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Around the Kitchen Table

By Donald Ward


I couldn’t believe the gall of the man. First he tried to scam me for $3,000, and when that didn’t work, he tried it again.

It started with a telephone message. A man with a pronounced accent informed me that his name was David and he was from Microsoft. They wanted to refund me $249, he said, because they were recalling some software that had glitches in it. They were removing the faulty software from all their customers’ computers and would offer it back to us at a discount once it had been debugged.

I had recently purchased a new laptop and, along with it, a bundle of software from Microsoft. It did have a glitch in it — the email program had mysteriously erased itself after being installed — but I had downloaded a different version from the Internet and now it was working fine. I erased the phone message and thought no more about it.

The next day David called again — five times. I recognized the number. On the sixth attempt I finally answered, as he was obviously not going to give up. He gave me the same spiel, and I must say he was persuasive.

It would be a simple procedure, he assured me. All I had to do was download a file from an Internet address he would give me, and he would take it from there.

I was suspicious, of course, but I was curious, too, and I didn’t see the harm in starting the process and seeing where it led. That was my first mistake.

Downloading and opening the file gave him remote access to my computer. Still, his actions seemed logical, and he sounded so reasonable that I didn’t see the harm in it. That was my second mistake, for he then rebooted my computer from his remote location and that meant I had to sign in again. That gave him access to my password, which he changed.

I protested, but he assured me that it was necessary, and it was only temporary; things would be returned to normal once he had finished.

That was when things became truly bizarre. He said he was going to transfer the refund to my bank account, but because it was from an offshore location he would have to deposit some $3,000 in order to avoid paying a certain tax that I had never heard of.

“This sounds very suspicious,” I told him.

“You’re the suspicious one, Mr. Donald,” he responded. “I’m just doing what I said I would do.”

He proceeded, and by nefarious means gained access to my online banking information. My computer screen went blank for several minutes, which he assured me was normal. He told me to let him know when the display returned.

When it did, I saw a statement from my bank listing a recent deposit from Microsoft of $3,000. It looked authentic, but I told David I didn’t trust him or the statement, and hung up.

He immediately called back, telling me that if I interrupted the process at this point my hard drive would be wiped clean and I would not be able to sign on to my computer again because I no longer had the correct password.

“Now you’re threatening me,” I accused.

“I’m not threatening you, Mr. Donald. I’m simply telling you the facts.”

I rebooted my computer, and sure enough, it wouldn’t let me sign in. At this point I saw no option but to proceed.

Of course, he said, I would need to pay back the balance of the $3,000 he had deposited into my account — he was referring to it as “my money” now — but I couldn’t just send him a wire transfer without triggering the prohibitive tax he had referred to earlier. Instead, I was to go to the nearest Wal-Mart and purchase iTunes gift cards to the required amount, then he would call me back and I would give him the codes from the cards, which he could then cash in.

That would be a stupid thing to do, I told him. He protested. “How else are you going to pay me my money?” I said I was going to go to my bank and check my account and see if he had, in fact, deposited anything. He became very exercised at that, and warned me against it in the strongest terms. I hung up and turned off my computer.

Of course, there was no $3,000 in my bank account. It was all a scam. I got the bank to issue me a new card, and I changed my online password.

Unfortunately, I still couldn’t get into my computer, so I had to take it to London Drugs, where they assured me they could restore it and remove any malware that might have been installed. It was a nuisance, but it was unavoidable, and I had backups of my data, so I hadn’t really lost anything.

The next day I received a call from a number I recognized. “This is David from Microsoft,” said a strongly accented voice.

“You tried this yesterday,” I said.

“Yes,” he admitted. He was about to say more, but I called him a liar and a fraud and hung up. He hasn’t called back since.

No reputable software company will make cold calls to its customers, the technician at London Drugs told me, and I should never allow anyone remote access to my computer.

It was a lesson learned: if you are too trusting, or even too curious, there is a criminal somewhere who will try to take advantage of it. It’s unfortunate, but there is evil in the world, and trust should not be squandered on the undeserving.