It was around noon when the call came in to Catherine * and her husband Peter *’s landline at their home in Sydney earlier this month.
Catherine answered the phone and was greeted by a man who told her he was from NBN (National Broadband Network).
It was the start of a seven-hour ordeal for the elderly couple – both in their 70s – that left them $5,000 poorer and wondering who they could trust.
“It’s very embarrassing, especially when you normally choose these things and it was such a bizarre experience,” Peter told 9news.com.au.
The man on the phone told Catherine that there were NBN engineers in the area and that a virus had been detected on both their home laptop and Catherine’s cell phone.
“He said there was an engineer on the way, he was just up the road. He was held up, but he would be there soon,” Peter said.
“He talked a lot about the NBN office in Mount Street, North Sydney and how they worked there.
“There was this kind of conversation, it seemed to make it more convincing.”
Peter was out when the first call came.
The man convinced Catherine to download free remote access software called TeamViewer onto the laptop.
After several calls for a few hours, the man finally hung up, Peter said.
Then Catherine began to feel uncomfortable with the software and removed it, he said.
“She got rid of it but the same guy called again.”
At that time Peter was at home and the man asked him to download the same app on his phone.
While talking to the man, Peter said he had researched the name of the app online and it seemed legit.
TeamViewer is a free remote access software used worldwide.
On its website, the company claims to be aware of circumstances in which crooks have used its software to gain access to victims’ devices.
“We advise TeamViewer users to be cautious with unsolicited phone calls and not to grant access to your devices (e.g. PC or mobile) to anyone you do not know or do not don’t trust,” he said.
After downloading the software to his phone, Peter said the man spent several hours on the phone with him as he “solved” various issues.
“We thought it had to be just dinkum, why else would he spend so much time on it,” he said.
Eventually the man announced that the viruses had been found, but “the lines” needed to be fixed.
“It seems so stupid now, to say it later,” Peter said.
“We were told there would be radiation in the computer.”
“They said, ‘We want you to walk away from there to another room. Simply turn on your TV and let us know if you see red or blue dots on the screen. “”
“So we left and we did this.”
The man told Catherine and Peter not to go near the laptop or their cell phones until the next morning when they called them back.
However, when Peter woke up the next morning, he said he decided to check his emails anyway.
It was then that he discovered several e-mails from Commonwealth Bank alerting them to possible fraudulent activity linked to their account.
The scammer had managed to gain access to the couple’s bank account online, increasing their withdrawal limit from $2,000 to $20,000.
Two transactions had been made, one to withdraw $45 and another to withdraw $5,000.
A third transaction, for $15,000, was blocked by the bank.
Peter said he was told by Commonwealth Bank that the first two transactions were unlikely to be refunded as staff had been unable to trace the recipient.
A Commonwealth Bank spokesperson told 9news.com.au they could not comment on individual cases for confidentiality reasons.
“We are always very concerned when we learn of frauds and scams affecting customers and the wider community,” the spokesperson said.
“Where a customer has been scammed, we will work tirelessly with the parties involved to attempt to recover any remaining funds for them.”
Peter said falling prey to the scam was a stressful experience that shook him and his wife.
“There’s a sense of violation. I know we both felt like the prank was completely knocked out.”
Remote access scams are on the rise
Remote access scams, especially those involving victims requesting downloads of TeamViewer software, have been around for several years.
NSW Police issued a warning about the use of the software in scams in 2019.
“These types of scams are becoming more common as scammers take advantage of new technologies, products and services to convince the community to provide their personal information,” Cybercrime Squad Commander Detective Superintendent said at the time. Matt Craft.
However, remote access scams are increasingly common.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch, $8.6 million has been lost to remote access crimes so far this year.
The amount of money stolen through remote access crimes has more than tripled in the past three years, from $4.8 million in 2019 to $16.4 million in 2021.
Here are some of Scamwatch’s top tips to ensure you don’t become the next victim:
Do not open suspicious texts, pop-ups or click on links or attachments in emails – delete them: if in doubt, verify the identity of the contact via an independent source such as a phone book or an online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
Do not answer phone calls about your computer asking for remote access – hang up – even if they mention a well-known company such as Telstra. Scammers will often ask you to turn on your computer to fix a problem or install a free update, which is actually a virus that will give them your passwords and personal information.
Secure your mobile devices and computers. Always use password protection, do not share access with others (including remotely), update security software and back up content. Protect your Wi-Fi network with a password and avoid using public computers or Wi-Fi hotspots to access online banking or provide personal information.
Choose your passwords carefully. Choose passwords that are hard for others to guess and update them regularly. A strong password should include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Do not use the same password for each account/profile and do not share your passwords with anyone.
Beware of unusual payment requests. Scammers will often ask you to use an unusual payment method, including preloaded debit cards, gift cards, iTunes cards, or virtual currency such as Bitcoin.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality reasons
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