Jo, a 77-year-old retired teacher in Los Angeles, likes to start her day “with a smile.” So one morning in February, she sat down at her computer to send friends a Far Side cartoon.
Her smile disappeared when a warning — supposedly from Microsoft — popped up on her computer. It said that there was a problem and that she should call the phone number in the pop-up.
Thus began a three-day ordeal that saw criminals convince her that her credit card had been used to spend $15,000 on child porn from China. It’s a timeworn ruse.
One of the crooks promised Jo he could fix the phony problem, but only if she spent a small fortune on gift cards. She spent $45,000 to comply as the crook kept upping the ante, warning that she could be exposed for buying child porn; that there was an arrest warrant for her; and that there were indications she had laundered money. None of that was true.
“I can’t believe I did this. I’m a sharp cookie,” Jo says, her voice breaking. “It all looked so real.”
Called AARP helpline
Jo called AARP’s Fraud Watch Network helpline, 877-908-3360, and spoke for this story; to protect her privacy, her full name is not being published.
According to Microsoft, tech support scams are “an ever-expanding global and industry-wide challenge, with fraudsters continually looking for new and sophisticated ways to defraud consumers.”
These scams typically hinge on alleged computer glitches that bad actors say they can remedy. In Jo’s case, the bogus problem was misuse of her American Express card.
When Jo called the phony number for Microsoft, the woman who answered gave a false name and an employee identification number before asking, “What were you doing at 4:30 this morning?”
“I was sleeping, of course!” Jo replied.