Scammed: A cautionary tale

by Jae Wasson

Posted on Saturday, July 11, 2015, at 10:16 am

Last week, I fell for a scam.

A man named Jason asked to take over my computer, and I said yes. Looking back on it, I’m not surprised I made the mistake. He caught me because I know little about computers, trusted his technical ability, and underestimated human sin.

I had opened a blog, procrastinating before emailing a final draft of an article to my boss. Then a pop-up window flashed onto my screen with a Safari browser icon and crammed text I didn’t read. I saw only: “Critical adware malfunction” and “Call this number immediately for customer support.”

My computer had frozen. I couldn’t open the blog or email my boss. So I exhausted the little knowledge I had about computers and rebooted. But Safari still sat frozen.

Jason had me right where he wanted me. I called the number: 855-462-1908. A man with an Asian accent answered the phone: “Tech support. How can I help you?”

“Something weird just happened,” I said and told him about the pop-up and how I just wanted to get back to work.

He pulled his first move. “Let’s check the firewall,” he said. That sounded smart. He told me someone had come through the network, but not my laptop, because it was too good—a Mac. I felt flattered.

Jason’s next move was just as sly. He had me restart the computer and force quit Safari until my screen looked normal.

“How nice,” I told him. This was what tech-savvy friends had done for me in the past. He asked me to help him make sure I wasn’t bothered by that pop-up again. We opened a Terminal App and he showed me a long list of gibberish. I stared in interest and started asking questions.

“That foreign address there is your problem,” Jason said, interrupting. “We can fix it.”

I read the frustration in his voice and thanked him quickly for his offer. Immediately, he ran me through strange websites until a box popped up: “Connecting to customer support,” it read. Oh, I thought, I’ll meet Jason.

“There will be an OK box,” he said. “Click it.”

“Do you want Jason to take over your computer?” the box said, “He would fix it remotely.” I stared for a split second. This was new. But, then, technology always surprised me.

“Click on it,” he said, sounding frustrated again. I clicked on the box.

It began to feel like a TV show. My desktop arrow moved along as Jason—on the other end of the phone—checked websites on my computer. He seemed to be figuring out what had gone wrong.

“Our technicians will be fixing your laptop,” Jason said. He explained I wasn’t covered with an AppleCare plan. He had checked.

Oh no, I thought, this was going to cost money. Somehow I had expected free technical support came with an Apple laptop. But, Jason didn’t seem to think so.

“Technicians will change your IP address and sign you up for a three-year plan,” he said. “This is very necessary.”

I stared at the number he had typed on my screen: “$299.99.”

“Very necessary?” I asked. “I don’t think I can afford this.”

“How much can you afford?”

“Sixty?” I whispered.

He laughed.

“A hundred?”

He said he would ask his manager and put me on hold for five minutes. “A hundred it is,” he said, adding something about installments.

He insisted that I should do it.

I felt tired now, staring at the mouse moving purposefully across my screen. He couldn’t take my debit information over the phone, he explained, but would open the MSolutions website for me, where I could pay to have my computer fixed.

The mouse opened an Incidence Support website. Eager to be finished, I typed in my debit information, and he hit “Confirm Order.”

I left it open on my desktop like he said I should, the mouse still moving all alone.

That was when I told my friends what Jason had done. They looked thoughtful and a little shocked. I let someone take over my computer?

They had me Google the number, 855-462-1908, and I found out that Jason had cold-bloodedly robbed me of a hundred dollars, the possession of my computer, and, temporarily, my trust in humanity.

We took my laptop to a local Mac shop. They said they could take it back from Jason for $20. A professional in a tidy, black polo asked me what I had done.

I had trusted someone, I said, because it seemed like he knew what he was doing. My children would know better.

Jae Wasson

Jae is a Zenger House fellow

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