Opinion - Brooks: Even smart people aren’t scam-proof

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A local consumer’s peaceful Father’s Day afternoon was shattered as he was working on his computer. A pop-up informed him that his computer was infected with malware and all of his information was in the process of being exposed to hackers on the web.

It gets worse. Much worse.

According to the pop-up, Microsoft technical support had detected this attack on his Window-based laptop. He was instructed to immediately contact Microsoft Technical Support at the number shown in the pop-up so they could rid his computer of the malware they’d discovered. He called the number and was immediately asked what version of the operating system he was using, and what brand and model of computer he had. His call was then routed to “Mr. Joseph King,” a “specialist” in protecting Microsoft customers using Toshiba laptops.

“Mr. King” was very sympathetic with the consumer’s problem. He told the consumer not to worry, that his computer could be “cleaned up” and set back on the straight and narrow. “Mr. King” gave the consumer verbal instructions that were confusing, and in truth, a bunch of gobbledygook. When the consumer couldn’t solve the problem by following the intentionally confusing verbal instructions, the scammer offered to send him a link, which the consumer could click “Mr. King” could then take over the consumer’s computer from a remote location — to fix it, you see.

The scammer went through some motions. The consumer could clearly see that “Mr. King” had control of his computer. Then the scammer announced that the consumer’s “subscription” to Microsoft had expired and that he could not repair the problems until the consumer paid the “normal” one-time fee of $500. After the consumer gave the scammer his credit card number, the expiration date AND the security code, the scammer informed him that for some reason the credit card wouldn’t go through. He asked the consumer if he had a debit card he could use. All the while he kept telling the consumer that the malware that had been planted in his computer was actively doing damage and sending his personal financial and identity information out over the web to an anonymous party.

The consumer quickly gave all his debit card information to the scammer. Once the scammer had all the debit card information (and a direct line into the consumer’s checking account), he informed the consumer that the debit card had also been blocked and that “Mr. King” could use the consumer’s checking account to pay for the $500 “subscription.” The consumer, in an effort to stop the damage to his computer, quickly handed the bank account routing and account number to the scammer. After a minute or so, the scammer told the consumer that the checking account had also been blocked and that the only possible way to pay for the needed “subscription” was to purchase Google Gift cards. He was instructed to hang-up, go buy hundreds of dollars of gift cards and call “Mr. King” back at a special extension. Once purchased, he was instructed to scan the cards and send the scan of the cards to the scammer by email.

While the consumer was out running around buying gift cards, his wife called me and asked if I thought this was a scam. As soon as I heard the words “gift cards” I told her it was definitely a scam. As her husband walked in the front door, she handed him the phone.

Together, the consumer and I were able to limit the damage by contacting his credit card company, his bank and the retailers that sold him the gift cards. Fortunately, it was a Sunday afternoon and banks weren’t operating at their usual instantaneous speed. This saga had an unusual happy ending: damage was minimized. The consumer lost a relatively small amount of money, thanks to his quick response. The laptop was cleaned of all malware by Dennis Edelbrock, The Computer Guy in Hayden (208-660-1617).

THE TAKEAWAYS:

1. Microsoft has approximately 1.2 billion customers. They don’t call consumers.

2. Anyone asking that you pay them with gift cards is a scammer!

In this case, the consumer is a very intelligent, retired professional accountant. He still fell victim to a ring of highly professional scammers. When in doubt — CALL ME! (Before you hand over ANY information.)

•••

MYLIFE WEBSITE: Be careful about this one. “MyLife gathers personal information through public records and other sources to automatically generate a “MyLife Public Page” for each person, described by MyLife as a “complete Wikipedia-like biography on every American.” A MyLife Public Page can list a wide variety of personal information, including an individual’s age, past and current home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, employers, education, photographs, relatives, political affiliations, a mini biography and a personal review section.” — Wikipedia

A very good friend of mine almost fell victim to this one. When first viewed, the website intentionally leads the consumer to believe there is derogatory information about them that a subscription to MyLife will reveal. AFTER you pay the monthly or, better yet, an annual subscription (that renews automatically), you’ll usually find that there is no derogatory information at all. Good luck trying to get your money back.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has revoked MyLife’s accreditation, initially giving MyLife a rating of D-, and later an F, stating:

“On March 20, 2015, this company’s accreditation in BBB was revoked by BBB’s Board of Directors due to recent government action involving the business’s customer relations which indicates a significant failure of the business to meet standards of conduct expected of a BBB member.”

My advice is don’t use the MyLife website.

•••

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 brookshomes@gmail.com (#GoGetEmBillBrooks) You can follow me at www.billbrooksconsumer advocate.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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