Wham, bam, scam you, ma’am

December 21, 2011

PHOTO CREDIT: DUNCAN BROWN, NAPIER COURIER

Carissa Lewis leaves little doubt about how she felt after being scammed by a smooth operator.

“My exact words afterwards were, ‘I have been raped through my laptop’,” says the Taradale resident. “That’s what it felt like.’”

Carissa was at home earlier this month when she answered her landline. She’d barely said hello before a man speaking in a thick Indian accent told her he worked for Microsoft Windows and began berating her in a loud voice.

“He was like, ‘We’ve got these alerts coming up showing that you’ve got a virus on your laptop’,” she says. “It was like it was a serious situation that needed to be fixed immediately and I need to listen to this guy because he’s going to fix it.”

Caught off-guard, Carissa was unwittingly about to fall victim to what’s known as the AMMYY.com scam, where operators bully unwary computer owners to log onto a website and activate a programme. Rather than the promised virus purge, the computer is, instead, commandeered via remote access and such sensitive information as banking details and passwords are quickly harvested.

“I was watching the screen and everything that we had ever typed into the internet was coming up,” says Carissa. “I saw one of my passwords and I just knew then that they had everything off my laptop.”

Carissa’s partner arrived home at that moment to take over the phone and disconnect the computer, but the damage had been done.

While she later felt embarrassed and “really silly,” Carissa says in the heat of the moment, it was difficult to spot the warning signs of the carnage about to be wreaked. “They were yelling at me over the phone – they were very insistent,” she says. “The sense of panic distracts you from what they’re actually doing. That was the scary part. They could have pretty much got me to do anything over the phone by talking to me in that tone.”

Napier Police crime prevention adviser Paul Miller says the country has been inundated with such scam calls, including several to his own residence.

“If someone with an Indian accent calls to say you have a virus, it’s a scam in big letters,” he says. “It’s potentially very dangerous.”

He advises anyone who receives such a call to contact the police so they can keep tabs on what scams are currently active.

“But we won’t investigate because it’s impractical to do so,” he says. “We don’t have the resources to put into it.”

Justin Andrews, the director of Laptops R Us, says his household used to receive computer scam calls on a nightly basis. The best thing to do, he says, is inform the caller that you don’t have an internet connection.

“Once we said that, the calls stopped,” he says.

Whatever you do, Justin says, “don’t go to the website and don’t follow the instructions.”

Laptops R Us sees one or two computers a week brought in after being infected by AMMYY. In response, the company has a special price of $199 to back up data, wipe the hard drive and do a clean install.

“The computer has to be restored to its original state as if it’s brand new again,” says Justin. “That’s the only way to guarantee nothing is in your computer’s system.”

Carissa has yet to do that. In fact, she feels nervous at the mere thought of even turning the machine on. In the meantime, having reported the scam to the police, she and her partner have changed passwords and credit cards, and informed friends, their internet provider and their cell phone provider that sensitive information may have been compromised.

Now she wants to warn others so no one else ends up feeling violated the way she did.

“I was so gutted – I still am,” she says. “I thought I was computer-savvy. Apparently not.”

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