Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Phone scam offers to fix faulty computers

Directs victims to sophisticated-looking website

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A Winnipeg woman who almost fell for a phone scam is warning Winnipeggers not to trust companies calling with computer fixes.

Kristi Nowicki says she got a call Friday from a man claiming to be from Microsoft, who said the company had noticed a large number of error reports coming from her computer. He directed Nowicki to a professional-looking website offering PC support services. The caller then walked Nowicki through a series of steps and told her he could fix her computer and update her programs remotely if she used the website to give him permission to access her computer via the Internet. He also touted limited-time offers of virus-protection software costing hundreds of dollars.

Already suspicious, Nowicki quickly got off the phone, but not before she'd clicked on the link giving the scammer remote access to her computer, possibly allowing him to follow her keystrokes, suss out her passwords and monitor her web use.

Nowicki had a computer-expert friend come over immediately and remove any suspicious spyware or other downloads from her PC. She says she feels lucky she didn't give the scammer a credit card number.

But she says the hustle was so sophisticated, the website so authentic, she's worried other Winnipeggers will make the same mistake she did, or worse.

"These guys were really, really smooth," said Nowicki. "It's really scary just how slick these guys are."

Nowicki said her daughter's friend got a very similar call recently, and a third person telephoned the Winnipeg Free Press newsroom to report the scam Saturday.

Police said they hadn't had any formal reports in recent days of people losing money in similar computer-related scams. If people aren't out money, police normally refer suspicious calls to Phonebusters, the public awareness and reporting service of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

That's the advice staff at Winnipeg's non-emergency phone line gave Nowicki when she called. Nowicki plans to call Phonebusters on Monday.

In April, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre issued a bulletin warning Canadians about a scam similar to the one that almost nicked Nowicki.

Company representatives cold-call people and claim a home computer is running slowly or is infested with dangerous viruses. The fraudster offers to repair the computer over the Internet, and payment for downloaded software or repairs done remotely are made via credit card.

Catch-phrases like "Microsoft," "Online PC care" or "Jars support" are often used. Some people have lost as much as $470 to the scam, which started in March, 2010 and was most common in Manitoba and Ontario.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2011 A3

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