"Sir, don’t worry. Everything will be OK. I just need your bank account or credit card information. Please sir, take your time.”
Those words finally made me realize it: I was caught in a consumer fraud hostage situation. How did I get here? All I did was click on a software download link. Right after that, an Apple icon appeared with a message saying my computer was locked and I needed to call this number to unlock it.
I immediately panicked and called the number. When the person picked up and talked in a fast-paced “I got you” voice, I knew something was wrong. When I heard “please sir, take you time,” I hung up and unplugged the computer. I took it to a repair store, and the worker said they couldn’t do much except hope that unplugging my computer would do away with the ransom.
Miraculously, my computer was no longer under ransom when I re-plugged it in. Still, I was upset that I let it happen to myself—but more angry because consumer fraud is so open and rapid that these tricksters come up with sleazy ways to get your money.
What Is Consumer Fraud?
Consumer fraud includes any transactions that seem to be legal but are actually deceptive practices meant to obtain your financial or personal information. Consumer fraud can happen in person, over the phone, and on the internet.
There are numerous well-known consumer fraud scams, such as the Nigerian prince who has millions of dollars waiting for you—all he needs is your financial account information. Others take it a step further, for instance by posing as victims of natural disasters asking for donations.
The last one I got was a call from the IRS saying they were suing me. The only thing was that the number in the ID was not from Washington, D.C. and I had not received a letter from the IRS about this. Yup, it was another common scam. (Another community member actually experienced this as well; read more here.)
What To Do If You’re A Victim
When my computer was held hostage, I was clueless on what to do. I had read about this happening to other people’s computers, but I never thought it would happen to me. I was lucky that everything turned out OK—and I learned a few important lessons.
Do not click on catchy, eye-popping links that you feel are suspicious. If you fall victim to an online scam, unplug the computer right away and disconnect the internet wires. Wait at least an hour before turning everything back on.
If you’re on the phone with a scammer, do not let the person intimidate you with threats and try to avoid their traps. Don’t provide your financial info; it will only give them the opportunity to take your money. If this has already happened, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to make them aware of what had just happened.
If you feel you are being scammed or question the legitimacy of a website, contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Here’s some more info on what to do if you think you’ve been a victim of consumer fraud.
Protect yourself at all times. Always be wary of people asking you for your information. Remember, if it is too good to be true, it usually is.
Have you been the victim of a consumer fraud scam? Share your story in the comments to help other community members avoid falling into the same traps. Sign up or log in with your Salt account now.