Two men reported to me last week, they fell victim to the tech support scam. Despite a lot of outreach and education on this particular topic, this scam, like the popular grandparent scam, continues to entrap the unwary. Both men told very similar stories.

While working on their computers, the men saw a pop-up appear on their monitors, locking up the unit. In each case, the pop-up informed them “Microsoft” detected a virus on the computer, and offered a helpline phone number. In one case, this message was accompanied by an audible message, relaying the same information.

The two victims called the phone number. The parties answering named themselves as working for Microsoft. They persuaded the victims to allow remote access to their computers. Remote access? What does that mean? It means they persuaded the victims to go to a certain website, which allows the scammer’s computer to link with the victim’s. This is just like handing the crook the keyboard and mouse to your computer.

The scammers gave their customary spiel:

n Your computer is infected

n I can fix it

n I will charge you

n You can pay with a credit card

Scammers make it appear they are installing or upgrading the software. In reality, they install useless or malicious software. And charge for it.

Now in both of these cases, something interesting happened when it came time to charge the credit card. In one case, the first card offered as payment declined, so the scammer asked for, and received, a second card, as payment. In the second case, the card also declined as payment. The card provider contacted the victim by phone and asked him if he authorized this payment. He said he did, overriding the block put on by his card provider.

All credit card companies use various fraud screening to detect and block fraud. It seems to me, in both of these cases, the fraud screening worked. But the scammers were able to talk their victims into ignoring these warnings.

Each of these scams concluded with the scammers trying to disguise their crime by emailing out invoices or purchase agreements, and in one case, a warning of scammers and fraud.

In these two scams, the victims called the crooks, based on a virus-generated message which locked up their computers. A second version of this scam features a phone call from someone claiming to be calling from Microsoft, or some such company, and warning the victim of malicious viruses on their computer, affecting the network or the entire internet. Some of these callers threaten to disconnect the user if they don’t cooperate.

With either version, this is a scam. Never allow anyone who calls out of the blue, or who locked up your computer, remote access to your computer. And never pay them. Microsoft does not know how your computer is working, and it does not make warning calls to consumers.

In the courts

On Oct. 13, the Federal Trade Commission announced enforcement targeting deceptive student loan debt relief scams, in cooperation with the attorneys general in 11 states. The FTC filed suit against five companies and 30 associated people in this scheme.

Most of the schemes involved telemarketing calls to student loan borrowers. In return for assurances to reduce or forgive the loans, consumers paid upfront fees of $700 to $1,000. Some of the callers posed as officials with the U.S. Department of Education. Some of the crooks promised the upfront fees counted toward loan re-payment. The FTC calculates the loss to consumers at $95 million.

No surprise scammers zeroed in on student loan borrowers. Forty-two million Americans hold student debt of more than $1.4 billion. Student debt is second only to mortgages in the U.S. as far as reason for debt.

In reality, borrowers can apply for loan deferments, forbearance and forgiveness directly from the U.S. Department of Education, or their lender, at no cost. No fees, no upfront payment required. You can read more about real debt relief at ftc.gov/StudentLoans.

Look through the names of these companies. If you recognize one as something you got involved with, let me know.

n Student Debt Relief Group (SDRG)

n Student Debt Doctor (SDD)

n Alliance Document Preparation

n American Student Loan Consolidators (ASLC)

n A1 DocPrep, Inc.

National Drug Take Back the Day

If you’ve been piling up outdated, unused, or unneeded prescription drugs, today is the day to get rid of them. Local law enforcement agencies and the Gateway ImpACT Coalition, along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, are sponsoring a take back event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Clinton LumberKings stadium. You don’t need to organize your collection — just scoop it up and come to the stadium. Turn it over to the staff there, who will get it packaged up for safe disposal. This is a much better option than flushing it into the ground water, or waiting for someone to steal it from you.

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 242-9211, ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.

Randy Meier is the Clinton County Seniors vs. Crime Director.

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