MODESTO — Alicia Miller is a senior who has received numerous calls from people who claim to represent Microsoft.
"They say my computer has been compromised and they need $300 to fix the problem or it will get much worse," she said. "At first, I believed them, and I almost gave them my credit card the first time. I told them I needed to think about it. I called my son and he said, 'Mom, I doubt Microsoft would be calling you personally.' "
She did the right thing. Asking for time to think it over and calling a trusted friend or relative are two of the FBI's tips on avoiding cyberfraud.
Miller said she tried calling local law enforcement, but never reached anyone who could help her.
"It just seems like nobody cares," she said. "I thought they did computer crimes these days."
She said the calls continued until she took note of the number. The next time, she said that the caller had reached the police department and asked how she could help. The caller hung up immediately.
"I'll probably get in trouble, but I had to do something," she said.
I don't think there's a law against defrauding the defrauders, but I could be wrong. I know this 70-something woman is telling the truth because my husband has received the same phone calls. For that matter, so has the wife of the Modesto Police Department's Philip Weber, a detective with the unit that handles high-tech crimes.
"We don't specifically deal with this because the people who are doing the criminal activity aren't from here they're from Nigeria or elsewhere," Weber said. "The best way we deal with these issues is to educate people: Don't give out that type of personal information.
"My wife gets those calls from people who say they are calling from Microsoft and they see she has a bug on her computer. She just hangs up on them. That's the best way to deal with them."
He said phone scammers will use a variation on that Microsoft scheme, but always are "trying to trick you to give out your information over the phone or over email, or to wire them money."
Sgt. Anthony Bejaran of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department said he's also seen scams claiming the recipient has won the lottery somewhere. The person receiving those calls or emails is instructed to send personal banking information so the winnings can be placed in the right account.
The goal is to get enough information to steal your money or your identity. Either can be profitable.
He agreed with Weber that local law enforcement doesn't place a high priority on such reports.
"These kind of calls are not something a deputy is going to respond to," he said. "People should file an online report."
To do that, visit www.scsdonline.com and click on the link to the online reporting system near the top of the page. Or call the nonemergency dispatch number: (209) 552-3900.
Weber said scam victims in Modesto can file a report with the MPD, but added that because the calls often originate from other countries, officials in the Customs and Homeland Security agencies usually are the ones to investigate such crimes.
He also recommends an anti-scamming website, www.antiphishing.org, where people can report cybercrimes, find information on popular schemes and get tips on avoiding similar scams.
A link from that website to the FBI's cyberfraud page gives these tips:
Some warning signs of telemarketing fraud what a caller may tell you:
"You must act 'now' or the offer won't be good."
"You've won a 'free' gift, vacation, or prize. But you have to pay for 'postage and handling' or other charges."
"You must (immediately) send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier."
"You can't afford to miss this 'high-profit, no-risk' offer."
If you hear these or similar "lines" from a telephone salesperson, just say "no" and hang up the telephone.
The FBI offers this advice:
Don't pay in advance for services. Pay for services only after they are delivered.
Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or Social Security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown people.
If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies. You can file that complaint online at www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or report it to any FBI office.
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Send questions to Sue Nowicki at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.