‘Your computer has a virus’—how scammers stole 29K from Cathy Martin

By on December 6, 2023

(Shutterstock)

The message that popped up on Cathy Martin’s computer screen one at the end of October seemed dire.

“It was a big, alarming thing, and it was like yelling at me and saying, ‘Do not turn off the computer. Your computer has a virus,’” recalled the 70-year-old Kill Devil Hills resident. “Or it’s been hacked. And it gives me this big message and says call Microsoft, and then there’s this box with the Microsoft number on the screen.”

That was the beginning of a computer scam that end up costing Martin some $29,000.

Looking back on everything that happened and how she enabled scammers to gain access to her money, she wonders about her judgment at the time. “I just can’t believe I was that stupid,” she said. She is telling her story now as a cautionary tale. “I think people need to know,” she said.

The first call to what was supposed to be Microsoft was to a woman who Martin described as, “very nice.”

But, after telling Martin that there were IP addresses linked to her computer that were foreign addresses, she was told “these people were purchasing firearms and porno all in my name.”

“We’re going to fill out a report to the Federal Trade Commission,” the purported Microsoft lady told her, and then supposedly transferred her to the Federal Trade Commission and then ultimately to the Department of the Treasury where she spoke to someone who called himself Officer Jason Roy.

“We’re going to help you fix this. We need to fix your digital blueprint and footprint because your identity has been stolen,” she recalls him telling her.

“Starting from that day, it was a bad week,” Martin said. “Every day he would call me. He would stay on the phone and send me to the bank to take out large sums of money and put it in a Bitcoin machine.”

Asked by the Voice if this seemed odd or suspicious, Martin replied that at the time, she was more concerned about identity theft and that the people she was talking to seemed to be willing to help.

“I didn’t really have a clue at the time. They showed me all this stuff going on on my computer. So I’m thinking this is really bad and they just seemed very real,” she said. Throughout the week, the team that told her they were going to work with her were telling Martin about problems with her computer.

“They’re checking for suspicious activity and updating it and getting into my files apparently,” she said. And they were so far into her computer that they were able to effect cash transfers from her credit card to her bank, and that may have been when Martin realized it was a scam.

“They sent me to the bank for $4,000. That was because they had done a cash advance in my name, and I didn’t know that,” she recalled.

That was on a Friday and over the weekend she realized things were very wrong. On Monday she realized just how bad it was.

“They were able to access a retirement account. They were able to get into one of my retirement accounts and roll the money over from the 401 K into an IRA and link it to my checking account,” she said, quickly adding that “They didn’t get any money.”

She did contact the FTC. She has also filed an online report with the FBI.  In the meantime though, she had lost around $29,000, and has had to close all of her accounts and reopen them.

Martin told the Voice that as she was withdrawing significant amounts of cash, no one asked her about it, although she was given a story to cover why she was making the cash withdrawals.

According to an email from Juliana Henderson with the FTC Press Office, what Martin experienced has the earmarks of a pattern of scam that has emerged recently.

“Unfortunately, scammers are using the Federal Trade Commission’s good name to try to trick people into paying them—or sharing personal information,” she wrote in the email. “The FTC will never demand money or personal information from you, nor threaten to arrest, deport, or punish you. We do not give out badge numbers or conduct sweepstakes or lotteries, which are claims scammers will make.”

There is little chance that the scammers will be caught, although Martin is hopeful.

“Maybe those government people…maybe they’ll catch people. Maybe I would get some money back. I guess I can’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen,” she said.

But Captain John Towler, of the Kill Devil Hills Police notes there is little chance that this type of crime can be solved. Even if the phone numbers can be traced—which is very difficult because phone numbers can be created and purchased easily and then disposed—the crime often originates outside the borders of the United States.

“Scams are so difficult to resolve criminally as far as finding someone to charge or even finding someone at all,” he said. “The vast majority of them are outside of the country, somewhere in Canada, or Mexico. And at that point, it’s just not it’s not going to be brought to court here because…you can’t extradite somebody from a foreign country over a scam charge.”

 

Here are a few helpful FTC links.

We have advice on how to spot and avoid tech support scams: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-spot-avoid-and-report-tech-support-scams

Imposter scams top the list of fraud complaints from consumers. In fact in 2023 alone, consumers reported losing more than $1.9 billion to all types of imposter scams. You can find data on consumer complaints about imposter scams generally as well tech support scams, government imposter scams and other types of imposter scams at the link below.



Comments

  • obxron

    PT Barnum lives on

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 8:52 am
  • your momma

    I get these notes occasionally if I’m using microsoft edge and just unplug my computer to get rid of them. Your can’t “X” your way out of them. So far it has never happened with safari or firefox.

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 9:09 am
  • Bob

    I personally know someone who lost a similar amount of money to a “refund scam”. They felt terrible for falling for it, just like Ms. Martin. Kudos for her for having the bravery to come forward and tell her story. Hopefully it helps avoid someone else falling prey to such a scam.

    I work in the IT industry and somewhat regularly have someone call me panicking because they have a similar message up on their screen. Thankfully they called me and not the number listed on the screen!

    From what I have observed, most of these scams (or at least their call centers) are in India. If you want to see a bit more of a “behind the scenes” of how these scams work, check out the YouTube channels for “Scammer Payback” and “Jim Browning”.

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 12:07 pm
  • Arthur Pewty

    There is a movie coming out next year called “The Beekeeper” about this very subject.

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 2:01 pm
  • G-Mac

    They didn’t steal it from her, she gave it to them. It may have been by fraudulent means, but people should stop being so gullible.

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 5:04 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    No, they stole it from her. Glad to see so much sympathy on your part.

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 8:21 pm
  • 102

    Folks, this ain’t a joke. At higher levels than the local P.D. they can and will find these people that are scamming. The locals around here do not have the knowledge to back trace an IP much less a phone number that has been cloned. Remember, every time you get a phone call on your cell phone and there is no one on the other side it means that scammers are phishing for unused numbers. If you get in a bind call your state representive or senator and they have folks in there offices that are there to help people.

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 5:56 pm
  • Beach person

    Who was the fr”””””ken local bank that didn’t question anything

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 6:15 pm
  • Nosey OBXer

    This is nothing new. OBX voice should Also post about not clicking on unknown email links and giving info over the phone.
    The scammers are constantly trying to grift off innocent non-informed citizens whether on internet or in real life. Especially around the holidays.
    Be informed and ready before exposing yourself to www.
    Happy Holidays.

    Thursday, Dec 7 @ 6:53 pm
  • Just Another Mike

    @G-Mac – Using your logic, if someone shoved a gun in your face and you gave them your wallet, they didn’t steel it from you. You just gave it to them and you should stop being such a pu**y. Got it.

    Friday, Dec 8 @ 9:36 am
  • Kat

    Ms Martin. You are not alone. I was scammed as well and it was because I was very ill and just returning from travel. The information appeared plausible until it didn’t. Thank you for being so open. I just felt like the biggest “elderly person” post-scam and I am not that old! It happens and maybe your interview may help someone take that step back and review sooner than you or I did.

    Sunday, Dec 10 @ 1:25 pm