COVINGTON — A Covington woman who thought she was speaking with a representative from Microsoft on the phone soon found her computer taken over by the man, who ultimately claimed he had drained her bank account.
The 70-year-old victim told the Newton County Sheriff’s Office that she was on her computer when she received a pop-up message claiming to be from Microsoft. She clicked on the “OK” prompt.
Sometime later, she received a telephone call from a man who said he was from Microsoft and was asking for information.
“The victim repeatedly told the man no, she thought this was a scam and that she would call the police. The guy then disconnected the call,” said NCSO Investigator Jeff Alexander.
On Monday, the same man called the woman back and convinced her was in fact from Microsoft and needed access to her computer. She gave him remote access and he was able to maneuver around her computer.
“As he was clicking around on things, he told her that she would go to jail because she had number of programs on her computer that she did not have a license to operate,” Alexander said. “He told her he could fix that for her for a fee.”
The victim once again grew suspicious and told the man no and that she would call the police because she thought this was a scam. He argued with her and then finally called her a foul name and told her, “Call your police. I just got into your bank account and drained it,” Alexander said.
Fortunately for her, when the victim contacted the bank, her account was still intact.
Sam Smiley, president of Rockdale NeTworks, a company based in Conyers that manages businesses’ IT infrastructure, said scams like this are becoming more common, and he receives calls almost weekly from customers who have concerns about suspicious pop-up messages.
“There are certainly legitimate purposes for pop-ups, but our best advice is, if don’t know the company, don’t click on it,” Smiley said. “When in doubt, don’t. That’s about as simple as we can make it.”
He said that software companies, and Microsoft in particular, will not call customers.
In the case involving the Covington victim, he said, it is possible the pop-up message and the telephone call were coincidental and not necessarily related since most of the scammers will just call random numbers hoping to find someone who is on their computer at that time.
In any event, once you give a stranger access to your computer, there is no way of knowing what the scammer had access to or what may have been installed on the computer, Smiley said. The scammer may have accessed bank or credit card account numbers, passwords, email accounts and information about contacts in address books.
Smiley said hackers will also install programs on their victims’ computers that will allow them to see everything that the user is doing while online.
“It is possible he could have put something on the screen saver that looked benign while she was watching while he was doing something else in the background,” he said.
Smiley said people who think their computers may have been compromised should first contact their bank or credit card companies. Then they should change passwords to all online accounts – including any bills or utilities that are paid online, email accounts and social media accounts.
This kind of scam has gotten national attention. Consumer adviser Clark Howard has reported that Microsoft is warning consumers that people posing as computer security engineers are making cold calls and convincing people their computers are at risk for a security threat. They offer to run a free security check over the phone in an effort to get their victims to give remote access to their computers so they can diagnose and fix the problem. Once they have that access, they download software onto the computer that allows them to steal money from bank accounts, ClarkHoward.com reports.