EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 11, 2013

Police warn residents of phone scam

Aimed at gaining computer access; caller seeks remote connection to fix 'error messages'

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Police are warning residents about a phone scam that appears designed for a hacker to gain access to residents’ computers.

Police said they have received several calls from residents asking if the unsolicited calls received at Haverhill homes were legitimate or not.

Police said it is a scam and people receiving the calls should not cooperate with the caller.

This is the latest in a series of phone scams to hit the Haverhill area in the last few years. They included callers saying they are from a local bank that needs customers’ account numbers due to a mixup.

In the latest scam, police said a caller claims that your computer is sending out error messages from its email and that he can fix the problem if you give him access to your computer. Detective Capt. Alan Ratte said the caller asks people to allow remote access to their computers so he can correct the problem, but in reality the caller is up to no good.

“By providing the scammer with information, access can be gained to your computer, personal information can be extracted and used in identity theft and viruses can be sent to your computer,” Ratte said.

One resident told police he was just about to give the caller the information he was requesting, and then realized it was a scam.

Ratte said he was at his mother’s home when he received a call from the scammer. He said the voice was that of a man with a foreign accent.

“I spoke to this individual myself and when I told him I didn’t have a computer he hung up,” Ratte said. “The caller ID shows a number of 212-456-7890 and if you call that number it is unassigned.

“Every day there is a new scammer out there,” Ratte said.

Two years ago, an elderly Haverhill man was duped into sending $2,500 to the Dominican Republic after receiving a phone call from someone pretending to be a police officer in that Caribbean nation. The caller said the man’s grandson was in jail and needed bail money.

Police said the man, who was in his 80s, didn’t become suspicious until after he wired the money and then received a call the next day asking for $1,400 more to pay for his grandson’s lawyer fees. That’s when he notified police about what happened.

Police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said at the time there isn’t much local authorities can do when money is wired out of the country.

“If you get a phone call that your relative is in jail, call police, tell your family, but just don’t blindly send money,” he said at the time.

Police say that in many cases, the people running these scams are just dialing random phone numbers in hopes of duping whoever answers.

Last summer, the daughter of an elderly woman in Haverhill told police her mother had received two phone calls from a man who said she had won $2.5 million.

The only thing the elderly woman had to do was go to a local store and buy a “money pack” card (a prepaid credit card), and put some money on it that the caller could access. The caller also said a UPS driver would come by her house at one point with a package of some kind for her.

The woman called police and an officer went to her mother’s home. Police reviewed her story and said the calls came from someone participating in a regional scam aimed at stealing money from elderly people.

The woman said she researched the caller’s phone number and it came from Jamaica. She said the caller had what sounded like a Jamaican accent.

The woman’s further research showed police elsewhere in New England had been investigating scam calls from the same 876 area code the calls to her mother’s home came from.

In 2009, police in Haverhill, North Andover and Lawrence warned debit card holders of a phone scam that tried to get their personal bank information.

Police said they had received several complaints about the scam, which involved a recorded voice notifying bank customers that their debit card has been breached.

It asked them for personal information that was supposedly linked to ending the problem. Local banks warned their customers not to give out their account information, PIN number or any other personal information and that they would never call their customers asking for this kind of information.