Technology Tips: The dove and the snake

There is one scam that keeps cropping up, costing money and causing heart-ache. Is it the most common scam?  Perhaps.  This is the scenario…

BT or someone similar call you and are very persistent to talk to you about resolving your recent issue. The timing is good because you recently had a problem with your broadband and so you listen. It seems that they need access to your computer to check the status.  Soon they offer you a refund for your service issue but… their clumsy fingers accidentally transfer too much money, much too much… Would you check your bank account? To save their blushes, please…and then they start transferring your money like crazy to people you have paid before.

What is going on and why does this work so well?

Having good security on your computer is a combination of technical setup and good behaviour.  Many everyday scams do not rely on technical holes such as rotten security software.  Instead they are caused by people making a mistake, often a very decent mistake.  This is something that your software will not prevent.

The chances that you have had a problem with your broadband in the past few months are remarkably good.  From water infiltration to road works or swaying branches to gnawing squirrels, broadband is constantly having problems.  As a result, you may well be expecting a big provider like BT to call.  From that expectation to allowing the scammer to check the situation using your computer is a small yet crucial step.  And why wouldn’t you – they are here to help, right?

Let’s pause there.  If all you did was listen and nod then you would not have a problem.  However, letting a stranger who has cold-called you – however plausibly – take control of your computer is where your trouble begins.  I always seem to think of Nancy Reagan at this point with her famous ‘Just say no’ line.  Hey ho.

On to the money. Getting you to open your online banking is the next exercise for the scammers. Rather than raising your suspicions by demanding you go straight into your bank account, they appeal to your better nature. They do this by asking for your help to resolve their mistake. Hence the apparently clumsy fingers as they send you some ‘compensation’ before appealing to your kindness.  

Once in your bank account, they go hell for leather to send as much money as they can to your banking beneficiaries. Why? This trick goes by the lovely name of money mules: the scammers will try to recover that money from the beneficiaries by posing as the bank and asking for it to be ‘returned’… to their account.  Brilliant.  This ploy helps them to side-step lots of challenges such as setting up new beneficiaries, troublesome banking authentication and other tricky problems while they try to keep you on board in their make-believe situation.

This situation causes plenty of problems. You lose money, at least temporarily. Your beneficiaries may have their bank accounts frozen during the investigation, certain to give them no end of trouble. And all because of letting the scammers access your computer.

The bottom line: be as gentle as a dove and as sharp as a snake.  And let your computer be your own private garden to which no strangers need apply.

by Roger Lyon