A really weird thing happened to Nelly Kirmer as she was doing her job at the Better Business Bureau in Albuquerque recently.
Without warning, her screen went blue and a robotic “neutered” voice issued forth. It was not her computer wishing her a good day.
Instead, a disembodied scammer was giving her verbal directions on how to unlock her computer. Her screen was mirroring the voice with written words.
Kirmer was told a virus had been let loose in her computer system and that she needed to call tech services at the number given. The voice droned the same message over and over.
“It’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on a computer,” said Connie Quillen, BBB executive assistant and in-house computer guru who came running when Kirmer called for help.
The other strange thing about this was that it happened to another BBB worker, this time in the Farmington office, two weeks later.
Quillen said she suspects this scam isn’t targeted at BBB employees and likely is making the rounds in a widespread way. That’s how scams work.
“It’s designed to make you think you can’t get around it,” Quillen said. “I can see how people can get taken in.”
Quillen tried to “X” out of the computer screen, but that didn’t work.
Here’s what did: She went to the computer task manager by hitting the “control,” “alternate (alt)” and “delete (del)” keys, in that order. She then clicked on the “task manager” option, which brought up a list of programs running on Kirmer’s computer. She put her cursor on the “Google Chrome” program, which was where the scammer appeared, and escaped by hitting “end process.”
She said it’s possible that just shutting down the computer might have worked, but she didn’t try that.
Quillen and Kirmer say the scammer’s goal was likely the same as in most tech scams, in which you’re told to call a number or follow computer instructions that allow someone to get into your private files and maybe plant a virus.
If you’re looking on Craigslist for a house or apartment to rent, be careful because there has been an increase in related scam activity, according to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office. Those targeted are college students, working professionals and families across New Mexico, AG Hector Balderas said.
When you call, you’ll be told the ad offers a great deal, but the “landlord” will be out of town and unable to show the property. Still, you will be told to make a deposit and send to an address out of state or even out of the country.
“Typically, the person posting the photo and ad does not own the property,” a news release said. “… Once that money is gone, it’s gone for good.”
- Ask to see the potential landlord’s ID – record all the information you can from it.
- Use a browser to search for the landlord’s name after you get their information.
- If they don’t ask for an application or permission to check your credit, then that’s a red flag.
Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.