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Thieves posing as the IRS or computer tech support lead scams reported to BBB


CLEVELAND, Ohio - Elaine, an 86-year-old grandmother from Cuyahoga County, was having trouble with her home computer last month.

She called AOL and, while she was on the phone, a message popped up on her computer that seemed to be from Microsoft. The message instructed her to call another phone number for help.


Elaine, who didn't want her last name used, was convinced that the man on the other end of the phone could fix her problems for $199.

You probably know how this story goes. The man wasn't from Microsoft. He was from someplace called "Right Help Desk." He was trying to rip Elaine off for goodness knows how much money.

Scams involving "tech support" were among the top problems reported last year to the Cleveland Better Business Bureau. In fact, these sorts of computer shakedowns ranked No. 2, behind only calls from thieves posing as IRS workers demanding immediate payment for taxes that are supposedly past due.

The key to these scams is "the consistent use of intimidation," said Sue McConnell, president of the Cleveland BBB.

The other most popular scams in Greater Cleveland involve thieves contacting residents about government grants they're supposedly entitled to, sweepstakes they won or old debts they owe.

Although many of these scams have been going on for years, some people haven't heard of them and get sucked in. No matter how much warnings are publicized, it's always news to someone, McConnell said. "We can't repeat these enough."

In an interview, Elaine, the 86-year-old, said she's always careful. She doesn't answer the phone when she doesn't recognize the phone number. She doesn't open emails that look strange. She checks her bank account transactions a few times a week.

But the day she got fooled by the "tech support" scam involved the perfect sequence of events: Real computer trouble, a pop-up message with an audible alarm that scared her, an AOL worker's stupid advice to call the phone number, and a smooth-talking thief who said all of the right things. He said she had some kind of virus or bug that he could remove for $199.

"He brought up on my screen this thing with red lines," she said. "He said he could fix my computer. And I believed him."

The thief really wanted Elaine to cough up her credit card number, but she refused. She was talked into providing her checking account number. After Elaine talked the following day to her daughter-in-law, she realized she had probably been scammed. She called her bank, PNC, to stop the payment and block future attempts. And she called a real computer expert to make sure her computer was safe.

"You feel like such a fool," Elaine said. "I absolutely thought I was talking to someone from Microsoft."

The real computer technician told her the same thing happens to a lot of people these days. Elaine's advice to others: "Don't panic," she said. "I panicked and that's what you can't do." She wishes she had just turned off her computer until she talked to one of her tech-savvy relatives.

If you sense a possible scam:

Anytime someone is pressuring you for information or payment, be suspicious and contact someone to determine whether the person is legitimate.

Better Business Bureau: 216-241-7678, or its Scam Tracker tool,

Ohio attorney general: 800-282-0515,

Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs: 216-443-7035,

McConnell of the BBB said most of these thieves in these types of scams are incredibly convincing and try to frighten people or tell them they have to act immediately. Here's a summary of these scams:

IRS: The caller says the consumer owes back taxes. The caller may even know the person's name. The consumer is threatened with arrest or having his driver's license revoked if he doesn't pay immediately, by phone, often by Western Union or prepaid debit card, or some other, untraceable form of payment. Nearly half of the complaints to the BBB last year involved calls supposedly from the IRS.

Tech support: The consumer often gets a computer pop-up message (but sometimes a phone call or email) that claims the consumer has a computer virus or other problem that can be fixed for $99.95, or sometimes hundreds of dollars. In other cases, the thief doesn't ask for money but gets access to the computer and can steal passwords and other information from the computer.

Government grant: The thief claims the consumer is entitled to a $10,000 government grant to buy groceries or pay medical bills or attend college or because she's never filed for bankruptcy. But to get the grant, she must pay a fee of $1,000 to $1,500.

Sweepstakes: The scammer claims the consumer has won millions of dollars and has to pay a fee (usually through a prepaid debit card) to claim his jackpot.

Debt collection: The thief says the person has some unpaid debt from years past and will be sued or arrested or face some other bad action if he doesn't pay immediately.

In the case of all of these - back taxes, computer viruses, sweepstakes, grants or back debts - the thieves say the payments must be made immediately. The thieves convey urgency and instill fear of arrest or losing the opportunity to get money.

"They do have that common thread," she said. "But these are all big red flags."

People who are contacted by phone, email or mail about something like this that doesn't seem right should never take action immediately. If it's a phone call, they should ask the caller if they can call back in an hour or the next day. Then they should call a trusted relative or an organization like the Better Business Bureau, or do some research online.

The bottom line: Anytime a caller or door-to-door solicitor or someone else says you have to act immediately, you should be suspicious and not provide any information about your identity or circumstances or finances.

Written By Teresa Dixon Murray, The Plain Dealer Original Source:

If you believe that your computer has been compromised and are in need of computer help, computer assistance or in home PC repair please visit us at: 322 West Grand River Brighton, MI 48116, call our office at (810) 224 - 5252 or visit our website at


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