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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sirens & Gavels

Beware callers offering to fix computer

The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash. (MCT)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (MCT Reigional News) -- Katrina Wegner admits she felt naive after she was duped by a man who hacked into her computer over the phone last week.

The Vancouver resident got a call from a man claiming to be with Microsoft support who said her computer was running slowly and sending out error reports. Her caller ID showed a number from Ontario, Canada.

At first, he seemed legitimate. Having just sent her Windows 8 phone to the Nokia store for repairs, she thought they might have found a problem with computer since the two sync.

He walked her through steps to remotely gain access to her computer - having her type in codes and commands. She gave her IP address and computer ID.

"The way that he got into my computer seemed really official," Wegner said.

From there, he pulled up her notebook and typed in prices for a program that he said prevented hackers from entering her computer. When she told him she didn’t have enough money for the program, she saw the cursor move toward the webcam. She couldn’t move the cursor and told him someone was accessing her webcam. He softly chuckled.

"That freaks me out," Wegner said. "Some people just have no respect for other people’s property."

She asked for his phone number and he recited her own number back to her, at which point she pulled the battery out of her computer and hung up.

She contacted HP, the company that made her computer, and scraped up $170 to have her computer cleaned. She changed bank passwords, computer passwords and her phone number for some peace of mind.

Microsoft advises customers to not trust unsolicited callers or give out personal information. When someone claiming to be from Microsoft support calls, asking for a fee or subscription for the "service," take down the caller’s information, hang up and report it to local authorities. You should never give them control of your computer or financial information.

The tech giant waits for customers to call with questions and issues. Only in certain circumstances do the tech giants call customers to fix a problem; to fix a malware-infected computer, the call is made by someone with whom you can verify you are already a customer. And they won’t charge anything.

Scammers may also reach out to potential victims in a more low-tech way.

Mary Flaherty, who lives in a Vancouver retirement facility, recently received a postcard in the mail that said she had won $100 in rebates at either Walmart or Target. She called the number on the postcard, and a man with a foreign accent answered. He asked for her credit or debit card information, at which point Flaherty hung up.

She’s concerned that scammers may consider elderly people an easier target.

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