By Donna Cunningham, MSW
I’m writing this to warn you about a very dangeorus scam.
I’m just slowly recovering from a weeklong nightmare. On Monday morning, I went to use my computer, but the startup page was locked, with a phone number I was to call. The person who answered said he was from Microsoft, and that the computer was locked because my 5-year warrantee was up. If I didn’t renew it immediately, it would crash and I would lose all my files. He offered me several plans, from 3-5 years, for anywhere from $150-$350, but pressured me to get the money to them that very day.
It sounded like ANOTHER computer scam, but in fact, I bought my computer 5 years ago in early April. I called a couple of knowledgeable people, and they told me it was something called a ransom scam–in effect, they were holding my computer hostage. They suggested I call the Microsoft customer service line at 1-800-642-7676.
When I called, they said it was a scam going around, and that 1) They NEVER call customers, and 2)they would NEVER lock up a customer’s computer. They tried to help me by long distance, but there was no way to get past the locked up opening screen without having the machine to work on. They also suggested I call their hot line for further advice at 1-877-696-7786.
After further conferring with friends, I decided it was time to replace the old computer anyway, as it had been limping along for months. I’d been saving money for a new one, but had been putting it off because it would take about a month to learn the new one, and to redo preferences and bookmarks. I was in the middle of writing a book and couldn’t see taking that much time off.
On Tuesday, off I and friend Lynne went to Best Buy, carrying along all the software I’d need them to install. I bought a great Hewlett-Packard laptop and a service contract from the Geek Squad, finding the man who helped us both patient, kind, and capable. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t able to pick it up until Friday.
I am so not good at technical things, so another tech-savvy friend, Kent, kindly came to set it all up for me. Alas, my email server has gotten all new connections (Round cube vs. Mozilla) and Windows 8.1 and the up to date Windows Office as proving very difficult to master. I appear to have lost all my personal email addresses (the old computer still being locked) and all my bookmarks are gone. (Emails to Skywriter readers come through Feedburner.)
Enough about me. My reason for writing this is to warn you about the ransom scams, as apparently they are going around. Don’t pay them.
The scammers will hound you by phone, threatening to crash your computer if you don’t send them money. If you have call blocking, block them. (The number they called me from started with 1-315-370-76xx.)
See if the Microsoft hot line can help you. If not, take it somewhere in person like the Geek Squad or your own trusted computer person.
The question that remains is, how were they able to get into my computer to lock it in the first place?
I suspect that it was because some time ago, I fell into another scam. Suffice it to say, they convinced me to purchase a 3-year service to fix my computer by remote screen. DO NOT GIVE ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW REMOTE ACCESS TO YOUR COMPUTER.
Anyway, my email addresses are gone, so I can’t write to anyone until I create a new address book.
I want to add that a backup drive to keep all your essential writings on is crucial. If I hadn’t done that constantly after every writing session, all my ebooks and articles would be gone. I use a Sanyo about the size of a deck of cards that costs maybe $50. It’s absolutely essential now with these ruinous scams.
Has anyone else out there been locked out of the computer? How did you resolve it? There has to be some other way besides getting a new one. Leave us your thoughts in the comment section.