Kevin Hunt: Creepy Calls From 'Tech Support'


Don't let the giddiness of the March equinox weaken your consumer guard against these relentless scams:

Phony TechSupport Calls

Microsoft does not make unsolicited tech-support phone calls. Only scammers do.

Once they get control of your computer, they can install malicious software that steals online banking user names and passwords, credit card information and other personal data.

Three times in late February, says Barbara O'Connor of West Simsbury, scammers made a play to take over the family's computer. The caller, listed on caller ID as "Name Not Found," first warned O'Connor's elderly father about a problem with the computer.

"He tried to push my father to turn it on and follow his directions," says O'Connor, "as he was from Microsoft and had to fix the computer. Fortunately, Dad claimed he isn't allowed to touch the computer and the guy said he would call Wednesday."

Next morning, just before 8, he did. O'Connor answered and heard a similar story about her computer being hacked. She hung up. He called again, immediately, O'Connor says, and said the hack had been traced to their computer's IP address. He also knew their home address: Scammers are increasingly using personalized information available on the Internet to add authenticity to the Microsoft-themed calls.

This scammer, however, stumbled on the street address.

"That's when I really knew he was somewhere offshore," she says, "because he took the abbreviation for 'drive' to mean that we lived on 'doctor.'"

Again, O'Connor hung up. And again, the scammer called back. This time, O'Connor's husband, Steve, answered and quickly hung up.

During one conversation with the scammer, O'Connor smartly tried to get a company name and other identification. The caller would only say he worked for Microsoft, but getting some information and passing it along to the attorney general's office (www.ct.gov/ag) or the Federal Trade Commission is about all a consumer can do.

"I have had two more calls from the same guy," says Barbara O'Connor. "The first I told him we didn't have a computer and

hung up. The second one I told him I had given the police his phone number so he better stop calling. It has been at least a week since there has been calls from that number."

Here's what a consumer should not do, says the Better Business Bureau:

>> Never give control of your computer to a caller without confirming it's from a business you have hired.

>> Never give personal information to anyone claiming to represent tech support.

Victims of the tech support scam should immediately change passwords on all critical accounts: email, online banking, online credit-card access and computer access.

"Ultimately," says the BBB's Howard Schwartz, "the key is education. The more we know about the various kinds of scams and how they work, the less chance there will be of us falling victim."

ATM Skimmers

The skimmers are back. This scam uses either a fake card-slot reader at an ATM machine, which sends a swiped-card's information to a remote computer. Sometimes, the scammers use a pinhole camera to view PIN numbers entered on a keypad. What you can do:

>> Use a credit card instead of a debit card. It's often much easier to recover stolen money through a credit-card company than from the bank that issued your debit card.

>> Only use ATMs at a bank.

Rachel From Cardholder Services

The Bottom Line last wrote about the most famous name in robocall history last summer, but a recent spike in local complaints led to a warning last month from state Attorney General George Jepsen.

Don't fall for calls, he warned consumers, from Rachel (or "Wendy") with offers of lower credit-card interest rates. If Rachel's automated voice convinces a consumer to talk to a live representative, the subsequent low-interest-rate offer includes an up-front fee, sometimes thousands of dollars.

It's against federal law to charge such a fee before a debt is either settled or reduced. Most of these calls are illegal, too, but they're almost impossible to track because the number on Call ID is a fake.

The attorney general's office has received 90 formal complaints about these robocalls since 2010, says spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski, but that doesn't include callers to the office's Consumer Assistance Unit who declined to file a complaint.

What to do:

>> Hang up. You're not going to insult Rachel — she's only a robot.

>> If you're a victim, file a complaint with the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.com or call 1-877-382-4357.

Grant Deeds

Never overpay an unknown seller for something you can get for less money and greater certainty locally. That goes for grant deeds and any property record available at the town clerk's office.

For the second time in less than a year, the state Department of Consumer Protection has warned about companies sending invoices or offers related to public records.

DCP says a notice from Property Transfer Services, a company operating in the state, sent a notice to a consumer asking for a check for $83. DCP Commissioner William R. Rubenstein says it's the same scheme run by Record Retrieval Department, banished by the agency from the state.

Where to get land records:

>> Your town clerk's office, where copies of land records usually cost $1 per page, and $2 for a certified record.

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