The Akron Beacon Journal Betty Lin-Fisher column
Oct 02, 2012 (The Akron Beacon Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Here's another scam that caught an otherwise savvy consumer.
The woman, an 86-year-old from Akron, told me she knows enough to smell out a scam.
"I wouldn't be a person that would be taken like that," she said.
She did not want to be identified, because she's embarrassed about her actions and she's a widow who lives alone and doesn't want to invite trouble.
The woman doesn't consider herself a computer expert, but is proud of the fact that she is comfortable on the Internet, unlike many of her senior citizen friends. She plays an occasional Scrabble game and checks her stock accounts.
Still, a recent phone call got her guard down and she didn't realize what was happening until it felt like it was too late.
The caller told her he was calling from Microsoft, that the license had expired on her computer and it was possible she had viruses on the machine.
The woman complied and proceeded to follow instructions from the caller to give him remote access to her computer from an outside location. There are instances when a company representative will offer to take remote access to a computer to help you diagnose a problem, but in those instances, the consumer should be calling the company and initiating the customer care request.
"I would know better than to give anyone my Social Security number," the woman said. "The way he talked, he was going to help because my computer needed to be cleaned up. I said, 'If you're asking for money, I don't have it.' They went on and they took the mouse out of my hands. I could see the mouse was going wild; faster than a human could do it and numbers started coming up on it. I couldn't understand."
The woman said though she didn't have a good feeling about it, she estimates scammers accessed her computer for about 45 minutes. Eventually, she saw a box pop up with pricing -- $169 for a year and $299 for two years. That's when she told the caller she wasn't paying them anything. The caller told her the computer would be shut down in three days if she didn't pay.
Then the call was disconnected, and another caller phoned. Eventually, the woman was told she could not use her computer for three days unless she paid for a new license. They never called back.
The woman then phoned me, worried about what she had allowed the caller to do.
Not surprisingly, Microsoft on its website has information saying the company does not make unsolicited phone calls to help people fix their computer. The information says cyber criminals try to steal information and damage computers with malicious software including viruses and spyware.
Steven Sundermeier, president of the Medina-based Internet security firm ThirtySeven4 LLC, also offered some advice.
Sundermeier said phone call scams are more rare than email "phishing" scams that attempt to trick people into going to fake financial websites and entering personal information. But they're still a risk.
"In one way or another, they're scamming to get credit card information," he said. "If she's giving remote access to computers, they're going to start dropping back-door Trojans."
Sundermeier said it's difficult to assess what information scammers might have gotten or what they would have put on her computer. He suggested she run a free security tool on his company's website called "bootkitrm" to scan the computer for problems. He also suggested that the woman check with all of her financial institutions and accounts, which she did. None reported anything suspicious, though they did shut down her online access.
Sundermeier said most likely the scammers were trying to get things at the time they had access to her computer instead of at a later date.
"In most cases, they will want to do the damage when they're on the call themselves." Perhaps once they realized that the woman was catching on to the scam, they stopped, he said.
Most financial websites are sophisticated and even if they got any log-ins or passwords from her computer, the website would recognize that the log-in is coming from another computer and would not allow it, he said. That is, unless the log-in was done from the woman's computer while they had access, he said.
The woman had her grandson help her download ThirtySeven4's free tool, and it didn't detect anything wrong. Still, she's understandably concerned.
"I'm afraid to even do anything on my computer. I'm just frightened," she said.
I suggested the woman pay for an antivirus program to replace her free antivirus.
"They just got me unaware. I feel that I was duped," she said. "Don't do it. I've told a lot of people."
I have often written about the importance of financial education, especially for teens before they hit the "real world." I'm from the Chicago area, and in Illinois, all high schoolers were required to take a consumer education course before graduation. I've written before that I was surprised when I moved here 18 years ago to find that Ohio didn't have similar requirements. That changed a few years ago.
Earlier this week, Fifth Third Bank and the Lampo Group, the company of the nationally syndicated radio host and money management expert Dave Ramsey, were joined by Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor in announcing the delivery of financial education programs in 357 high schools across the state. Ramsey's daughter and national spokeswoman on personal finance, Rachel Cruze, was also at the press event in Columbus.
The partnership is aimed at allowing more than 40 percent of Ohio high schools to comply with Ohio's new financial education requirements.
About 90 schools in Northeast Ohio received the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum, including about 30 in the Akron area. They include schools such as Barberton, St. Vincent-St. Mary, Tallmadge and Western Reserve Academy.
The curriculum is taught by the teacher in the school with the aid of videos, lessons and coursebooks to teach students to avoid debt and build wealth.
The bank is in its third year of the program. It is available to nearly 1,900 schools throughout Fifth Third's service area, and bank officials said they are not aware of other organizations donating curriculum information to schools.
In years past, the bank has provided workbooks, which would limit the number of students able to participate. But this year, the bank is offering an electronic version of the curriculum, a bank spokeswoman said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty
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