through it couldn’t be cancelled.

I quickly accepted the advice to have my Mastercard cancelled to prevent further charges and was assured that the scam would be investigated. (I’ll never forget her comment when I told her I had been scammed: “You’re certainly not the first.”)

In retrospect, I have no doubt whatsoever that had the hack occurred during normal business hours I could have called Family Computer Services, the home-based Orangeville firm that has serviced all the Apple computers at the Citizen as well as at home, and Richard would have quickly given me the same information that cost us $128, for much less (perhaps nothing).

In an era when we are being warned regularly of scams like the CRA (Canadian Revenue Agency) and Romance ones that have cost victims many thousands of dollars, this particular one has likely escaped attention because of the relatively low cost involved and the fact its victims are too embarrassed to tell the authorities

I suspect that a proper investigation would disclose that the hacker/scammers were more than a little sophisticated, and that the operation ran only at hours when the victims didn’t have access to their normal service people.

I doubt that despite the name used they also dabbled in medications, or needed to do much beyond the operation aimed at me and who knows how many else..

But if nothing else, it was a learning exercise and a scam that now won’t work a second time.

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