Fake emails impersonating computer anti-virus companies snared three area seniors into scams last week. Each of the three people who suffered this hit told me almost identical stories.

Each received an unexpected email, informing them their subscription automatically renewed for anti-virus protection offered by Norton or McAfee, two well-known anti-virus software producers. The emails told the readers to expect a charge, ranging from $340 to $494. And each email ended with a hook for the victim to bite on. It read, “For any questions or queries, call us at the number provided.”

Now none of these three ever purchased Norton or McAfee software before, certainly not at that price (which is exorbitantly high for a personal computer). So in what they considered a reasonable effort to head off credit card problems, they called the “help” number.

Each talked to one or more “Lifelock Support” techs, who spent an hour or more on the phone with the callers. The support techs offered refunds for the software, but required online access to the bank accounts to directly deposit the refunds. And that’s where our seniors made their most serious mistake. They followed some techy-sounding instructions on their computers which resulted in the crooks gaining access to their computers, even to their online banking.

These phony support techs convinced the seniors to fill out an online form, asking for the refund, but manipulated the form to appear as if the seniors mistakenly added extra zeros or moved the decimal point, greatly inflating the refund. In one case, they made it appear they deposited $41,900 into one victim’s account instead of a $419 refund. After creating this illusion of over-payment, these scammy techs demanded immediate re-payment. They demanded gift cards, or told the seniors to go to their bank and made transfers to overseas banks. Ultimately, none of the seniors sent any money away. They either smell a rat in time, or their bank slammed the brakes on transfers.

But each of three needed to take their computers to local techs for virus scanning and repair. And they are left to worry about what personal information got exposed when the criminals gained access to their computers.

Everyone wants to avoid the hassle and stress our three seniors endured in this situation. Here are some tips on how to do that:

• Never call back an unknown number. If you receive unexpected email or text from a major business, use the information on their website and not a number listed in an unexpected email or text.

• Don’t pay for anything with a gift card. Gift cards are for gifts. If anyone asks you to pay with a gift card, or buy gift cards for anything other than a gift, it is always a scam.

• Don’t give remote access to your computer to someone who contacts you unexpectedly. This gives scammers easy access to your personal and financial information — like access to your bank accounts. It enables them to download spyware or malware to your computer. These scammer techs probably won’t use the phrase “remote access” to you. Just be extremely skeptical of anyone who wants you to jump on the computer to solve a problem.

What happened to the three seniors revolved around fake Norton or McAfee emails. But such phony emails can impersonate any business. The Federal Trade Commission reports Amazon accounts for the most fake or phishing emails, with one-third of the total business impersonators since July 2020.

Or, there’s a fake IRS email that keeps popping into people’s inboxes. It says that you can get a third Economic Impact Payment (EIP) if you click a link that lets you “access the form for your additional information” and “get help” with the application. But the link is a trick. If you click it, a scammer might steal your money and your personal information to commit identity theft. Phishing emails can relate to government imposters as well as business imposters.

CONTACT SENIORS VS. CRIME

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

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