Small local business, giant target

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A local couple who run a small business from home got slammed by a professional scammer. Here’s how this one went down:

Like many couples, these two work hard at their business and share the labor. Each morning they sign onto their bank’s website, do various financial chores including checking balances and seeing that all deposits have been posted and which checks have cleared — pretty normal stuff. One day last week, the sign-on didn’t go as smoothly as it usually does.

The online service of the bank asked for additional information in order to complete the login. Eventually, the online banking information popped up — as usual. Here’s what really happened: The scammer had broken through the firewall of the computer and planted a “Trojan Horse” virus directly into the computer (this is a program that is totally invisible to the user). The program added the “extra” verification step to the sign in process for the banks’ normal sign in. Once the “extra” verification step had been completed, the program allows the user to go to the bank’s website and sign in as usual. In the meantime, the “Trojan Horse” virus sent the banking ID and password to a computer somewhere else in the world. The illicit recipient was then free to sign into the bank account, posing as the legitimate owners of the account. What the scammer did next was to send a couple of wire transfers to other bank accounts under the scammer’s control.

The couple had firewall and virus protection on their computer but the crooks still got through. The loss was almost $80,000. They realized they had been hacked and immediately called their bank here in Coeur d’Alene. The bank didn’t exactly “spring into action,” according to the couple. Eventually, the narrative of what happened reached an executive who realized the gravity of the situation and started to take action. So far, the bank has not admitted any responsibility for what happened.

It seems to me that the bank is partially responsible in two areas: one, the ease with which their sign-on process was spoofed, and two, the bank’s lackadaisical response once the fraud was reported. Hopefully, the bank will step up and take some responsibility. We’ll see and I’ll let you know.

THE LESSON: When you sign on to a financial website, if something doesn’t feel or look right, stop. Don’t proceed; back out if you can and in any case, turn off the computer, unplug from the wall, wait a couple of minutes and then try again. If it still doesn’t work — call me, day or night, but don’t proceed or you could lose BIG!

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RULE #1: Never give any financial or personal information to ANYONE who calls you — NEVER! I don’t care if the caller is a family member, a friend, a government agency or a crafty foreigner informing you that you’ve won the sweepstakes — Irish or otherwise.

If you follow this rule, you may slightly inconvenience the clerk at the hospital or bank, but you will almost never get scammed. If someone has called you, ask for information identifying the caller and to whom they purport to represent. Hang up and verify the proper phone number to whom you should return the call. Don’t use the number the caller gives you, unless you have independently verified the number. Otherwise, you may be calling the scammer right back at “scammer central.” Look for the real number on the Internet or in the phone book. If you can’t find independent verification of the number, call me, and I’ll help you find a legitimate telephone number.

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KUDOS TO POST FALLS VW: A consumer, who’s well over 90 and sharp as a tack, called me last week. He reported that he contacted the VW dealership in Post Falls to find out what it would cost to have his rig cleaned and detailed, inside and out. The cost was $250. He made an appointment and dropped off his car.

Later, he went back to pick up his newly cleaned vehicle and was told there would be “no charge” for the service. The dealership personnel noticed that he had a “Pearl Harbor Survivor” license plate on his car.

What a wonderful, quiet gesture, from one of our local great businesses! Veterans, especially those who have served our country during times of great turmoil and often at great sacrifice, should be specially recognized. Thanks Post Falls Volkswagen dealership! (I am honored to have a Pearl Harbor Survivor as one of my faithful readers.)

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THANK YOU TO ALL VETERANS: A big heartfelt “thank you” to all Veterans! Don’t forget what these men and women have sacrificed so that you and yours can live in peace and freedom in this wonderful land.

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at (208) 699-0506, or email me at BillBrooksAdvocate@gmail.com (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumeradvocate.com. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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