Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 8, 2012

Tidbits: Scammers know no boundaries

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — The other night, I was home, minding my own business and taking care of some neglected house duties, when the phone rang.

The caller ID showed no number, and I answered hesitantly, knowing a telemarketer of some kind was on the other end and thinking, “How can I get off this call quickly, without being rude to someone just doing their job?”

My distress quickly turned to anger. The person on the other end responded to my “Hello” with what I can somewhat translate as, “Your computer is sending out viruses. You have a problem!”

I say somewhat translate because I couldn’t understand him. That’s what I gleaned after he repeated himself once or twice, using a company name I didn’t catch. When I started to understand, I decided to play dumb.

“Viruses? My computer isn’t even on right now. How can it be sending out viruses?”

I was quickly switched to another person, a woman this time, who tried again to explain they were calling because of problems with my Windows operating system.

Yes! My easy way out of this call.

“Windows? I don’t use Windows.”

The call ended without so much as a “thank you for allowing us to try and scam you out of your hard-earned money.”

The Microsoft phone scam has been going around for some time, so long that Microsoft has a warning on its website about it. They aren’t going to be calling you. If you have a computer problem, you’ll have to call them.

This scam preys on the technologically un-savvy in an attempt to get them to pay money for, at best, phony virus protection software. At worst, they take over your computer, steal your personal identity and use your IP address to send out viruses and SPAM without you ever being the wiser.

So, in case you were wondering, you should never allow a strange caller to take remote control of your computer.

And don’t count on caller ID to help you out. Mine showed an “unknown” number, but some scammers spoof legitimate numbers, having those show in the caller ID of the phone, to trick you out of personal information. Never give out personal information on an incoming call. Hang up and call the customer service number printed on billing statements, the company’s website or in the phone book.

There are other types of scams, too. Just last week, one of our local agencies had their email hijacked and a plea for help getting home from the Philippines was sent all over town. That agency quickly responded that they sent no such message and said recipients should disregard any message soliciting funds as they do not solicit funding by email.

There’s lots of other scams, like the “you won the lottery!” scam (you can’t win if you didn’t enter), the “I need help transferring millions out of my foreign nation” scam (commonly called the Nigerian scam, but other countries have been used), the “hey, I know we’ve never met other than this dating site, but can you give me money” scam, and more. I talked with folks not too long ago that were getting calls claiming to be their grandchildren needing money for bail. The person barely got a word in edgewise with the sad story that was told. But when the caller, a male, finally stopped, they responded with the fact they only had granddaughters and hung up.

The best defense against scams is to be vigilant in protecting your information. Once that information has been compromised, you could be in for years of pain and suffering after your identity is stolen and your credit history destroyed and savings wiped out. It’s also incredibly hard to prosecute because many of these scams originate in other jurisdictions, where our U.S. laws mean little.

Another good defense is to register with the national Do Not Call registry, though it has also been the subject of recent phone scams. Registration is free, and you should make the call yourself directly to the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission doesn’t use third parties to register consumers for the registry. Visit www.donotcall.gov to learn more.

And when in doubt, just hang up the phone. Better to be rude than be victimized by a scam.