A cautionary tale – computer scams and the disaster they can cause

OPINION: Computer scams are a fact of life these days and the scammers seem to be getting more and more sophisticated.  The general advice is that if you think an email is a scam delete it straight away.  Whatever you do, do not open any links in the email.  The banks and other institutions are also insistent that they will never ask for information like a password via email.

Generally speaking, that is advice I take and implement.  But the scammers are getting clever and every so often they come up with a variant that prompts a response because the email seems so plausible.

I am embarrassed to admit that one of these scams finally caught me out – or almost caught me out as I avoided material damage.  

The sequence of events is interesting and is summarised below in case any reader gets caught in a similar situation.

The email appeared to be from my bank and simply said there was a message for me which I could access by opening up the screen for my bank accounts.  For some reason, my personal scam detector was taking a rest at the time, and I followed the instruction. I must say the screen that opened up looked absolutely legitimate.

Needless to say, when I looked at the accounts screen I could not see any message so I quickly closed it again.  But of course, the damage had been done by then.

About 30 minutes later I was rung by the bank and told that there had been two substantial withdrawals from my accounts originating from the Middle East, which they had now reversed because there was no history of withdrawals being made from such places. They had also temporarily closed off access to the accounts through the internet until I had been contacted.  I was then told to run a thorough virus check on the computer and to change the access password for the bank accounts.

As it happened my security arrangements were not up to date so I had to download an up to date virus checker.  This did a detailed scan which took about 40 minutes and uncovered 2 threats both of which were dealt with.  I have no idea what the threats were.

With a little help from the bank over the phone, I then changed the password and I was then back in business – very fortunately without losing a $.

I subsequently received a detailed letter from the bank about scamming and basically telling me off very gently for being taken in.

I must say that banks actions through this episode were right on the mark and they were prompt and helpful in everything they did.  The bank concerned was ANZ.

Apparently, thousands of New Zealanders are still succumbing to scams of one sort or another and I can sort of understand why – it only takes one instant of relaxing your vigilance and the scammers are in business.


By Bas Walker

This is another of Bas Walker’s posts on GrownUps.  Please look out for his articles, containing his Beachside Ponderings.