When Jana and Jim Havener of Newburgh bought a brand new PC from Office Depot in Evansville a few weeks ago, they had no idea they would be victims of a rampant internet scam.
Almost immediately after the Havener’s booted up their new computer, they began shopping on Craigslist, when an ad popped up saying their Microsoft Office license was expired.
Jana Havener said she and her husband were confused because their computer was brand new, so how could it be expired?
“We should have known better,” she said. “But it was so realistic.”
The ad included a 888 number for them to call to update their license. Havener said a man with a thick accent picked up the phone when they called and because she is over 70 and has bad hearing, couldn’t quite understand what he was saying. She became suspicious when she asked if he could hand the phone over to someone else she could understand more clearly and there was no one available.
Havener said he convinced her and her husband to let him take control of their computer through from wherever he was located. But as soon as he did, he started to ask for money to not only update the license but to give them control back of their computer. Unconvinced, the Havener’s immediately shut down their computer and took it back to Office Depot.
“He was starting to talk money but I couldn’t quite hear what he said,” Havener said. “It sounded like he wanted around $99, but I’m not sure.”
Teresa VanZee, Office Depot computer technician, helped to clean the Havener’s computer but it cost them a pretty penny of $170. VanZee just transferred from working at an Office Depot in Hawaii and said the scam was abundant there. But it wasn’t $99 the scammers were asking for, it was $499.
“I just wish there would have been a warning in the paper or on the news,” Havener said. “So we would have known what it was.”
VanZee said there have been five or so cases of people coming into the Evansville Office Depot with the same scam as the Haveners and that it can take her 14 to 21 days to clean the virus off the computer.
She said it really upsets her because customers believe they are receiving bad computers from Office Depot, when really, it’s all luck of the draw.
“It breaks my heart because they think we are burning them,” VanZee said. “But really, it’s not a built-in virus. It doesn’t matter if your computer is old or new, they get you by installing it through your IP address.”
VanZee said the scammers have no idea who they are targeting either and that she believes it is possibly people who are sitting at home with no jobs who are scamming others.
“They’ve become geniuses at it really,” she said. “They have no idea if the next person they target is Mr. Jim Havener and if he’s 86 and disabled. They’re just hoping whoever it is has money to spend.”
VanZee said even if they got control of an older computer with someone’s credit card or bank information, they most likely wouldn’t use it.
“They’re interested in quick money,” she said.
VanZee advises people that if they see an ad pop up on their computer — no matter how realistic it looks — to not touch it at all but just immediately take it in to get serviced.
“Do not click it or exit out of it,” she said. “Don’t even shut down your computer because it could just lock up.”
VanZee said it could be helpful to buy anti-virus software, but that not they are not always 100 percent full-proof.
If you or someone you know has had trouble with this computer scam or one similar to it, you can contact Office Depot at 812-477-2884 for help.