Some of you may recall my blog post series from years earlier entitled “Gullible’s Travels.” Here is another entry:
At 11:46 AM on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, my iMac computer froze up and went haywire with an arrow darting all over the place. Onto the screen came the message: “Urgent! Your computer has been hacked. Call Apple Security immediately. You are at great risk.” A phone number was listed.
So, in desperation I immediately called the Apple computer number and was connected first to an operator and then to Harry Martin, who said that he was with Apple Security and would be pleased to help me with all computer security matters. He had what seemed to me like a Slavic, or perhaps Russian, accent, which also seemed to be from an older man. This caught my attention since all the other Apple Help people I have dealt with—and I have dealt with a bunch– have had American accents and were probably in their 20s. Odd, I thought, but I was desperate.
Mr. Martin said that I needed to have my security upgraded, which he would be glad do for me; but for that to happen, I needed to give him control of my computer, which, of course, I did. It took about two hours for him to install the necessary software on the computer, but to see if any financial data had been compromised, he also needed to check my online bank accounts. “If you have been hacked,” he said, “chances are they have gone after your bank accounts. That is what these hackers are usually after. We must check those first.”
I told him my bank was PNC. With his software in place on my computer, he was able to log into my PNC account, which I enabled him to do. He asked me to tell him my pass my password “to make it easier for me.” I refused to give it to him and typed it in myself. Presto! My PNC account appeared on the screen, which he had access to and could see exactly how much money I had in my accounts. There did not seem to be any unusual transactions posted in the account. I was relieved. But as a courtesy, he linked me in phone conversation to a top security expert at PNC Bank. The familiar voice of the PNC Bank operator came on first and then linked me to a PNC “security expert,” whose name was Sam Williams. Mr. Williams also spoke with a similar Slavic accent. I was beginning to get suspicious, but I was curious as to how this was going to play out.
Mr. Williams introduced himself as a top security executive at PNC Bank and assured me that the bank had my account as their number one concern and would do all they could to help me. It took about 15 minutes or so for him to check all the accounts, including recent transactions and said that it appeared that in fact according to their records, three suspicious transfers from my account had been recorded a few minutes earlier and were due to happen in the next hour. All payments from my account were to accounts in Mexico and totaled about $15,000. I confirmed that the transactions were fraudulent and requested that the bank stop the transfer. He said he would do that, but that due to “international banking regulations and commitments by PNC,” there was only a 20–30-minute window that PNC had to keep the transfers from happening and that I had to act fast.
He linked me into conversation with another PNC employee whose name was Justin Lee, who said he was head of the “PNC Encryption Department” and would immediately stop the funds from going to Mexico. He was understanding and sympathetic. But given the short time frame, the only way that the transfer could be stopped would be for me to take all the money out of my checking and savings accounts using the ATM at my local PNC branch. In addition, the money must be exclusively in $20 bills. I should notify him when I had the money in hand, and then would give me further instructions.
If you are concluding that I am an idiot, you are not that far off base. My only excuse is that while I now was convinced that this was likely a fraud, I was curious as to how it would play out.
But when he directed me to go to the ATM immediately and take out all my money in $20 bills, that was the last straw. I had had enough.
When I objected to taking the money out of the ATM, he jumped in saying the situation was dire and that once the transfer of funds happened, I would have no chance of recovering the money. But he had a solution: He would instruct me how to convert the funds to bitcoins and deposit them into a safe account in another financial institution, where I could retrieve the funds at my convenience. By this time, he was pleading with me.
He cautioned me to say nothing to the bank about this because several employees of the branch where my money was deposited were under investigation by the bank for possible fraud. If I said anything to the suspects about this “incident,” they might be able to avoid arrest.
Game over. I burst out laughing. “Good try, fellas,” I chuckled, then with a touch of outrage,” I am reporting you to the police!” I hung up. How could anyone be so stupid to fall for such a scam? Yet, I had to give them credit for a well-orchestrated con. It must work sometimes, or they would not be doing this, right?
It took about an hour to straighten things out with PNC Bank. No fraudulent activities had been observed and nothing was unusual. They assured me that this happens more often than you would think and that the account was secure. However, they suggested I change my bank and computer password, which, of course, I did. And then it took another hour or so to get Apple to clean up my computer and put on new security.
I tried calling back the “Apple Security” and “PNC Bank” numbers that initiated the scam. No one answered the calls.
And today, April 11, at 8:07 A.M., a new warning came across my computer screen and my iPhone screen from “Apple Security” warning me that all my passwords had been stolen and that I had to act quickly. Then the message disappeared and has not shown up again.
Rest assured. I am not taking the bait this time.