Brian Hamilton: OMG! There’s a hacker in my computer?
“You have a hacker in your computer right now!”
Not recognizing the voice as one of our own IT folks, I quickly checked the caller ID while wondering who within our company might be calling me from San Antonio …
“This is Jimmy from the Windows Service Center,” he said. “You have a hacker inside your PC right now!”
Oh no! How could that be?
To my knowledge, the only PC I own — Dude, it’s a Dell — was at the bottom of a stack of shelves in our garage, completely unplugged and collecting dust.
“You must go to your computer now!” he insisted. “I cannot help you, if you do not do everything I say.”
Considering “Jimmy” had reached me at work, and that I wasn’t about to drive home to see if someone somehow had plugged in my old PC, I relented and turned to face the only screen in my office — also a Dell, but one connected to a MacBook and not operating any version of Windows.
“What do you see?” he asked.
“My desktop, with the background photo,” I said, “with a bunch of files I haven’t gotten around to deleting, or storing away.”
“OK,” he said. “Look to the left of your keyboard. Push the control button, the four-flag key and the letter ‘R.’”
Having no idea about the “four-flag key” to which he referred, I quickly Googled “PC keyboard” for an image and realized he was talking about the key bearing the Windows logo.
“Have you pressed the keys?”
“Yes,” I lied.
“And what do you see?”
“Nothing,” I lied again, not having any idea what I should be seeing had I done as he asked on an actual PC. “I pushed the keys and nothing happened.”
“That is not possible!” he said, growing frustrated. “You are not doing what I told you to do!”
“Whoa, easy there,” I said. “Look you called me, saying someone had hacked into my computer — right now! — and that you want to help me ‘get the hacker out.’
“I appreciate the help,” I lied one more time, “but why are you getting so angry with me?”
That’s when “Jimmy” handed the phone to his “supervisor,” a guy named “Mack.”
“Hello, yessir, someone has hacked your PC and you must do what I say to get the hacker out,” Mack said.
But after I told him that nothing seemed to happen when I pressed the keys as instructed, Mack also got mad at me and said I was not doing what I was told to do.
“How do you know that?” I asked, adding, “And how do you know someone is hacking my computer?”
“Because we know what will happen when you press these keys,” he said, again in an angry tone. “We also know your name, your license and your ID number.”
“Really? What’s my name?”
“Jim Moss,” he said.
“That’s not my name, and …”
Wouldn’t you know it? Before I could let them know that Jim, a former member of our team here at The Union, no longer worked here, Jimmy and Mack hung up on me.
I tried to call them back, hoping they were still willing to help me “get the hacker out,” but to no avail.
Of course, the scammers scrammed once they realized I was just playing along in order to get more information from them, as I wasn’t too forthcoming in providing much the other way around.
Unfortunately, though, there are apparently many folks who do fall for the scheme. Otherwise, there likely wouldn’t be so many examples of the scam being shared on the internet. According to a 2015 report on elder financial abuse, by True Link Financial, such schemes are among the fraudulent activities that cost seniors $36 billion annually.
And the “tech support” type of scam is so prevalent that it’s regularly referenced among the most common scams targeting senior citizens, which also include tactics touting assistance with health care, financial advising and the Internal Revenue Service. Even if they don’t know your name, or what computer you’re using, the fraudsters on the other end of the phone call likely know Nevada County has a high population of seniors — nearly a quarter of our residents, according to the U.S. Census — and target numbers from the surrounding area.
The federal government encourages anyone who fears they are a victim of such fraud to report their case to local law enforcement, state consumer protection agencies or the relevant federal agency. Visit https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds for information on common types of fraud, the most popular scams, and how to report such fraudulent activity.
Avoid becoming one of the folks who fall for such schemes; the next time a “Jimmy” or “Mack” dials up offering their technical service skills, simply take the advice Sheriff Keith Royal offered earlier this year, when area residents reported a rash of IRS calls seeking their personal information:
“Just hang up,” he said. “Don’t talk to them.”
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at email@example.com or 530-477-4249.
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