News

Computer scammers persist

John Piskorik
John Piskorik's 7-year-old computer is dead after a phone scammer was able to access it remotely and cause damage.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

John Piskorik is learning how to use his new computer.

He'd rather not.

But when a phone scammer convinced the 83-year-old New Westminster resident his 7-year old computer was vulnerable to some sort of insidious virus, he gave him the information he needed to access his hard drive remotely and inflict damage.

Piskorik didn't give the scammer the $200 he requested for the "warranty" service he performed, nor did he tell him his banking information. He admits he's a little embarrassed he got taken in by the scammer as far as he did, but he hopes his story will alert others who may get similar calls.

Piskorik, who uses his computer for email, research and to play solitaire before going to bed, said the scammer was persistent and convincing. In fact, his wife had previously hung up on him three times before he finally took the call.

Piskorik said the caller identified himself as being from a company called PC Help & Support, in Ohio. He said he spoke with a thick accent.

Piskorik said the scammer said they'd been alerted to "unusual activity" on his computer caused by a "hydra infection," and if it wasn't dealt with immediately, his computer would crash.

That worried Piskorik. He didn't want to lose all the email addresses for family, friends and the various organizations he belongs to. He didn't want to lose his nightly solitaire game.

In fact, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre  says seniors are particularly susceptible to phone scams because they're more trusting and less likely to end a conversation. Scammers also like to build a relationship with their target and gain their trust.

Piskorik said the scammer kept him on the line for about an hour. He instructed Piskorik how to give him remote access to his hard drive so he could show him the problem areas in his computer. He asked for money and Piskorik's credit and bank card information.

"That's when we stopped," said Piskorik, who hung up the phone.

But the scammer still had control of Piskorik's computer. He watched helplessly as the cursor danced around the screen, windows opened and closed.

Piskorik turned it off.

The next morning, it wouldn't turn on.

"They killed it," said Piskorik.

According to computer security company Symantec, these kinds of technical support scams have been around since 2010.

Joe Smith, of LabTop computers in Burnaby, said he sees about a computer a week or more come into his shop because it's been accessed and damaged in some way by scammers.

He said even if the computer still works, once scammers have gotten into it, there's no telling what data they've been able to extract.

"Once you give them access, it's trouble," said Smith of the scammers. "They typically employ scare tactics like opening logs with lots of errors and red buttons, but they're not important. That's just what's going on behind the operating system."

The Anti-Fraud Centre advises the best defence against getting scammed is to just hang up.

And while that's ultimately what Piskorik did, he said he's still angry with himself that he didn't act sooner.

"I'm distressed that this could happen to me," he said.

To learn more about common scams, or to report a fraud, go to www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca

 

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