It always happens to someone else. Right? I mean, what are the chances it will happen to me? Or you? Be it winning the lottery or developing a debilitating disease. We all know someone who knows someone who…well, you know how it goes. It will happen to someone else.
And it did, two days ago. Across the street from me.
Claude and Jane are good folks. Both in their mid 70s. They live on their combined retirement funds and spend their time keeping busy with kids, grandkids, and from what I hear, a great-grandchild in a matter of months. They come over for coffee or tea at times, and we always see them at community center events. They are not well off by any standard, but they do okay…until last Saturday.
Jane answered the phone and a pleasant young man identified himself as an internet technician with Microsoft. He told her they’d received a report that something was extremely wrong with their computers and he was calling to help.
And yeah…you know where this is going. But Jane did not, and she told me why.
“He was such a professional young man. He knew exactly about how my computer had become slow and that he could fix it. He told me that I was in jeopardy of losing all my files and maybe my banking information. He even guided me to a website that would identify him as a Microsoft employee. The website looked exactly like the Microsoft website is supposed to look.”
The “nice young man” asked for permission to take control of her computer. Jane, without hesitation, allowed him to do so. Claude, listening in the background, told her to just hang up, but she did not.
From here it gets crazy. There was a $200 payment made to this “tech expert” and then he calls back and says that payment wasn’t necessary. In fact, an error was made and a draft of $2,000 had been made and not $200. He needed to take his $1,800 back. Of course, the “bank statement” Jane looked at did indeed show $2,000 instead of $200, so Jane was being asked to refund the $1,800.
While this was all happening, Claude jumped into his car and motored his way to the Taylor City Bank, maybe a five minute drive away, and that’s in traffic…this is a small town to say the least. He raced into the bank and rolled up on the next available teller to breathlessly tell him what was going on. In less than five minutes, all of his bank accounts had been frozen, to include his money market account. Every debit and credit card he had was cancelled in twenty minutes.
Back at their house, the “nice young man” was growing frustrated with Jane because the information she was giving him wasn’t correct. Jane said she would find out what the problems were and would call him back. He became adamant that she not hang up the phone. It was then that Jane did just that, because his angry tone frightened her.
Minutes later, Claude came into the house. He was not happy. If Jane had listened to him and had hung up the phone in the first place, this whole mess would not have happened.
And no…Claude and Jane did not lose any money. They were lucky. But the inconvenience of changing all their financial records is huge. It will take them days, if not a couple of weeks or a month, to get back to normal.
I sat at the small table that divides their open kitchen and dining area and shook my head as I heard the story. They were lucky.
And that’s when I realized I had a choice to make. I knew I had to do something.
I made my way down to the retirement community manager’s apartment and explained what had happened. I suggested that we put out a flier to warn the rest of the community about this. She agreed and 30 minutes later, she had copied the flier I made and we began letting our neighbors know about this scam and what to do if someone attempted to run it on them. And sure as sugar is sweet, in the next two days eleven of our neighbors were called.
Eleven of our neighbors hung up their phones.
Please. This isn’t chest-beating or image-polishing…it’s an example of what we, as computer technicians and geeks can do when presented with an opportunity. We can chose to be there for people who might expose their weakness by way of their trust. That’s what pisses me off more than anything; that these maggots choose to pick on folks 60 and over because we tend to be more trusting.
“He even guided me to a website that would identify him as a Microsoft employee. ”
To be honest, I ended up making more work for myself. Tomorrow we are meeting for a late breakfast at the community center, to see who wants Linux as a dual boot option for their computer. It seems that one of our resident’s sons has sold mom on the merits of Linux and the much smaller chance of any malware working on her computer. I’ve already had three neighbors knock on the door and ask me to put their names on my list. Well, I really didn’t have a list at the time, but I do now. And I will go to the brunch meeting tomorrow.
It’s a matter of knowing when to be there.
Help keep FOSS Force strong. If you like this article, become a subscriber.
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue