Margaret Boyes characterizes herself as being mindful; a learned person.
This week, however, she says she feels stupid after being tricked by a scam artist to give access to her computer’s hard drive.
“It’s really scary because I’m very aware of these things. I read about scams all the time,” the 60-year-old Boyes said, surprised at herself for falling victim to a smooth talker. “What can someone do on the phone? 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. (I’m thinking) ‘If he can tell that, he must be legitimate.’”
But 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 his own computer.
“He took over 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 hundreds of her personal files had been 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 a while. Police even put out two warnings this summer after they received multiple reports of Saanich residents falling victim.
“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 to access your banking information.”
Boyes didn’t provide the caller with a credit card number, but she’s concerned that personal files – she does online banking and shopping – could have been compromised.
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.”