The Wonder of Tech is honored to welcome Lorraine Reguly as a guest author. Lorraine is a Wonder of Tech reader and fellow blogger who fell victim to a computer scam. She graciously shares her story with us and offers advice on how you can prevent this computer scam happening to you.
“It’ll never happen to me!”
“I’m too smart to fall for a scam!”
These are a couple of the thoughts I used to have. No more… because, as smart as I am, I fell victim to a scam.
Luckily for me, I was smart enough to take steps quickly… and I’m thankful I did. Otherwise, my entire life would be in the hands of someone else… not to mention my all of my money.
Today I’m going to share with you the details of what happened to me, so that you can be prepared for a situation that you will hopefully NEVER encounter, and know what steps to take.
How I Became a Victim of a Computer Scam
On January 22, 2016, I received an email from a trusted source that I couldn’t read. It contained a link that said “view in browser” so I clicked the link in the email.
The window that opened was not what I expected.
Instead, a list of viruses showed up with a recording that repeated itself, and a pop-up appeared, telling me to contact Microsoft at 1-866-277-2024.
I didn’t know what was happening, it all happened so fast.
I confess that I hadn’t been using my laptop for a while (my mom broke her arm before Christmas, and I’ve been caring for her since then).
I didn’t know what to do.
I tried closing the windows. They wouldn’t close.
I figured Microsoft would know what to do to fix this issue. So I called them… using the number provided to me.
Without verifying that was their number.
The guy I spoke to on the phone tried to tell me what to do. Being a non-techie, I am ALWAYS at a loss of how to fix techie-related things.
What’s more is that the guy wanted to me to grant him remote access to my computer to repair it.
He was very professional, and had brought me to a page that had the Microsoft logo on it… and so I didn’t hesitate to download the software that would give him access to my beloved Toshiba laptop running Windows 8.
But… Something didn’t seem quite right.
When the pop-up window that asked me if they could make changes to my computer came up, it didn’t say Microsoft was the publisher. Instead, it said something like the KoHo Corporation. But it looked official.
So I took a deep breath and clicked “YES.”
What happened next was a bit weird. The guy checked the warranty on my computer. When I purchased it in January of 2013, I also purchased an extended, 3-year warranty.
That warranty ran out 9 days prior to this scam. Go figure. (Maybe that’s how these criminals knew they could try and scam me. Who knows?)
Anyways, the guy on the phone said I’d have to purchase another warranty if I wanted him to fix the problem. He also ran some type of a scan on my laptop and the results showed that I’d been hacked, and that my laptop contained Zeus Malware.
Okay, this guy is legit. (WRONG!)
He even brought me to the Wikipedia page for Zeus Malware, which explained what this was. (It primarily steals banking information.) Oh, great.
He explained that I could buy another 3-year warranty, or opt for a one-year warranty at the low (!) price of $199.
Because I was finally getting suspicious, I told him that I didn’t have that much money in my PayPal account. He then said I could pay a one-time fee of $99, and that he couldn’t fix my computer until the warranty was extended.
I told him I wasn’t going to buy the warranty because I didn’t have enough money. I did, but I wasn’t about to pay him because I was suspicious of the whole situation. I figured that he was just after my money, and that was his scam — to get me to pay him some money… for basically nothing, as he’d likely disappear after obtaining it!
At this point in time, I had to prepare to leave for an appointment (I had to take my mom to physiotherapy). I asked him what I could to do fix this, and he said that if I turned off my computer for an hour, my bios would be re-set.
HUH? I have bios? What are those? (Told you I’m non-techie!!!)
Well, okay… I had to leave anyway, so I shut ‘er down, and left. I closed all my open tabs (something I generally don’t do on a regular basis even though I should…) because I didn’t want the guy looking at my stuff OR learning my passwords (I use Chrome as my browser, and it saves everything!).
I have to, at least, give myself credit for that.
Then I high-tailed it to the bank, emptied my accounts (just in case!!!) and made them all “Deposit Only” accounts, with an added stipulation that I have to physically go into the bank AND show identification when I want to make a withdrawal.
Then I reported all of my credit cards stolen. Yep. ALL of them.
Google is My Savior
Later that day, I got a text message from Google.
Oh no, what now?
I clicked the link and was brought to a page that said there was some suspicious sign-in activity on my account, and that Google prevented them from getting in.
But… thank you, Google!
Apparently, someone was trying to gain access to my Google account. Those thieves!
Google also provided me with an option to secure my account using two-step verification. So I did, following the steps outlined my savior, Google.
Listen to Your Family!
Later that day, my sister came over for a visit. When I told her what transpired earlier, she laughed at my stupidity.
But she also advised me to enter the phone number I was given in Google and do a search. I quickly learned it did NOT belong to Microsoft.
Then I called my son, who had recently gotten his computer fixed. I asked him for the name of the guy who improved the performance of his old laptop (which runs quickly and smoothly now!), and he referred me to the store Staples.
So I called Staples, and explained what happened to me. They assured me they could help me, and that they’ve dealt with this type of situation before.
So… on January 23, 2016, I brought my laptop into Staples. I had to pre-pay for the services I wanted. (It was a good thing I emptied my bank accounts! I normally don’t carry around $270 in cash.)
The reason it cost so much was because I needed a complete scan and removal of all viruses and malware, plus all of my files copied to a USB stick and then re-installed on my laptop. I also opted to have my laptop physically taken apart and dusted.
I was told it would only take a couple of days for them to do the work, and they were true to their word; it took two days.
When I picked up my computer from Staples, I turned it on in the store. I expected things to look different, and they did. I had to have someone show me how to do a few technical, formatting things, and they did. I was there 50 minutes!
Fortunately, the guy there gave me help with customizing my laptop to my liking (pinning the Snipping Tool and the Paint program to the taskbar, adding a Guest user so my nephew could use my laptop on occasion, making my user account password-protected, etc.). But I was told I would have to re-install Microsoft Office on my own.
First, I checked my email and found a few more emails from Google. Thank goodness Google is smart!
My Next Steps
The only thing I had yet to do was re-install Office 2013. Because this was software that didn’t come with my laptop (I had to purchase it separately), the guys at Staples couldn’t help me with that.
When I finally went to install the Office 2013 package, I was unable to get the programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote) working. I’d get an error message, and the program would simply close.
Great. Now what? Call Microsoft. The real Microsoft.
And thus begins Nightmare #2.
When I first called, I spoke to five different people. I kept being passed around from one department to another. No one could help me figure out why I couldn’t install this software… software I paid good money for three years ago.
Was I going to have to buy the newest version? I hoped not!
I spent a long time on the phone with them… over an hour-and-a-half! Seriously. Look!
They also wanted me to grant them remote access to my computer. Oh no, not this again!
Instead of immediately agreeing to this, I called Staples and asked if I should let Microsoft have access. Staples assured me it was okay to do so. Phew!
However, no one at Microsoft could fix the problem. And it was getting late. So… the next day, I called them again.
I encountered the same situation. No one could figure out what the heck was going on.
A couple of days later, I contacted them AGAIN. This time, one technician ran a scan of my computer.
But he still couldn’t figure out what the problem was.
During these four days, I must’ve installed and uninstalled and reinstalled the Office package a half dozen times. All with the same result: none of the programs would work.
A Super-Technician to the Rescue!
FINALLY, after hours and hours of phone calls, and attempts to receive help from 8 different people, I was told I was going to be connected to a super-technician, and that he, 200%, would solve my problem.
Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I see it.
After another hour or so of the so-called super-technician working on my computer, he finally found a solution to the problem.
No, he didn’t fix the original problem. But he found a work-around solution: he made a copy of the software and I downloaded it and installed it.
Wonder of all wonders…it worked! Thank you, Shyam!
He made sure that we tested each program, too. I told him that he should tell his boss that he deserves a raise!
I’m indebted to Shyam, and am grateful he truly was (and is) a super-technician. I am also going to write a letter to his boss.
Finding Humor in a Bad Situation
When I was going through the motions of re-setting things on my computer, I had to wait for what felt like forever for my computer to update. Just when I thought it was finished, I get a message that it is “Setting up a few more things.”
I had to laugh at this phrase, as I have never encountered it before on my laptop. Usually, it simply says, “Do not turn off your computer. Installing updates.”
Yeah, I know. I’m weird that I think it’s funny that my laptop knew the phrase “Setting up a few more things.” But hey, I hadn’t smiled in days.
And I finally was able to, now that my laptop was 100% back to “normal.”
I smiled even further when, during the last week of February 2016, I took a vacation. I went to Punta Cana and saw my first palm tree…and relaxed, and unplugged, and had the time of my life! After such a rough few weeks, I deserved it!
And I can’t wait to go again. But next time I won’t wait to get hacked first.
7 Ways for How YOU Can Protect YOURSELF from a Computer Scam
What can you learn from my experience?
1. You need to be a critical thinker. Do NOT take things at face value. Do not trust everyone! Do your research. Investigate the situation, and any phone numbers you are given.
2. You need to act quickly to protect yourself if you suspect you’ve been scammed. Report your credit cards stolen, even if they weren’t. Freeze your bank accounts. Make them “deposit only” accounts. Be smart about allowing yourself (and not others) access to your hard-earned cash.
3. Protect your gadgets. Use strong passwords. Enable two-step verification wherever you can. Let Google be your savior, too!
4. Talk to the right people. Professionals with a veritable reputation who can help you will always give you good advice. They won’t lead you astray. Trust them.
5. Go with your gut. Your gut instincts are almost always 100% correct. Trust your feelings. If you think something is suspicious, or “too good to be true,” it usually is!
6. Pay attention to details, no matter how small. Do not overlook something that may be really important! Suspect everyone and everything! (Yeah, I know it’s sad to do this, but if you want to truly protect yourself, you must.)
7. Don’t let your feelings of shame or embarrassment prevent you from reaching out. Ask others for help. Be honest with them. Come clean about your “victim-ness” and allow them to help you. Don’t let pride get in your way of being helped or protected!
What other suggestions do you have? Have YOU ever fallen victim to a computer scam?
Often it’s the sharing of individual stories that will protect us further… even if we’re embarrassed to admit that something so awful has actually happened to one of us.
Share your thoughts in the Comments section, and let’s learn from one another.
About Lorraine Reguly
Lorraine Reguly wears many word-related hats. She is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger who runs the website Wording Well. She also helps others become authors. You can find her on Twitter @lorrainereguly and other social media sites.
* Scam image courtesy of Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net