Fighting Back

During my time as a police officer, I always had an interest in investigating fraud/scams and working with the victims. Now that I’m retired, I still have a zero tolerance attitude toward those who deceive people, especially the elderly, for profit. The problem is, how do we fight back?

As some of you know, I still do computer repair and troubleshooting on a part-time basis. Further, I still enjoy putting my digital forensic skills to work when the opportunity arises. When one of my customers calls me for help, I do my best to not only fix the problem, but try to see how it happened in the first place.

Two of my regular customers are elderly sisters. Each of them has been preyed upon by tech support scammers within the last couple months. When the first incident occurred, back in May, the one lady tried to call me after getting one of those urgent virus warning pop-ups that so many scammers use. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take the call at the time and called back after she had already called the 800 number on the pop-up.

While my customer did call the number and ultimately allowed the scammer to connect to her computer, she didn’t lose any money. Fortunately, she became more suspicious and hung up when they started throwing out dollar amounts for their service.

Today, I got a call from sister #2. She had been searching online and got a tech support scam pop-up. Unfortunately, she did give in and pay a large sum of money. She started feeling suspicious about it later and called me for advice. Since it’s a holiday, there’s no one at the bank to put a stop on the electronic withdrawal, but I told her to contact them first thing tomorrow. She’s probably out the money, but it can’t hurt to try.

In the first case above, I didn’t do a “real” forensic exam this time, though I did grab the web history. My customer had been using the computer since the incident and I didn’t get access to it for several days. Through the web history, I could see where she went from clicking an ad on a web search that led her to the fake tech support page.

After collecting as much information as I could on case #1 above, I started working with the domain registrar and the hosting company. It took several days to get the registrar to comply with their own terms of service in order to get them to de-register the domain, but I was finally successful. The hosting company only took about a day, but in both cases it took multiple emails from me to get it done. Unfortunately, it’s like playing whack-a-mole with these scumbags and I know very well the scammers went and set up shop on a new host and registrar right away. Still, it felt like a tiny victory to me in getting the one site shut down.

I plan to look deeper into the new case with sister #2 and will do what I can to help her. While she did not ask me to, I have already looked at this company and to my surprise found they are actually a legally registered corporation. Their tactics are far from above board, however and I’m hoping to get them shut down. The only “service” they provided my customer was lightening her wallet to the tune of almost $600. I hope to collect enough information to lodge a complaint with the attorney general of the state this corporation is registered in.

My point in writing all this is, I want to know how we can educate people to recognize scams before it’s too late. How do we “fight back?” It just kills me seeing the poor and elderly getting ripped off by some scumbag in whom they’ve placed their trust.

A fellow officer and I once worked with the local radio station to put on a online safety presentation. That’s been a few years back, but I think we might have had 5-10 people actually attend, despite a significant amount of publicity ahead of time. I also wrote a guest editorial for the local paper once on the subject with no obvious impact.

So I look to all of you. Comment and tell me how you would deal with this. I have no official status as a law enforcement officer or anything like that. I just care about this subject very deeply and want to find a way to help people avoid losing everything to scammers.

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