One hundred twenty-two million people are shopping online on Cyber Monday. As many people have been using a computer to find holiday deals, it's a steal for crooks hacking into your personal information.
Hernando County investigators are warning that new local victims are falling prey to an age-old scam: the tech support scheme. When you’re online, a message pops up that says your computer ahs been infected by a virus. The alert warns that you need to call Microsoft or Apple at the number on the screen right away to fix it -- but don't do it.
Brinda Mendoza found out the hard way. “All at once, the alarms went off of my computer. It was going crazy and then the whole thing went black,” says Mendoza.
Mendoza's laptop got hijacked by hackers. Little did the Spring Hill daycare owner know that she called the crooks thinking they were tech support.
“Call the number, and everything is going crazy. You can see my stuff, bank cards everything. Of course, I am panicking. It was like 200-and-some dollars. I need your bank card, and I said there's nothing else we can do. I have to do it,” Mendoza says.
She gave the call-taker her credit card number, but thankfully her bank declined the international charge. Then the schemers wanted her checking account number. Brinda's own alarms went off in her head.
“I called the computer place and said, ‘Could this be possible? There's something that just doesn't sound right?’ And she said, ‘Shut the computer off right now. Once they call that number, they've got you. That's when they hack you,’” says Mendoza.
She’s not alone. Several people on Facebook are sharing similar stories.
April Jamnick says: “Call me all the time. Told them don't call. They get violent and then they start cursing at me.”
Angela and Bob Kanner say: “I received something very similar to this but I got mine in a form of an email.”
Microsoft says it has heard these complaints from more than 175,000 customers targeted by phony tech support over the past two years.
“I never thought it would happen to me,” says Mendoza. She paid the real experts a couple hundred dollars to wipe her computer and had her accounts frozen. She wants to warn others to beware.
“I don't want someone else to go through that. It cost me,” Mendoza says.
To protect yourself:
-- Never call a phone number on a popup.
-- Never give a stranger access to your computer.
-- Make sure to update your computer's antivirus programs.
The Federal Trade Commission has more information on the Tech Support Scam.
To report a scam to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker.
The BBB warns that the holidays are a busy time for scammers.
Here’s a list of the Top 10:
Look-alike websites: When shopping online, make sure to use only legitimate websites. Watch out for URLs that use the names of well-known brands along with extra words.
Fake shipping notifications: These can have attachments or links to sites that will download malware on your computer to steal your identity and your passwords. Don’t be fooled by a holiday phishing scam.
E-cards: Electronic cards can be great fun, but be careful. Two red flags to watch out for are: the sender’s name is not apparent; you are required to share additional information to get the card.
Letters from Santa: Several trusted companies offer charming and personalized letters from Santa, but scammers mimic them to get personal information from unsuspecting parents. Check with bbb.org to find out which ones are legitimate.
Grandparents scam: Seniors should be cautious if they get a call from a grandchild claiming to be in an accident, arrested or hospitalized while traveling in another country. Never send money unless you confirm with another family member that it’s true.
Phony charities: Everyone is in a generous mood at the holidays, so scammers take advantage of that with fake charity solicitations in email, on social media sites, and even by text. Check out charities at give.org before donating.
Temporary holiday jobs: Retailers and delivery services need extra help at the holidays, but beware of solicitations that require you to share personal information online or pay for a job lead. Apply in person or go to retailers’ main websites to find out who is hiring.
Unusual forms of payment: Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay for holiday purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, third parties, etc. These payments cannot be traced and cannot be undone. Use a credit card on a secure website; look for https in the address (the extra “s” is for “secure”) and the lock symbol.
Free gift cards: Popup ads or email offering free gift cards are often just a ploy to get your personal information that can later be used for identity theft.
Social media gift exchange: It sounds like a great deal; buy one gift and get 36 in return. But it’s just a variation on a pyramid scheme and it’s illegal.
Here are the BBB’s tips to protect your money:
1. Decide together. Sit down with your family or friends to discuss the causes and charities that are most meaningful to you. This will help narrow your search before making a donation.
2. Watch out for name similarity. Charities raising money for the same cause can have names that sound similar. Avoid cases of mistaken identity by looking at the name carefully.
3. What does the charity do? A charity’s name won’t necessarily reflect the nature of its program activities. Review the charity’s appeals and website to make sure you know how it plans to address the problems it describes so well.
4. Verify your charity. Visit Give.org to verify that your charity of choice is trustworthy and transparent.