SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — "An alarm went off, it sounded like a fire alarm at your worksite," Celest said.
Scammed out of thousands of dollars by someone claiming to be a Microsoft employee is the unfortunate reality for one metro Detroit senior, now opening up about her harrowing eleven-hour experience being duped by scammers looking to drain her account dry.
"It said phone hacked, bank card hacked, social security number misused," Celest said.
It was a pop-up that sent Celest into a panic. The message instructed her not to shut down her laptop, but rather to call a tech support specialist.
"The person said he was from Microsoft and he told me his name and his employee ID number," Celest said.
He told her she had unknowingly authorized a transfer of $4,500 abroad and convinced her that to clear up the international dispute, she’d have to purchase that lost amount in gift cards.
"I got four of them for $500 each," Celest said.
After the first $2,000 spent at a local CVS, he sent her to a nearby ATM and then to a Kroger to purchase an additional $1,000 worth of cards with cash, sending her in a deceptive, wild goose chase that would span eleven hours.
"He sent me to Meijer's and wanted me to get eight more," Celest said.
Attempts to buy more cards from Meijer and Target were, thankfully, denied due to debit card withdrawal limits.
As another so-called tech specialist relentless to drain her of more money asked for her bank account routing information, they ultimately didn't get it, but soon after getting the gift card numbers - he disappeared.
"That's when I knew I had been scammed," Celest said. "I never thought it would happen to me like this because I really try to be careful, but I think the fact that I panicked and couldn't think properly."
Cybersecurity expert Kevin Hayes says this scam is nothing new but says these uncertain times are giving it new life.
"The attackers out there are very good when it comes to social engineering you over the phone," Hayes said. "The pandemic is a prime opportunity for attackers."
The FBI has reported that cybercrime is skyrocketing amid the pandemic, with quadruple the amount of complaints now than what was seen before.
The attempted fraud is made easier with more people self-isolating at home, teleworking, and spending more time doing online shopping. Those targeted ads you click on is one of the ways hackers find their way inside.
Those advertisements are sold and resold and resold over again eventually attackers manage to get themselves into that advertising stream.
If you fall victim the FTC says:
- Act quick
- Report it to your bank
- Contact the gift card company to see if the funds can be frozen
- Scan your computer for any potentially installed malware and remain vigilant
"It changed my nature because you can’t trust anybody," Celest said.
Note that Microsoft will never issue an alarm or call you about a problem with your PC. Also, getting attacks like these can typically be solved by simply turning off your computer and rebooting it.
As for Celest, she said she has learned to put her guard up and she’s hoping her hard lesson has taught others to do the same.