Consider this a cautionary tale of how anybody can be scammed. It came in a one-two punch, starting last February with me trying to install Microsoft Word and ending last week when I lost a hunk of money. I spent a couple of days in shock, but now I’m angry and ashamed that I could be so duped. I intend to tell the tale and in so doing, prevent this from happening to anyone else.
It all began when I tried to install the latest version of Microsoft Word and got into a loop situation that became more and more frustrating. I looked online and found Microsoft Help. I clicked on it and found a very helpful techie who talked me through it to the point where we got into the loop situation. At that point, he asked if he could take over the curser. By then, I trusted him. He found that the reason I couldn’t install the program was because of some malicious virus and a Trojan horse. So he said that it would take some time, but he and his team could fix everything. There would be a cost. It would be about $350. I balked at that. Then he said that if I paid $500, I would have help from Microsoft Help for any problem and the one-time cost would last for my lifetime. As a writer, I needed to be able to use my Microsoft Word program, so I said okay to the lifetime plan.
Fixing the computer took a couple of hours. Then he called back and we were able to complete the Microsoft Word installation. I had just spent $100 on my upgraded Microsoft Word program and would need to upgrade every year. He told me that he could get me a better deal. I could have a Microsoft Word upgrade program that would kick in automatically every year. It would cost $500 and last a lifetime. I would never again have to pay for it, and it would be installed automatically. At that moment, it sounded like a good deal. So I went for it.
He also helped me organize my desktop and helped with a couple of other questions I had. And I was inspired to clean up everything after working with him. So I spent a few hours a day for several days, deleting duplicate and unwanted photos and emails. Over the next month, he called a couple of times to see if I needed any help with anything. At this point I did not suspect anything amiss. This was Microsoft Help, and I trusted the Microsoft name.
Then a month later, he called and said I needed an upgraded firewall to protect against new, worse viruses and the cost this time was $750. I balked at this and should have hung up, but I didn’t. I had a certain amount of trust in this fellow, and he was very persuasive. Before I knew it, I paid for that too.
Then last week, August 11, I received a call saying that my lifetime Microsoft Help program was no longer going to be able to help me, but they could help me get my money back. This was not the person I had spoken with before. But getting my money back sounded like a good idea. He passed me on to their financial person.
(This is when I should have said, I don’t want my money back and hung up.)
Ah! He was very persuasive. He asked me to do a couple things on the computer and before I knew it, he had control of the curser. He said in order to return the money, I would need to have an online banking account. I did want my money back. With very few steps, I had an online banking account where all my accounts were there. Of course, he assured me that because only I knew the password, I was the only one who could access them. I’m sure they had a way. This was what they wanted, and the next part is the key to the whole scam. He said that I would be repaid in two parts and he had me type in the first amount, which was several hundred dollars. So I typed it in, and suddenly it changed with the addition of a zero to several thousand dollars, which I did not do. He was horrified and said I had made the mistake and now they would be sending me that larger amount instead of what I was supposed to get and I would have to pay back the difference. He showed me my account with the larger figure already in it. (So, yes, they could get to my accounts without my password or maybe they had that too.) His tone was loud and frantic–in panic mode..
He wanted me to go to the bank and make a wire transfer for the difference immediately. And he gave me the name and account numbers etc to be able to do it. I just wanted to get this taken care of. By now I had a headache and my stomach was churning and I could feel my blood pressure rising. I felt at any moment someone would be coming to my house to claim their money. I felt afraid and would do what they asked. (I’m sure that’s exactly how they wanted me to feel.)
As it turned out, I couldn’t get an appointment at the bank that day, but I could go in anytime the next day because that would be the first day the bank would be open. The wire transfer was to Thailand and they wanted me to say it was for a medical emergency. I didn’t think that would fly with the bank, since it would be coming from my business account. So I suggested a cashier’s check which they eventually went for. However, it was to go to their contact in Tucson, AZ. She was a lady named Dorothy Winkler. I can handle most anything, but this whole experience was turning me into a nervous wreck and kept me awake that night.
I went to the bank the next day and withdrew thousands 0f dollars in the form of a cashier’s check. Beforehand, I asked her the amount in the account, and it was, indeed, several thousand over what it had been. Then I went next door to the post office and sent it off. They wanted overnight, but this is Florence. The fastest way was by Priority Express, which would take two days.
I was so stressed by the whole thing, when I got home, I just went to bed and slept for a couple of hours. When I got up, I got on my computer and tried to access my accounts. I remembered my password, but any user ID I came up with didn’t work. (Don’t know if this was the scammers doing or not.) Then I looked for the apps that had been used to access my computer and trashed one and the other I put restrictions on it of new passwords and requesting permission. Then I couple days later finally was able to trash it.
I didn’t realize what had happened until two days later when I went to the bank to deposit a small check, get my correct user ID so I could access my accounts online, and to check on my account balances. Strangely enough one of my accounts was several thousand short. That’s when I knew what really happened. They simply moved MY money from one account to another and made me think I owed them money. So the check I sent was totally my money. I thought I would faint, but I didn’t. Outwardly, I looked fine, but inside, I was in a state of shock.
Bottom line: I’m out thousands of dollars and all my accounts are frozen as the bank investigates. The bank is trying to put a stop payment on the cashier’s check, but that’s a long shot.
After I got home from the bank and still in a state of shock, I received a call from the scammers saying that the check had not arrived yet and this was the second day. I did not let on and reassured them that it should arrive any time.
Now for a strange twist. Their contact that the check was sent to, called me a few minutes later. She said she had just received a check from me, and why did I send it. I explained briefly and told her to tear it up. She said she was 92 and that she had no intention of cashing it and would shred it. I totally believed her. I so believed her that I told her to not answer the door because someone would be after that check and that she might call the police. Later, after thinking it over, I concluded she was probably part of the scam. Like the others, she was persuasive.
Going forward: I’m going to take my desktop to Jolene at Florence Technical Solutions and make sure that all ways to access my computer are gone and to check for any viruses or malware. And I’ll stop my credit card and get a new one with a new number, since that was how I paid back in February and April. (A little late, I know, but better late than never.) And at some point, I’ll be able to reopen my accounts with new numbers, hopefully, at the same bank.
I never thought this would happen to me. I was too smart for that. Obviously, that is not true. When I think through how this all unfolded, there were so many times I should have hung up. And just when I might have figured it out, they were rushing me and making me think the mistake was mine and instilling a certain amount of fear. At that point, all I wanted to do, was to get it over with and do whatever I had to do? Or at the bank, I could have checked all balances before requesting the cashier’s check, instead of just checking the one balance.
For me, this was not a calamity. I can handle it. I’ll consider it a very expensive lesson and not be so trusting in the future. I’m not happy about it, I’m furious. But for someone else, it might have been a calamity. For that reason, I’ve decided to make it public in hopes that it may save someone else from this type of scam.
I was a fool, and I don’t like being made a fool! I’ve talked to the sheriff’s office and will be filling out a report. And I’ll do anything else to make it harder for these folks to pull off this type of scam again. It’s not nice to cross a Scorpio!
Note: The scammers security company is called Secure TechDesk, which when you go to their website online seems like a legit business.
Note: My bank, Banner Bank, reopened all my accounts after their investigation. My computer was checked by Jolene, and is now back home and totally safe for me to use. She also said that these types of scams are common. I’ve blocked my main credit card and will receive a new one soon. And I received the sheriff’s report form in the mail yesterday and it’s now filled out and ready to send.