The phone call came out of the blue.
But Lawrence resident Martha Town, 69, was ready to listen because she had been having problems with her computer at home. The caller claimed to be a technical support analyst either for Microsoft or Cisco Systems Inc. — she can’t remember which one — and he later turned her over to a woman he said was his female supervisor.
Over the phone they had walked her through several steps on her computer before telling Town that her computer’s software license had expired. She was eventually taken to another screen the woman claimed would examine her computer for viruses.
Then a screen popped up that asked her to pay $107.
“I said, ‘oh no, I’m not paying anything until I have someone else check this out,’” said Town, who retired in 1998 as superintendent of the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan.
She eventually terminated the call without giving a credit card or bank account number. Days later, after having conversations with her nephew, who works with computers, and a tech at Geeks on Wheels in Lawrence, who fixed her computer for much less than $107, Town learned she avoided a likely scam that others in Lawrence were not as fortunate to avoid.
Jennifer Ludlow, the Geeks on Wheels coordinator, said she’d noticed the support company had received about 20 calls in the past six weeks about similar circumstances. In recent years, she’s heard of a similar scam involving pop-up windows that won’t go away, but the so-called tech-support phone call seems to be a new wrinkle, at least in the Lawrence area. The scam is likely an effort to get access to someone’s credit card or bank account information, which is never advised unless you can verify that it’s a reputable and secure website, she said. Secure websites start with the URL “https” instead of just “http.”
Some victims initially trust the callers enough to give them remote access to their computers, but the callers can become more aggressive, Ludlow said.
Town said she worried that older people could be more susceptible to the scam, but Ludlow said she’s heard from people across the age spectrum — from college students on up.
“This normal, rational person sounds really scared by this call. (The callers are) doing a good job in trying to intimidate or bully people or do things they normally wouldn’t do,” said Ludlow, who is also business services coordinator for Knology of Kansas, which owns Geeks on Wheels.
Microsoft, for example, on its website warns users about giving out any information in unsolicited phone calls and instead advises people to take down the caller’s information and report it to local authorities if possible.
“You will never receive a legitimate call from Microsoft or our partners to charge you for computer fixes,” the website said.
Ludlow said many of these types of scams are conducted internationally, so it can be difficult to catch perpetrators. She advised that if people did give out bank or credit card information or if they noticed any suspicious charges, they should notify their bank immediately to get their card number changed.
Town said she never purchases anything unless she absolutely knows who she’s dealing with.
“We just have to use what’s at our disposal,” she said, “which is our heads and common sense sometimes. Just check it out."