When an Expert Gets Scammed...
Think you're too smart for scammers? Think again!

Editorial by Elizabeth Hensley, Marketing Analyst - Ashland Credit Union

As part of my job here at ACU, I am charged with teaching people about Identity Theft and Fraud. I have done research and given seminars about scammers and types of ways to protect yourself online for about nine years. I would say on a 1-10 scale on being prepared and aware of scams, Iím at an 8.5 to a 9.

That being said, Iím the first person to tell you that electronics are not my gig. Iím not super tech savvy and honestly, have never wanted to be. We just had Wi-Fi installed at our house about six months ago, if that tells you anything. Iím perfectly satisfied using my 90s flip phone or contacting people with snail mail. Better yet, carrier pigeons and smoke signals can sometimes be more reliable than texting and Iím totally okay with that.

So, I bought a laptop a couple months ago because itís 2017. Yep, thatís it in a nutshell. My husband and I have two young kids who know way more than we do at this point about technology and figure that theyíll need a device to search Wikipedia and Google at some point. Now I feel like Iím flying down the information highway, wind through my hair without a care in the world.

A couple weeks ago, I took the afternoon off to get some things done. I had a few different tabs open on my laptop when a grey security box with a whole lot of official looking text popped up in my way. Upon reading further, I found out that something suspicious was detected on my precious laptop and that I needed to call a number that was provided. I tried to close the box and it would not close. It just kept opening back up, because ya know, black magic. Then a voice came bellowing out of my laptop saying that my newfound love of technology was going to be destroyed if I didnít call this number. Iíve never had anything like this happen to me, nor had I read about it in my research. I felt pretty helpless not knowing what to do.

Knowing that the security box wouldnít close and I needed to get work done, I called the number feeling like this was Microsoft letting me know there was an issue. The lady on the phone was kind and asked me a ton of questions and explained to me what was going on with my computer. They remoted in to my laptop and told me a nasty virus had invaded my workspace. She said it didnít happen that day and had been on there for a while and I needed to get it taken care of immediately. They took me through all the technical workings of the computer. She showed me a ton of numbers and evidence that this computer would likely need a heavenly power to heal it. By this point, I was desperate to have it fixed.

I gave her my debit card number and for $249.99 they got my computer running again. Of course I upgraded my anti-virus software immediately for another $59.99. The lady told me they would call once it was finished. They did call me once, but I couldnít get to my phone and they left no message. I was just thrilled to have it fixed and moved on about my busy Monday.

The next day, I got to thinking on the way to work. Who fixed my computer? I couldnít even recall someone telling me a name of their company. How do I get a hold of them? They gave me a phone number to call if I had any problems, but who was it again? I felt sick. Did I just pay someone $300 to hack into my own computer?

I spoke with my IT buddy at work because I knew that as much as he would laugh at me, he wouldnít be too harsh about it and he would help me out. I asked him if I needed to cancel my debit card. His response? "Immediately." Oh yikes.

So, after filing a fraud report and taking my desktop back to its original factory settings, I was able to operate freely again. Now, that hasnít come without hesitation on my part. I still carry with me that heightened sense of fear that you have when you dream that youíre late for an exam. How embarrassing to think that after all my training and research on this topic that I would be the one who was duped. I can see how easily it can happen to the brightest of people though. Itís intimidating when you donít know what to do.

Letís talk about what I should have done and what you can do to avoid the mess I made.

  • Recognize your security software. If youíre running an antivirus program or security suite (like Norton, McAfee or Avast), that should be the program that detects problems on your computer.
  • Be a skeptic FIRST. Donít plunge right in based on your fear and give away all your money. Be wary when phone numbers pop up for service. Most security software wants to fix your issues automatically. Calling for support is typically their last resort.
  • Google the phone number. If your PC is locked up until the screen goes away, try another device that you may have to access the web. Make sure the number isnít showing up on scam tracking websites.
  • Ask questions. If you do talk to someone, ask a lot of questions about who you are speaking with and the company they work for and hang up if you donít feel good about their answers. You can always Google someone in support at your antivirus provider and contact them. Then you can ask if theyíve contacted you.
  • It is always appropriate to phone a friend. Everyone knows someone who is a little more tech savvy than ourselves. Seek out the computer geek in your life and describe your problem. There is a good chance they can help you spot a scam.

Ultimately, the people who attempt fraud are smarter than you can imagine. While we used to think of them as burglars in the night who go through our trash, that's not the case anymore. The reality is, most hackers and scammers are paid (and trained!) very well to get your information. These arenít guys sitting in their parents' basement with phone book and plan. They are highly skilled in taking your money in a sophisticated way that you may or may not realize was even a "thing" yet. Safeguard your money and your information. The faster you notice something isnít quite right, the less hassle youíll have to deal with to fix the problem.