Augusta County woman loses thousands to 'tech support' scam

AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) – An elderly Augusta County woman lost $7000 to a scammer this month, and she wants to make everyone aware so they don't fall victim to it as well.

The scam is not new, but is one that often preys on older individuals that the scammer expects to not be as technologically savvy as younger people.

---HOW THE SCAM PLAYED OUT---

On March 15, the woman got a phone call from someone who said he was an employee of the Microsoft Corporation. The fraudster explained that the victim was entitled to a $100 rebate for software ordered for her computer a year before and asked for her credit card information to process the rebate and permission to take remote control of her computer.

Believing the call to be legitimate, the woman complied. The caller then told the victim they had accidentally issued her a $1900 credit instead of the proper $100. To add more credibility, he used remote access to her computer to display her bank account and show the fake $1900 credit. His advice was for her to buy $1800 worth of iTunes gift cards to pay them back for the mistake.

Believing she had done something wrong, the victim did as she was asked and bought the iTunes cards, scanned them into her computer, and then called the "Microsoft employee" back to give him the info.

The scammer followed up with the victim several more times, convincing her that the money from the gift cards kept getting inadvertently credited to her bank account.

One of those following attempts, the victim alerted her daughter, who disconnected the computer from the internet, and contacted the Sheriff’s office to report the crime.

Unfortunately, by that time, the victim had provided the fraudster over $7000 in iTunes gift cards (which are incredibly difficult to trace), as well as access to her computer and credit card information. After reporting the incident, the caller requested the Sheriff’s Office release the incident to local media to prevent others from falling victim to it.

---HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF---

This is just one of many fraudulent schemes that occur in our area, often targeting the elderly or those who may be less technologically savvy.

In 2016, the elderly were exploited for $28.2 million in Virginia - by far the largest amount of any age group - and many experts say that estimate is nowhere close to the actual number, because only 1 in 44 cases are reported to officials.

Some common mediums used by fraudsters include: the telephone, online auction sites such as Craigslist or E-bay; Social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram; and even through the U.S. mail.

Police offer the following warnings about computer scams:

• Microsoft will never prompt you to call an 800 number for tech support – you should always be the one to initiate a call for help.
• Use reputable pop-up blocker software to avoid pop-ups on your computer. Keep your computer updated with the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
• NEVER open email attachments unless you can verify the sender and you trust them.
• NEVER click on the links in spam email.
• Scammers commonly use high pressure sales tactics to convince you to buy NOW! Practice a healthy dose of skepticism.

Here's what police advise you to do to avoid many kinds of phone scams:

• Ask lots of questions. If you get an impassioned call for money from a "family member," take a deep breath and try not to get emotional. Instead, ask some questions that would be hard for an impostor to answer correctly. Examples are the name of the person's pet, his mother's birth date, or his boss's name.
• Slow the process down. Never say yes to a money transfer or deliver credit card information based on a single call. Always hang up and do some research, such as trying to contact the person directly on her cell or work phone, or talking with someone she is close with to corroborate the situation.
• Don't be embarrassed. If you fear that you have fallen prey to a scam, do not let pride get in the way of contacting authorities. And if you've wired money, immediately call the money transfer service to report the fraud. If the money hasn't been picked up yet, you can retrieve it.

The ever-popular grandparent scam has also returned to the Valley - one in which just this past December, a Rockingham County woman nearly lost thousands of dollars.

A similar scam to this tech support one also involves fake anti-virus alerts on your computer.

You can always check for the latest scams hitting the Valley and resources to counteract them on the WHSV website's scam section.