If you have ever been involved in a scam, you will know the sense of injustice one can feel when the perpetrators are far from our shores and seem to be acting with impunity and well beyond the scales of justice.
But this week we’ve had some great news in the fight against one of the most insidious types of scams, the remote access scam.
The Australian Federal Police issued a search warrant in Wollongong as part of a cybercrime investigation into an alleged fraudulent technical support business.
Police allege the business – with a professional website, an Australian 1800 business number and used Microsoft logos – linked Australian victims to offshore scammers who would request remote access to their computers.
We call this kind of scam the “tech support scam” and it is something our Identity Security Operations Centre monitors daily.
It happens when you are busy browsing the internet, your screen freezes and a pop-up appears from “Microsoft” or another technology vendor, warning your computer is being targeted by hackers. It may even include noisy sirens and flashing screens and it seems impossible to get out of the page.
The only option is to call the number on the screen and speak to one of their “technicians”. And then the technicians ask for remote access to your computer or phone and before you know it, your bank account has been drained and your identity has been stolen.
I spoke to an elderly couple – they were both in their 80s – in Western Australia this month who lost $50,000 across three scam events in 24 hours after they engaged in one of these types of tech support scams.
It was heartbreaking to listen to the wife explain how they believed the scammer and transferred funds two times, thinking they were engaging with Microsoft. And then when they realised they had been scammed, they searched online for a number for a Microsoft support, but ended up finding another fake number and were scammed a third time.
So, this search warrant is fantastic news and we are more than a little bit proud because we had a small role in it through our long-standing relationship with Microsoft.
In the words of Microsoft’s digital crimes unit regional lead, Mary Jo Schrade, the partnership with IDCARE “has proven critical to our effectiveness” in better understanding the Microsoft scams impacting Australians.
The warrant also does serve as a timely reminder to everyone ahead of Privacy Awareness Week, which starts on Monday. Don’t give someone you don’t know remote access to your computer. It is much easier to just say “no”.
Kathy Sundstrom is a former Sunshine Coast Daily journalist who now works at identity and cyber support service IDCARE.
Originally published as ‘Heartbreaking’: Elderly couple loses $50k in 24 hour scams
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