It happens again and again-a computer scam that causes many people to lose thousands.
Some people call it the Microsoft scam, others the computer virus scam, but no matter what it’s called it almost always ends in financial heartache.
This time, a retired Triangle couple lost $8,900. Amelia Lewis said she was on her computer when an alert popped up that said her computer could be at risk. “Don’t continue to use your computer, don’t shut it down,” Amelia said the computer read.
She and her husband Al immediately called the phone number on the screen, which they said appeared to be the number for the company they subscribe to virus protection services from. “They started telling me that they were gonna have to cancel their subscription, because of the fires in California burned the service so they’re not able to protect our machines and they were going to refund our money,” Al said.
Al said he believed the story, and thought they would get a refund of $318. He gave the person on the phone remote access to his computer so they could put the refund directly into his account.
“This Chase Bank screen came up with all this money,” said Al. Instead of refunding $318 into Al’s bank account, the screen showed that $3,188 had appeared in the Chase account. “It was there I could see it,” Al said.
At this point, Al said the man on the phone started to sound distressed. “He said well my boss is gonna be mad at me I might lose my job because of the mistake.”
Al said the man told him he could not reverse the charges, so instead, he asked Al and his wife to buy Walmart gift cards to refund the difference. The Lewis’ drove to their local Walmart and bought $2,700 worth of gift cards. “He wanted us to scratch the back of the gift cards off and texted it to him. And we did that,” Al said.
They thought it was over after that, but the next morning when Al looked on his computer, it showed that the company had put two more payments of $3,188 in his bank account. “I could see it,” Al said again. So they went back to Walmart and purchased $6,200 worth of gift cards, scratched off the backs, and sent the number to the man who had called them.
The next day, he called again and tried to do it again, and that was when they realized something was wrong. “I said ‘man I got that you’re a scam.’ I said I want the money back,” Al said.
There was no way to reverse it; the $8,900 they had spent on those gift cards was gone.
“I was really sick, I was like oh my God I can’t believe this just happened,” Amelia said. “You know it really hurt. You know it took us a long time to save that money, and now they are playing with it.”
The Lewis’ are not alone, I hear from people often who said they’ve fallen for this scam. The computer pop-ups can be very convincing. If you get one that says your computer is at risk, do not call the number. Instead, shut down your computer.
Another note of caution- you should never give someone you don’t know remote access to your computer. The Lewis’ believe once they gave the scammers access to their computer, the scammers were moving money back in forth into their accounts to make it look like the couple was being refunded the money but it was just their money being moved from account to account.
Finally, if anyone asks for you to use gift cards as payment, that’s a huge red flag that they are scammers.