KIRO 7 investigates top 3 cyber scams hitting Western Washington

by: Richard Thompson Updated:


Like many of us, Tabatha Kelley was having a busy morning when the phone rang.   She answered the call and heard from a man claiming to be with Microsoft.

 The man, who sounded quite knowledgeable, said she had a computer problem. Kelley said the man told her Microsoft was receiving errors sent from her computer.

The man convinced her to allow him remote access to her computer so he could detect and fix her problems. She watched as the caller remotely took control of the computer, checked various files, and seemed to run a scan.

 "It showed a whole bunch of errors on it and everything and I'm like, ‘this isn't good,’" said Kelley.

 At that point, the scam artist pretending to be from Microsoft told her she needed to buy hundreds of dollars of software to fix the problem and he needed a credit card number.

 She got suspicious and hung up, but not before the man had access to the family's computer.  Tabatha's husband, Shawn Kelley, is concerned.

 "He could have accessed our bank account or credit card numbers,” he said.

 "We could have easily been taken for all we had,” Tabatha added.

 Tabatha and her husband were targeted with what's known as the "Microsoft tech support scam."

 It's in the top three of many computer scams investigated by the High Tech Unit of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

 A second serious scam is mobile phone cramming.

 "The bottom line is it is an unauthorized charge on your mobile phone bill," said Washington State Assistant Attorney General Jake Bernstein.

 Mobile cramming can happen when you go to some websites and try to find information -- perhaps a recipe, song lyrics or even love advice.

 To get what you’re searching for, you’re asked to enter your mobile phone number and unknowingly sign up for a service that is charged each month to your mobile phone bill.

 Assistant AG Bernstein says we need to check our monthly statements.

 "If you check your bill and you find $9.99 charges you don't recognize, you've been crammed. Call and get them off your bill,” said Bernstein.

The third big opportunity for cyber scams are penny auctions.  Penny auctions are websites that claim you can bid and buy expensive items like an iPad for as little as $20.

 Each bid raises the price of the item one penny, but bidders get charged up to a dollar a bid whether they win the item or not. The state Attorney General's Office tells KIRO 7 in some cases, companies have created automated computer bidders to drive up the price. 

 "It’s profit for people who are tricking you," said Bernstein.

 KIRO 7 asked State Attorney General Bob Ferguson what people can do to protect themselves. First, he says, don't give out personal information. 

 "It's important to do what you can to control and protect your data. Make sure your password is long and strong, has both upper case and lower case letters, and numbers," said Ferguson.

 Scam victim Tabatha Kelley adds, if someone contacts you about problems with your computer, don't give them access to the device like she did.

 "It’s a reality check to think that within seconds, everything you've worked so hard for could be gone."

For more information and online safety tips, visit the Better Business Bureau news center.