I have now received four complaints about the same scam circulating in the Bay Area. A caller claiming to be from tech support service turns out to be a hacker. One woman unknowingly let the hacker directly into her computer and it scared her plenty.
Fern Johnson, 73, has had her share of adventures as a tour guide in faraway lands like riding a dog team in Alaska, but nothing scared her like the phone call to her home in Novato.
"'I'm calling from Microsoft to inform you that your computer is loaded with virus and will crash,'" said Johnson.
A man on the phone warned if she didn't act fast, her computer would release all her personal information to the World Wide Web.
"Well this alarmed me and of course the shock value, I didn't think," said Johnson.
Johnson did as the man told her. She went onto a website and clicked a button and instantly, another cursor appeared on her screen. It began to control her computer.
"He pulled up the programs on my computer. See, I didn't do any of that, he got in and he pulled up the menu," said Johnson.
The remote cursor began whizzing around the screen, clicking programs and websites, all the while the caller probed for more information.
"He asked me several times where I banked, where my Visa card was. I told him the name of the bank," said Johnson.
Soon yellow warning signs began popping up on her screen. The caller said it was evidence of those viruses he was talking about.
"I said, 'What can I do about it?' and he got to the bottom line that yes, they could fix it and it would cost I believe it was $249," said Johnson.
The caller kept pressuring Johnson to pay for the fix. That's when she realized the problem was not the virus, it was the man on the phone and the browser on her screen.
"'I want you out of my computer. Let go of my computer. And I was extremely upset by the time I hung up. In fact, I was crying,'" said Johnson.
After that, Johnson scrubbed her computer of potential malware. She changed all her passwords and she contacted 7 On Your Side.
"They're trying to do anything they can to get on your system. So they're going to try and trick you, they're going to try to scare you," said John Harrison, an Internet security expert from Symantec Internet Security.
Harrison says many hackers now are using old fashioned phone calls to gain control of computers.
"If they're on your computer, it's game over. They can do anything they want. They can install malware to add you to part of a remotely controlled network, your computer can be used to store stolen software or pornography," said Harrison.
Microsoft tells us these calls are from scammers, not Microsoft. They put out a warning to the public saying, "Microsoft does not call customers asking for money to fix a problem."
"As a senior, I feel that sometimes we're vulnerable because we're very trusting. And I just don't want it to happen to anyone else," said Johnson.
Scammers are posing as representatives from other tech companies, not just Microsoft. So if you get a tech support phone call out of the blue, don't cooperate. Call your Internet providers directly instead.