A Saanich senior learned a lesson about fraud the hard way after a computer hacker accessed her hard drive and corrupted files.
“It’s really scary because I’m very aware of these things. I read about scams all the time,” said Margaret Boyes, 60. “What can someone (convince you to) do on the phone? I tell ya — a lot.”
Last Tuesday, she received a call from someone purporting to be a Microsoft employee. “He says he can tell that my computer’s running slow. If he can tell that he must be legitimate.”
He wasn’t. A convinced Boyes logged onto her computer and downloaded, as per the caller’s request, a free program that gave him the ability to control her hard drive remotely from the comfort of his own computer.
“He took over the computer and I have him on speakerphone and he says he’s cleaning up a couple files. And after talking for 10, 15 minutes he said, ‘Your files are corrupted. I can fix them for $149.’”
That’s when the red flags shot up. Boyes’s suspicions skyrocketed and she said she immediately hung up the phone.
When she checked her computer she found that hundreds of her personal files were deleted — articles and stories she’s written — and years of emails are all gone.
“I’m just horrified that I allowed this to happen,” Boyes said.
Saanich police Sgt. Dean Jantzen said this type of scam has been around for quite awhile. Police even put out two warnings this summer.
“The primary concern is that once remote access is gained to the computer, anything can then be done as if someone was sitting at the machine,” Jantzen said.
“Offering someone you don’t know remote access to your computer over the Internet is like giving them the keys to your house. Once access is gained, a virus or (spying) software can be placed on your computer to monitor what you’re doing or access your banking information.”
Boyes didn’t provide the caller with a credit card number, but she’s concerned that there were files — from having done online banking and shopping — that could have such compromising information.
Fraud investigators have looked into the scam and don’t believe it’s targeting personal information, Jantzen said. Rather the callers use a high-pressure, dishonest way of selling overpriced software.
“Be wary of any solicitation that comes to you over the phone or to your door,” he said. “It’s unlikely that Microsoft is going to contact you. … It’s not typical for them to shop around for your computer problems.”
Though this scam is apparently being attempted on anyone and everyone, Jantzen said it’s people who aren’t tech-savvy that fall victim.
Boyes agrees, adding she feels seniors could be vulnerable because they often live alone and are yearning for human interaction.
“If someone is lonely, if they’re not mobile – they like to talk to someone, anyone, even to a stranger over the phone,” she said. “I don’t know how someone can prove who they say they are on the phone. Maybe it’s a bad instrument – I know I’ll be more cautious using it from now on.”