In my last column, I warned readers about a somewhat convincing scam where someone cold-calls you to help “fix” your computer. I worried that it might trick less savvy citizens into giving out their personal information and/or credit card numbers to supposed Microsoft or Windows staff, and I wanted to warn readers to protect themselves and their friends. Yet, I was left wanting to know whose job it was to protect Canadians from scammers like these — after all this is fraud.
I started with the Better Business Bureau. They have a warning about this scam, several pages down. “The calls seem to target seniors and other consumers who may not be as technologically savvy … Never share personal information, such as bank account and credit card numbers, with anyone you don’t know who contacts you. If you’ve fallen victim to this or a similar scam: Contact your bank or credit card company … Immediately run anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer … Monitor your credit report … especially if … you bank online.”
This is where I have to issue another warning regarding running anti-virus programs on your computer. Make sure that you use a reputable product like Symantec’s Cached, Norton AntiVirus, McAfee anti-virus, AVG Anti-Virus and/or bring your PC to a local IT professional. Not to alarm anyone, but there is rogue antivirus software out there. They often have free online tools to diagnose your system that will fraudulently tell you that you have viruses when you don’t. Be vigilant.
Microsoft’s website also has a warning about the telephone scam, and reminds users, “Once the crooks have gained your trust, they attempt to steal from you and damage your computer with malicious software including viruses and spyware … If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Tech Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls.”
I called the city police and was told, by Det. Const. Doug Erkkila, of the Technological Crime Unit, that they received a number of complaints, and he cautions people to protect themselves by never giving out personal information to cold-callers: just hang up. He also stated: “It is a borderless issue with call centres overseas, so scammers should be reported to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre (CAFC).”
On Erkkila’s recommendation, I visited the CAFC website at www.antifraudcentre.ca, and right on the front page of their website was: “Anti-Virus Scam … has grown to epidemic proportions in Canada, now accounting for between 70 and 80% of frauds reported daily.”
I called the Anti Fraud Centre and spoke with RCMP Staff Sgt. Paul Proulx. According to Proulx, the intake centre receives more than 200,000 emails and 120,000 calls per year, including more than 10,000 complaints about the anti-virus scam. He said that this scam has been in operation in Canada since March 2010 and now uses pop-up ads on the Internet, as well emails, to target customers.
I asked Proulx whose job it is to protect Canadians from this type of threat, and he said they are doing just that. Once they have a company identified, they contact their private sector partners — the Internet and Telephone Service Providers — to help shut down scammers’ 1-800 numbers and websites.
So why were they still operating if this is the top scam going right now?
Until the CAFC can shut them down, to protect yourself, arm yourself with the knowledge that scammers are out there; lurking at the end of a telephone line, in our e-mail inboxes and through pop-up windows, or rogue anti-virus software on the Internet. Know that these scammers may sound helpful or convincing, but they ultimately are trying to steal your money or your identity or use your computer to spam other people or spread viruses.
To further protect yourself and others, both the CAFC and the BBB suggest you report suspected scammers to them and inform yourself about other current scams on their web pages.
The BBB’s website is www.bbb.org and the Canadian Anti? Fraud Centre can be reached at 1-888-495-8501 or www.antifraudcentre.ca.
They also suggest that you warn your friends and family. Share the message on Facebook, tweet it, or forwarded it by email. With any luck, and a lot of word-of-mouth, we’ll be able to put these people out of business by not giving them the time of day.
As Proulx said: “It’s not rude to hang up on someone who’s trying to steal your money and information.”