As many people try to finish their online shopping in time for the holidays, experts and consumers are warning that scammers are looking for new ways to steal their money.
“I’m embarrassed, because I fell for it,” said Cindy Fetterly of Huntsville, Ont. who clicked on a pop-up ad while surfing the internet.
Fetterly said when the pop-up appeared on her screen it said “look inside this giant alligator, look what it ate and I clicked on that.”
As soon as Fetterly clicked on the pop-up her computer froze and appeared to be taken over by scammers.
“Four windows came up saying you’ve been hacked, you’ve been hacked and it said to call this number,” said Fetterly.
Fetterly called a number she thought was for Microsoft, but it was actually the fraudsters who ended up taking over her computer.
According to Microsoft criminals will use on-screen messages in the form of pop-up notifications in either a corner of your screen, or in your web browser claiming you have a virus which needs immediate attention.
The message will warn you of some horrendous issue or threat, and demand you call them right away for your safety to get the “problem” fixed.
In Fetterly’s case she called the number on the screen and while she thought she was speaking with a Microsoft employee she was actually speaking with scammers who advised her to let them take control of her computer.
Once they did that she was told her credit card had been compromised and she needed to buy gift cards to cover the amount that had been removed from her credit card.
Fetterly bought $1,900 in gift cards and gave the scammers the numbers on the back of the cards, effectively handing them over the $1,900.
While she was told she would be refunded the money on the gift cards by the scammers, she never heard from the scammers again.
Greg Young is the vice-president of cybersecurity at Trend Micro, a multinational cybersecurity software company. He says this Microsoft scam has been circulating for many years.
“Microsoft or your internet service provider will never do that (remotely try to take control of your computer) and they will never ask for your passwords,” said Young in an interview with CTV Toronto.
Young said if you click on a pop-up that appears to take control of your computer, you are better off shutting down your system than calling the phone number the scammers suggest.
He said the number you call will most likely take you to a criminal call centre where scammers work off scripts trying to get you to give up access to your computer.
Young said a more prevalent scam leading up to the holidays is the fake delivery notice scam, where criminals use e-mails, texts and pop-ups to send you fake shipment notifications for parcels.
“One of the most common scams now are fake delivery notices that will have a DHL logo and look realistic saying, ‘you missed this delivery’,” said Young.
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), the fake shipping notice is currently the number one scam going into the holidays.
The BBB said about 32 per cent of phishing victims say they were deceived by a fake e-mail, text or pop-up with median losses reaching about $1,000.
Another emerging scam to watch out for online is the flash sale, a pop-up ad that rushes consumers to make a quick decision to try and get a good deal on a product.
“It may be an ad for a new PlayStation 5 for $100 that says you’ve only got two minutes to buy it. Of course, when a deal is too good to be true, they always are” said Young.
To avoided being hacked, Young is warning people not to click on suspicious emails, links or pop-ups, and keep software and anti-virus protection up-to-date.
He says you should also regularly backup your data on an external drive or the cloud.
Fetterly said she wished she would have ignored the pop-up on her computer, which would have saved her from losing $1,900.