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Scammers, not hackers, changing up tactics

The Northern Virginia Daily - 19-03-22
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Hackers, Crackers, & other theives
Hackers, Crackers, & other theives

Scammers have moved past asking for wire transfers to Nigerian princes. One Strasburg resident found out first-hand last weekend how basic computer programs, scare tactics and a quick phone call can result in losing thousands of dollars.

Early Saturday morning, the resident received a phone call from someone claiming to work for Microsoft. Similar scams have men and women pose as IRS officials, police officers or other professionals representing legitimate companies and organizations.

Mala Bansal, the officer handling the case for the Strasburg Police Department, said this is how many of these scammers make a living.

“They’ll target any demographic,” Bansal said. “[They will] claim to be some kind of program and…they’re calling people.”

Most of the proficient scammers, like the one who swindled nearly $17,000 from the Strasburg resident, will catch targets off guard.

Jesse Mueller, the owner of Blue Screen Computers, helped repair the little damage done by the scammers to the Strasburg resident’s computer and explained what they had done.

“They can’t get access unless you, the computer user, take action,” Mueller said. “They don’t actually have hacking skills. We should not call them hackers. They are just scammers.”

Mueller explained that unexpected phone calls and pop-ups are the first indicators that someone is trying to run some kind of scam. When they refuse to furnish a call back number or insist that action has to be taken right away, those are more red flags, he said.

“They want to distract you with urgencies or scary looking computer jargon,” Mueller said. “These people don’t want you to break off and talk to a friend. They don’t want you to call them back later…when you feel yourself getting isolated or when you have that nagging in your gut, you really need to listen to it.”

The Strasburg woman said she saw red flags go up but it was early, she hadn’t started her day and she was scared when the scammers told her there were people trying to infiltrate her bank account.

Once they had her attention, they told her to access a remote control program that gave them control over her computer. After calling up a basic event viewer and showing all of the errors and critical errors her computer ever recorded, they told her these were active attempts to hack into her accounts. The only way to stop them, the scammers said, was to use numbers from different gift cards.

The scammers told her to go out and buy Google Play gift cards, not to bother calling Microsoft and assured her she would be reimbursed.

“There were two red flags right there, and they just went right over my head,” she said. “I fell for it…I went and got two $100 Google Play gift cards.”

The scammers repeated this cycle for hours, sending her back and forth to buy more cards, for larger and larger sums. They told her if she stopped before all of the “hackers” were removed, they could swarm back in, causing even more damage.

“Walmart questioned me,” she said, “and I made up stories. I asked myself, ‘why am I lying?’ but...he had me so psychologically worn down and guilt-tripped. I did it. I can’t believe I did it.”

When she woke up Sunday morning with a clear head and some space from the situation, she realized what happened.

If users don’t give the scammers access to their computer, there isn’t anything they can do, Mueller said, but once they have access, the only way to stop them is to sever the internet connection.

Turning the computer off isn’t enough, Mueller said, “If they don’t sever that connection...then bad things can happen.”

Once money has left an account, it can be difficult to recover and almost impossible to track where it went. Sometimes a fraud claim will be enough to recover the funds, though some lenders won’t refund money if the card owner authorized the charge.

While Mueller said he sees clients who have suffered scams at least once a week, Bansal said there hasn’t been an influx of calls.

She said she recently took a class hosted by the FBI that highlighted some of the larger scams in history and some of the resources people and police departments have to combat them. She is preparing to give a presentation to the public about some of the tactics scammers use sometime next month.

– Contact Max Thornberry at mthornberry@nvdaily.com      


Tags: scammers, Nigerian prince


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