Special to the Journal
It was the second day of 2017 and I was preparing to meet my friend Judy for a New Year’s drink. Needing to make a few quick revisions to an article I was writing before I grabbed my coat, I opened my MacBook. Almost immediately, a message popped up on the screen promoting a cleaning app of some sort; for only $29 I could restore my aging computer to relative youth and vibrancy. It occurred to me that I used to have something called Norton Utilities to keep my computer trouble-free, and I wondered if I’d been neglecting my Mac. The good news was, I now had a chance to correct my mistake.
With only minor hesitation I typed in my credit card information and the cleaning started. Within a minute or two I got a phone call from “Tech Live,” with someone in India telling me that my computer needed more than a cleaning and for “only” an additional $59 I would have everything in tiptop shape in no time.
I whined to the voice on the line… “really? I don’t want to pay another $59.”
“Well, ma’am, you want your computer running well, don’t you?”
It was almost time to meet Judy, so I said, “yes, but I only have five minutes. Can you fix the problem in five minutes? I’m meeting a friend and I need to go.”
He told me to keep the computer open and to give them permission to do the more expensive repair and the problem could be fixed right away.
As I started to comply with his wishes he advised that the problem was worse than they’d believed, that I now needed to pay $468 more to ensure a better solution for my problem.
“What?” I wailed.
It was 6:30 and Judy texted she was out front waiting for me. I told the guy on the line that I was leaving, I needed to go, “get off the phone,” I said. He again advised me not to close my computer and not to hang up.
Like a fish on the line, I was still talking to this guy as I settled into Judy’s car. After just two minutes of listening to my end of the conversation, Judy got it, she knew what was happening. “You’re getting scammed!” she scowled at me.
“No way, this is not a scam…” I started to argue. Then I realized that, yes, of course, she was right! And I had given these creeps my credit card number and computer access.
New concerns started racing through my mind. Could they get into my bank account and steal all my money? Judy got out of the car, “let’s go back upstairs, turn off your computer and cancel your credit card. Then we have to call Aaron (my computer savvy son) and ask him what to do.”
In five minutes the above actions were taken. The computer was turned off, my credit card had been cancelled and Aaron had told me to go to the Apple store the next day to clear any possible viruses from my computer. Aaron also warned me to be very careful in the future using my credit card online and to never answer my phone without knowing who is on the other end of the line.
Drained and feeling victimized, Judy and I decided we really did need that New Year’s drink.
Second Gloucester Woman Victimized
Kate Seidman wasn’t the only person in Gloucester who seemed to have been victimized by someone following the same script. A couple of weeks earlier, “Sarah” (she doesn’t want her real name used) faced a similar situation when a message popped up on her screen that read, “You have a virus.”
Sarah followed the instructions which said that she should call the number on the screen immediately without touching her computer. “So, naively, I called the number and the Indian man proceeded to go into my computer and install all this crap.”
Sarah became suspicious when he wanted to sell her a program that would be “‘very reasonable.’” “That’s when I said I thought I would just go locally. I just didn’t feel comfortable,” she explained. “He had this arrow and I could see him moving around on my screen and he was showing me all these problems.”
When Sarah visited the local computer store, they found and deleted several programs that had been installed.
She is disappointed in herself for having been so trusting. “I went along with this for a half an hour!” She was so upset that, “I changed my password, I even canceled both my credit cards afterward, just ‘cause I was nervous what kind of personal stuff he may have found on my computer. I just wanted to start everything again.”
How did she get taken in? “I was like, ‘this guy’s helping me.’ And then I started thinking, ‘how do I know he’s helping me.’”