By Katie Dahlstrom
Randy Meier, Clinton County Seniors vs Crime director, fields plenty of calls from residents who fear they’ve been targeted by scams.
The latest and most prominent of the scams ensnaring Clinton County residents involves a scammer calling and claiming to be a technician from a well-known computer company. While the caller promises to fix the target’s computer problems the intent is much more destructive.
“They always ask for remote access and then all hell breaks loose. They can install a virus, malware, key stroke software,” Meier said.
Once the caller is given remote access to the computer, they can install programs that capture sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and bank account numbers and passwords.
One man who received the call was asked to fill out a form with information, such as his credit card and driver’s license numbers. Once the caller received the information, they locked the man’s computer and stole his identity, Meier recalled.
Since April, Meier has received 22 reports of the computer fix scam. The calling scam tops the list of scams in the Clinton area this month and has fallen in the top three for nearly six months.
Robert Fulton, a network administrator at Computer Box in Clinton, is also familiar with the scam, having heard of around 20 people in the area who have been affected in the past two months.
He noted the scam’s differences from other computer scams.
“This is a much bolder move than simply sitting back and sending an e-mail. They are directly interacting with the person they’re trying to steal from,” Fulton said.
In addition to callers identifying themselves as Microsoft employees, Fulton has heard of instances where the caller says they’re from antivirus companies Symantec or McAfee. Whatever company the caller claims to be from, their end goal is more than likely monetary gain.
“They want remote access for whatever purpose and I can guarantee it’s not a good reason,” Fulton said. “And their stories are plausible enough that people might believe them.”
There’s no apparent rhyme or reason to who receives the calls. Fulton and Meier have heard from a wide range of people who have fallen victim to the scam.
Fulton recommends victims destroy and replace their credit cards and change their passwords.
“Assume if you’ve been compromised they know everything you know,” Fulton said.
The best defense against the scam is to recognize that Microsoft and other software companies will not initiate contact with a customer, Meier advised.
The Federal Trade Commission also advises not to accept calls from someone claiming to be from a software company. Instead, the FTC suggests, hang up and call the company directly at a number known to be genuine.
“The key is Microsoft is not able to detect how your computer is running. They don’t call you out of the blue,” he said.
If anyone receives such a call, Meier encourages them to report it to him at 242-9211, ext. 4433, and to law enforcement if any damages are incurred. The FTC also accepts complaints about the calls at ftc.gov/complaints.