IRASBURG – Lea Cook has learned things are not always what they seem to be.
Two weeks ago, Cook received a phone call from someone claiming to be from the “Windows Program.” The caller said she wanted to show Cook things that hackers did and made her type in a remote access code.
“They had my name, they had my number and they knew I ran a Windows program,” said Cook. “It sounded fairly legitimate.”
The caller kept Cook on the line for about a half-hour.
“I kept trying to do the things they asked me to do, knowing in the back of my head that there is something that sounds crazy about this whole thing,” said Cook. “But I never gave them anything beyond what they already had for information.”
The caller, who had an Indian or Pakistan accent, spoke fast as if it was an extremely urgent matter. Cook said the caller lead her to believe that she had a dangerous situation.
The caller offered to remove the damage the fictitious hackers had done to Cook’s computer if Cook purchased a $99 program.
When Cook questioned the charge, the caller told her she did not have to pay for it immediately. Cook told the caller she would speak to her son first, but the person did not want her to hang-up the phone. Instead, the caller told Cook to call her son on her cell phone and to keep her computer on.
That was when Cook hung up and called her son, who told her to turn off her computer. Within five minutes, the caller called Cook again and insisted she needed to work on her computer and that the hackers damaged her hard drive and software.
“They were very insistent that I keep my computer online,” said Cook. “I said, ‘How I do know you’re not the hackers?’” To that question, the caller said, “You don’t understand, we’re trying to help you.”
Cook hung up the phone for a second time but the calls continued for about two weeks.
Cook said her computer repair technician, Donovan Quarmby from PC Med, did not think the caller did any damage, in part because she did not give the caller any information like credit card numbers.
Cook is concerned about other people who are not computer savvy being easily taken in.
“It’s extremely unnerving,” said Cook. “Most of the people I know are very trusting.”
Microsoft, the company that produces the Windows Operating System, does not call people on the phone, Quarmby said. “There is no such company as Windows,” he said. “It’s the latest scam and it’s convincing.”
Quarmby believes the caller randomly picks numbers in the phone book. He also said people in doubt should contact a computer specialists like a professional repairperson.
"Our advice is simple: treat callers as you would treat strangers in the street – do not disclose personal or sensitive information to anyone you do not know," stated a Microsoft spokesperson through an E-mail. "Unfortunately, this is not the first scam of its kind and it’s unlikely to be the last. The best way to avoid becoming a victim is by being aware of the threat. Consumers should also ensure the copy of Windows they are running is genuine and fully up to date, while ensuring they have installed legitimate software will guard against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.
When Express Staff attempted to contact the number the caller gave to Cook, a message said the person isn’t available. But according to Quarmby, Microsoft would not have such a message. Several online blogs report the same problems that Cook experienced.