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A computer scam has left a retired Marlborough woman angry and shaken.
Picton resident Ruth Yates said she felt “damn stupid” after letting a man who said he was from her internet provider Vodafone control her computer.
The man called her on Friday afternoon, telling her it had been hacked and that he was from “Spark and Vodafone internet security”.
“He said it was being used for illegal purposes,” she said.
He told her to press a sequence of keys on the keyboard, giving him remote access to the computer for several minutes.
“He brings up all these files of numbers and things, and says ‘see he’s hacked in on this day, at this time’. But he’s the hacker.”
Yates became suspicious and hung up after he demanded a $149 fee for “protecting” her computer. The man rang back, annoyed she had turned the computer off.
“He became very angry.”
His foreign accent dropped and she could tell he was a New Zealander, Yates said.
“He spoke perfect English.”
When she asked him who he was, he said he was “Spiderman” and he came from the United States.
Yates, who suffers from epilepsy, had two minor seizures because of the shock of the incident, she said.
She and her husband moved from Christchurch to Picton about three years ago, after going through the Christchurch earthquakes and then losing everything in a house fire.
Yates phoned Vodafone, who told her to contact the police. She also phoned Marlborough Computer Solutions, who were inspecting her computer for any damage.
She said although she felt embarrassed, she wanted other people to be aware of what happened.
“It was very plausible. I believed I was doing the right thing. I only thought afterwards that of course Vodafone would send a technician. I thought ‘how stupid am I?'”
The man was a “scumbag” preying on people’s naivety, she said.
Yates was not “computer literate” and only used the computer to check emails, she said.
A Vodafone spokeswoman said the company was investigating the incident.
A Spark spokesman said scam calls from people claiming to be from Spark were increasing.
However, the spokesman had never heard of someone pretending to be from both companies, he said.
The scams were “very annoying” and difficult for the company to prevent, he said.
Marlborough Computer Solutions owner Ronald Ragen said although older people with less knowledge of computers more commonly fell victim to scams, it could happen to “almost anyone”.
“These guys ring up and introduce themselves as being from some reputable, or reputable sounding, firm. They then get the person to follow some instructions, which opens up a back door into the computer.”
The man changed Yates’ username, and put in a password so she could no longer access her own computer, Ragen said.
If she had not cut off the connection he would have gained further access to her computer and probably would have asked her for more money to fix problems.
Ragen was still checking the computer for anything left in there. He was impressed Yates called the police, which few people did because of the embarrassment, he said.
There was a “minimal risk” money could be taken from someone’s bank account by a scammer operating in the way Yates described, and the bank would stand behind them in most cases, Ragen said.
Senior Sergeant Peter Payne, of Blenheim police, said people needed to know companies like Vodafone would not ask for computer passwords over the phone.
If someone did gain access to their computer, they should turn it off.
Marlborough people had been targeted by phone scammers offering to fix their computer in the past, although never from Vodafone or Spark before.
Fraud Awareness Week is from November 15 to 21. Here are Consumer NZ’s top five tips to protect yourself against scammers:
· Never reply to any email asking you to confirm your bank or credit card details. Legitimate organisations will never ask you to do this. The same applies if you’re asked for this information over the phone.
· If you’re buying goods online, check the billing process is secure (characterised by https:// and a padlock symbol in the URL). Ensure the business has a physical address and telephone number.
· Research the firms you’re dealing with. Use the Companies Register at companies.govt.nz to see if the company exists and who’s behind it.
· Don’t be swayed by cold-callers promising bargain deals or instant riches if you sign up on the spot. Legitimate companies will give you time to do your research.
· If you think you’ve been scammed, report it to police. If you’ve handed over your bank details, contact your bank and immediately suspend your account. Fraudulent credit card transactions can sometimes be reversed.