A Riverina woman has warned people to be on the lookout for digital scammers after her computer was raided this week.
Salena Annetts was caught within moments of the error message popping up on her screen. It looked like a legitimate Microsoft help centre message and had a 1800 number for her to call.
“I rang the number, I wasn’t even thinking,” Ms Annetts said.
“An Indian man answered and he told me to put in a code and then he was running and installing things. I could see him using my computer and then he said he needed $200 to install an antivirus and I said I couldn’t afford it.”
The penny had dropped. Ms Annetts was on the phone to a scammer. Worried her personal data had been stolen – she had just moved and had copies of her driver’s licence, bank cards and medicare card on the laptop – Ms Annetts called the police.
“They said it was probably the hacker on the phone and while they would see what they could do I should take it to a computer shop,” she said.
“It make me feel sick to the stomach, I’ve shut down my bank accounts because I have no idea what they’re capable of.”
Tom Atkinson, director at Computer Dencity, said people needed to be savvy about online security.
The police said hackers do this every day – it’s like their job.Salena Annetts
“If anything pops up on your computer, don’t call the number, it could be a scam,” he said.
“Also, if people call you saying they're from Telstra or Microsoft, they’ll never call you and say there are problems.
“Just go into a shop or call your local computer store and ask the question before you do anything – it just takes two minutes and they can say whether or not there might be a problem.”
Online safety back in the news
Computer security made headlines again this week as the WannaCrypt (or WannaCry) attack hit thousands of computers across the globe, crippling infrastructure in Europe.
Using the long-established strategy of encrypting a computer’s contents and then demanding a payment for the decryption key (in this case about $400 worth of Bitcoin), WannaCrypt was notable for the incredible speed with which it spread and the high profile targets it hit.
Mr Atkinson said WannaCrypt exploited computer users’ relaxed attitude to updates.
“Those annoying updates are really important – they’re security patches,” he said.
“Basically with this Wannacry issue over the weekend, if Windows was out of date it was potentially exposed. If you’re up to date you are less likely.”
The NSW Police Force Fraud and Cybercrime Squad recently issued a warning about a cold call scheme, which targets malicious software to be downloaded.
The caller asks the victim to download a software program which then shows a number of errors on the computer, due to being hacked. A request for money to be sent overseas is then made indicating it will help local police make arrests.
Squad commander Arthur Katsogiannis said members of the public should be wary of any contact over the phone and if they believed they were a victim to contact police immediately.
“These scammers will continue to come up with innovative ways to scam innocent victims; however, our messages continue to remain – if in doubt, report it to police,” Superintendent Katsogiannis said.
“Stay Smart Online has information on recognising scams and hoaxes.”