How I Fell for a Computer Virus Scam
Don't make the four mistakes I did, this writer says
I always thought that the oldest people are the group that gets scammed. Certainly not a discerning 65-year-old who has written about scams and wisely deletes suspect emails. Well, add me to the Gotcha List. I was a victim of a computer virus scam. Here's how it happened and how you can avoid being a victim, which is especially timely since it's National Cybersecurity Awareness Month:
Recently, I logged onto my computer and saw a message on my screen telling me to call Apple immediately, with a phone number. It said I had downloaded an infected program.
It kind of made sense. Earlier that morning, a pop-up on my screen told me a newer version of my malware software protection was available. I dutifully downloaded it. Who wants trouble?
What 'Tech Support' Told Me
I called the number. The “tech” answered. He was sympathetic and even had me go to a site that had an article on unscrupulous scammers who trick people into downloading infected viruses. He said he wanted to show me I was in good company.
The couple of times I hesitated in divulging information he said, “Oh come on, Sally, you just saw that there is this virus,” or “You just called Apple” and other reassuring words (if you are an unwitting victim).
And thus began my take-her-for-a-rube saga. Yes, I gave the “Apple support tech” remote access to my computer and my credit card information so I could “buy software protection.”
He then said he was patching me into Dusti Solutions, a software protection company he told me was Apple’s chosen vendor. I quickly Googled its name and found that it was, indeed, the name of a software company. Had I looked closer, I’d have found it doesn’t sell malware prevention, however.
The Dusti Solutions rep sounded like the real thing, too. He offered a choice of three protection plans. Fortunately, I took the cheapest one, two years, for a mere $199.99.
When Scammer No. 1 shared my screen, he showed me long columns of code that he said hackers were downloading onto my computer. I know nothing about programming, so I didn’t know what to look for. I even watched gratefully as “Apple” remotely “cleaned up” my files.
Finding Out I’d Been Scammed
I didn’t realize I had been conned (what is called “phishing”) until I went into a local Apple store a week later. Ironically, I went to ask about something I’d read on computer privacy. It said that when some people are in public places, they put a sticky or piece of tape on the camera of their computer, so no one can spy on them. I happened to mention my malware episode and the call that fixed my virus.
“I’m sorry to say,” the Apple employee told me gently, “but Apple will never ask for credit card information over the phone or direct you to call a number; they certainly don’t flash a message across your screen.”
I quickly checked my credit card and bank account statements. Luckily, the lone unusual charge was the $199.99 from Dusti Solutions. I called my credit card company, cancelled the card, contested the charge, changed my Apple password and had a real (really!) Apple tech get rid of any suspicious programs.
Scammers have become so sophisticated that discerning reality from deception has become both difficult and daunting.
How to Prevent a Computer Virus Scam
I keep thinking about the incident. Here are four things I didn’t do, but you should if you’re in a similar situation:
1. Trust my gut. I thought it was weird that the tech wanted my credit card information, but gave it to him anyway. Had the guy asked for my Social Security number, I would have known instantly that it was a scam. Then why not my credit card?
I also thought it seemed odd (but definitely convenient) that Apple had a third-party software protection company to fix the problem on the spot. Problem was, the “Dusti Solutions” software company doesn’t sell malware protection.
I should have realized that the pop-up on my computer was probably a fake.
2. Call Apple before calling the number on my screen. Someone at Apple would have told me it was a hoax. I should’ve noticed, too, Also, when I dialed the bogus number, there was no menu from Apple; it was a direct call to the “tech.”
3. Figure out that Apple would not have patched me through to another company. That’s just not the way legitimate businesses work.
4. Understand that honest companies don’t have employees who make creepy small talk. (“You sound so young on the phone,” “Your husband is so lucky!”) By the time the sweet-talking began, I had already given him the goods.
Luckily for me, this is a mild tale. The shysters could have gone on a spending binge with my credit card, embedded tracking software and done much more damage. I will likely be reimbursed by my credit card company for the bogus charge (I hope!).
Why I Didn't Tell Anyone
And yet, until writing this article, I have not told a soul. Not even my husband. We don’t have secrets from each other, and this is minor — not to mention, resolved.
I guess it’s that I am embarrassed, okay mortified, that I didn’t figure out the scam as it was happening. Looking back, the story had red flags waving as big as that fake number on my screen.
I now see how easy it is for older adults to be conned via computer, and phone. And it is even likelier when they are lonely and alone, ready to talk to a friendly, “helpful” person.
I also see why so many older scam victims keep the incidents to themselves. “How could I?” they think. “If I tell someone, they will think I am stupid and lack judgment. They may even question my ability to live independently.”
The kicker is my credit card company. I immediately contested the charge and it was initially removed it from my bill. Soon after, I received a letter saying the claim was rejected. I called the credit card company, expecting a “case closed,” and was told to write a detailed letter about what happened and, to be sure my case did not slip through the cracks, to fax it and send it in the mail.
I did, and have called back five times since; three times I spoke with a supervisor. The last supervisor told me she has no authority to expedite my case. That was a month ago when I sent a letter detailing what had occurred. I don’t know which is worse: being scammed or having to deal with my credit card company!
In the past, I would roll my eyes when I heard of yet another older adult getting taken. How could he or she be so ridiculously naive, I would wonder?
I wonder no more.