Stupid is as stupid does. It was Forrest Gump (or his Mama) who first said that in a 1994 movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks. The phrase certainly applied to me this week in spades!
How often have I laughed at stories about folks, especially older folks, getting scammed on the telephone or more recently on the Internet? Stories like, your grandson Johnny has been arrested in Upper Pooh-Bah Falls and needs you to send him $2,000 for bail money. Or the pastor at your church is asking you to purchase a gift card for an urgent need. There are a number of variations like that.
I am sure I asked myself, and maybe others, at least a dozen times over the years how anyone could be stupid enough to fall for scams like that. Very likely I gave the impression that I was too smart to ever be taken in by these schemes. How I wish I could eat those words! Because yup, it happened to me this past week and I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.
These scams are much more sophisticated these days, but still, I can’t believe that I walked right into it with my eyes wide open.
It happened this way: I logged into a funeral home in Eastern Canada to get an obituary of a friend of mine. As soon as I clicked on the actual obituary, all hell broke loose, complete with bells and whistles. If you’ve ever heard an AMBER Alert on your phone the noise was like that except much louder and over that someone kept repeating that I had entered an illegal site and that my computer had been locked.
My wife heard the noise from upstairs and came down to help. We managed to turn off the volume but couldn’t get the warning sign off of the laptop. We were locked out, so we called Microsoft at the number under the Warning Sign. Big mistake!
I really thought I was working with Microsoft to get my computer unlocked. They asked me what I thought were the right questions to identify me. They did not ask for bank account numbers and I didn’t give them any, but I did give them other information that I should not have. They gave me a number of warnings including to be careful what I said over the phone, which is connected through my computer, as someone could be listening.
They also gave me a list from the past three months which they said were unsuccessful attempts to get into my computer from porn and gaming sites. I really felt they were trying to help me. Of course, they were not. They were trying to help themselves.
They asked me what banking institution I dealt with, and stupid is as stupid does, I told them BMO. They then told me my computer was unlocked but they were connecting me with someone from BMO (I think they said the Fraud Department) to complete the process and make sure both my personal and business bank accounts were protected.
That happened and it was only then that I began to get suspicious. The person didn’t sound like they were from BMO and made statements I thought were unnecessary and asked questions, the answers to which, I thought they should know. One of them was my age.
The kicker was however, when this woman put me on hold to (she said) talk to one of their financial people and then came back to me and said that the best way to protect my bank accounts was to create phantom or ghost accounts. That is when I finally clued in and hung up the phone.
I went directly to my BMO branch in Huntsville feeling stupid and embarrassed, but they could not have been kinder or more helpful, from the Manager on down and over several days. They knew immediately it was fraud from the get-go. They told me these scams were getting more and more sophisticated and many more people were being taken in by them. They helped me change all of my cards and get new passwords. They also sent me next door to Staples to get a technician to see if malware had been placed on my computer.
That process took another hour or two, but my computer was completely scanned and cleaned, and I was assured there was no malware. While it was necessary to go through that, it also created its own issues such as my Twitter account disappearing and being unable to get to my saved messages.
And it ain’t over yet. I am still finding glitches from time to time, and if I can’t fix them myself, I have to go back to the technicians.
So, why am I telling you all this? To give you a good laugh? To have you think I am past my best before days? No, not really. I am pretty sure I still have most of my faculties. And laugh if it makes you feel better.
No, I am writing this because I expect the majority of people who read this column to believe this can never happen to them. I am here to tell you that it can, no matter how astute you may think you are. I can also tell you that when it happens, it is a giant pain in the rear end.
These fraudulent scam schemes are getting to look more and more like the real thing. It has become an industry in and of itself, with many different facets. One person was telling me yesterday, never to confirm who you are on the telephone. If a caller you do not know, says ‘Is this Mr. Jones?’, you do not say yes because if you do it could be recorded and used by a scammer to confirm your identity when scamming your contacts. It has come to that.
This world is getting stranger and stranger.
Take care out there!
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District of Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has also served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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