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08 Jul 2013

Fraud Attempt: It's No Fun When a Loved One Is the Victim of a Scam

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A scam attempt can affect you or a loved one at any time.

That’s the lesson I learned a couple a weeks ago—and fortunately, my family and I were lucky to apparently escape unscathed.

My mom, who lives in Reno, Nev., was checking email at her computer on Tuesday, June 25, when she received a phone call. A man who said he was calling on behalf of Microsoft, via a company called Techhart Solutions, gave her bad news: Her computer was sending error messages, apparently as a result of a malicious computer virus. To “prove” this, he directed my mother to a log that, she says, seemed to show that her computer was indeed sending error messages. The man said it was crucial that he help her fix the computer—for a fee, of course. My mom then gave her Discover-card number.

I am not sure exactly what else happened; Mom can’t remember all the details, as she was quite upset at the time: She’d just gotten home from taking her beloved miniature schnauzer to the animal hospital because he was, among other things, puking up blood. (The dog’s fine now, by the way.)

My mom’s pretty darned smart, and had she been in her right mind, she probably would not have bought the story given to her by the caller. Thankfully, my mother soon realized that something didn’t seem right, so she called me. I told her to immediately unplug her computer from the Internet (in case the fraudulent Techhart/“Microsoft” rep had done something malicious to her PC), and to call Discover and dispute the charge from Techhart. She called the credit-card company before the charge went through, thankfully; the card was then deactivated.

Later that day, I Googled Techhart Solutions, as well as the phone number the fraudsters had given my mom (866-529-9245). There are numerous online reports from folks who had the exact same thing happen to them, with the exact same M.O.

The story doesn’t end there. Presumably because my mom’s credit card was declined, Techhart began calling her several times a day; she ignored the calls. After several days of this, she received a message on her answering machine from Techhart, saying that she needed to call them back regarding an urgent matter.

So I called them. A man with a thick accent answered.

“Hi, my name’s Jimmy Boegle, and I’m calling on behalf of my mom. You left her a message earlier today.”

“Oh, yes,” the man responded. “We’re her computer techs, and we want to make sure that her computer’s OK.”

When I informed the man that Mom did not need a computer tech, and that they’d lied to her about all sorts of things, he hung up. I tried calling back a couple of times from the same phone; there was no response. Therefore, I called from a different phone (my Palm Springs business line), and he answered.

“Hi. This is Jimmy Boegle. I think we were just cut off …”

Click.

While my mom seems to have escaped unscathed—I had a couple of tech-savy friends check my mom’s PC, and it appears OK—not everyone has been so lucky, as those aforementioned Google searches prove.

Therefore, my mom and I decided to file a complaint with the state Attorney General. After all, one of the jobs of the state AG is to protect Nevadans like my mom from fraud, and warn them of fraud attempts. Well, long story short: Unless the fraud attempt has to do with mortgage or foreclosure scams, the Nevada AG won’t take a complaint. When you call, an automated phone-system recording actually encourages callers “to proceed through other avenues, such as the Better Business Bureau … or small claims court.”

I am kind of happy that I, personally, live in California right now, where I could have at least filed a complaint, had the incident happened here.

I also filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC rep didn’t ask about anything beyond the most basic details of the case; basically, he took my information and my mom’s information before giving me a case number. (Oh, and one more thing: He gave me the number for the Nevada attorney general’s office—the number with the aforementioned automated phone-system recording—and encouraged me to file a state complaint, too. Sigh.)

We all need to be smart in these days of the Internet—and we need to keep an eye out for our loved ones, too, just in case Techhart Solutions or the other fraudsters of the world come calling.

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