Technology

Computer, phone scams plague West Michigan

Callers promise help with computers or hope for a callback.

January 31, 2014
| By Pat Evans |
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Several large-scale scams have recently hit the West Michigan area.

Both the “473/767 One-Ring” and “Fix Your Computer” scams have hit homes in the area, according to the Western Michigan Better Business Bureau. 

“We haven’t had any real victims yet,” BBB President and CEO Phil Catlett said. “But we have had tons of calls and we’re hearing it from lots of bureaus across the country.”

The “one-ring” scam comes from area codes in Grenada (473) and Dominica (767), and the call lasts only one ring. Following the missed call, the scammer hopes the recipient will call back and long-distance charges will be rung up. Catlett said these are toll numbers and can cost up to $10 a minute.

The scammers’ goal then is to try to keep a caller on the line as long as possible. He said he has heard of calls costing more than $300.

“There are any number of different stories as to why they have to talk to you,” Catlett said. “They’re coming out of the Caribbean because there are not very strong regulations — no rules to protect the public.”

According to an AARP article by Sid Kirchheimer, there also are Canadian callers that offer fake prizes, called the “Grandparents Scam,” which tells an elderly person their grandchild has been arrested and needs to be wired bail money.

The Federal Communications Commission does field complaints and although charges might not be voided, it could help build a case for better regulations against the scams.

Catlett said the best strategy is to not call back unknown numbers, and to look up area codes on the Internet or in phone books.

The “Fix Your Computer” scam involves a caller asking for the home’s computer user, saying they have information that the computer is not working correctly. The caller then asks whether there have been any issues with slow speed or Internet connections, and then asks for control of the computer so they can fix the problem.

“Scams like this have been going on for years and seem to come in waves,” Catlett said. “It’s much like phishing, clicking bad links. It’s just one of the many ways they can gain access to your information and sell it or use it themselves.”

If allowed, the scammer can install various malware and key-loggers on the computer. The hacker can use these programs to learn passwords, as well as gain access to financial and personal information.

Catlett said previous scams have been carried out using the Microsoft name, but current calls have been reported as being from “PC Speedy.” However, the names seem to change frequently.

“Once people inadvertently allow others on their computer, the scammers can get just about anything they want,” he said.”

The callers are generally targeting an elderly demographic who aren’t confident in their computer skills. 

“One caller was selling lifetime protection of a computer for $264, but because they were senior citizens, they’d do $154,” Catlett said. “They are salespeople without a conscience. Who knows if they have any sort of software protection? They can just do any number of bad things.”

Scammers use public information to gain access to contact information and often simply guess at computer-operating systems.

Catlett said Microsoft and other computer companies don’t make phone calls or use personal email notifications for computer problems. When new viruses come out, legitimate companies send out updates for all subscribers.

Authentic Microsoft and Mac representatives are available for assistance by phone.

Catlett said the best thing to do in the event of these calls is to hang up, because the scam can lead to identity theft and broken computers.

Best Buy’s Geek Squad offers a variety of ways to protect computers from scammers on its website, suggesting the following:

  • When in doubt, hang up the phone and call the company back at its publicly listed telephone number. That contact information usually can be found on the company’s website.
  • Never provide credit card or banking account information to someone on a cold call — even if they claim to be from a computer support company.
  • Never give remote access to your computer to any technician unless they can confirm they are a legitimate member of a computer support company with which you have an existing support agreement.
  • For anyone who has ever been victimized by a phone scammer:
  • Contact your credit card or bank and speak with the fraud prevention team to have the charges reversed and the account protected from future charges.
  • Change your computer password, along with the password of any online accounts that may have been provided to the cybercriminal.
  • Update your security software and run a full scan on your computer.

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