FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) – A Fargo teacher is out $15,000 after falling victim to a pop-up computer scam last week.
The woman says she received an alert on her computer saying her personal information and money were compromised in a ransomware attack, which meant she needed to act fast in order to fix it.
“Ransomware is basically when someone takes control of your computer and says that they won’t give you back that control unless you do something,” NDSU Cyber Security Director said. “It can happen from an email that they’ve opened with an attachment, something they’ve downloaded from a website, or if their computer’s not up to date.”
”It’s a $15,000 lesson that I’m paying forward,” Angie Olson joked.
A private and public educator for more than four decades, Olson doesn’t consider herself naïve. She says while she stays up to date on the various scams and cons going around, what happened to her last Wednesday, April 6 had never come across her radar before.
“Once I truly was scared that I was losing all this money, I just fell for everything and I didn’t see red flags. Today I see them all over.”
Olson says she had just gotten home from school to find a pop-up message playing on her laptop telling her to call a specific number for help. So she called and talked to a man named ‘Wilbur’ who told Olson not only had loads of child porn been downloaded on her computer, her phone, bank and identity were all compromised.
“He said, ‘One thing I’ll tell you right now is, you authorized a withdrawal of money out of your account last night at 4:30 in the morning.’ I said, ‘I did what?!’” Olson recalled.
$15,000 was expected to be taken out of her account two hours from then, Olson says. ‘Wilbur’ then connected her bank, Gate City on the line which Olson says sounded just like it always does when she’s called in the past.
“At this point I’m thinking this is real!” she said.
A man named ‘Dave,’ who claimed to be with Gate City’s fraud department told Olson they were going to take care of her. She says they told her they needed to create her ‘a secure, duplicate account’ to save her $15,000 from getting into the wrong hands.
“I don’t know why. Today, I think I was stupid, but at that point it was like, ‘No, they are helping me,’” she said.
Olson says ‘Dave’ told her she needed to physically go to Gate City and take out the money to then wire it to a new account. The scammers coached Olson on the phone the entire time, including what she should tell employees at the bank to not raise any red flags.
“It feels like my mind was controlled; my choices were taken from me. I had to do this. I lost control of my thinking,” Olson said.
Olson says she was then instructed to take that cash to a bitcoin ATM in south Fargo to keep the money safe from scammers. ‘Dave’ and ‘Wilbur’ promised the money would be re-wired to her the next morning.
“That was more than half of my savings. I don’t know why I did it! I don’t know why I did it,” Olson said.
Officials say scams similar to what happened to Olson have been hitting the Midwest recently along with many other elder and phishing schemes.
“It’s kind of an unfortunate situation and certainly something people need to be really on guard about,” Straub said.
To protect yourself, Straub says there are three main things he suggests:
Keep your computer and anti-virus software up to date
Create strong passwords
Always be skeptical
“If something seems too good or too bad to be true, say, ‘Let me take a step away from this thing,’” Straub said.
He also says it’s important to listen to the warning signs your software and computer give you when trying to download a new app or attachment, or go to a new website.
“The operating system can prompt you and say, ‘Hey this looks dangerous.’ Your anti-malware can tell you, ‘Hey this looks dangerous,’ but if you say, ‘Hey, go ahead and install this anyway,’ you opened the door. The layers of defense tried to protect you, but they can’t if the human is saying, ‘Yes go ahead and do this,’” Straub said.
Olson says while she wishes Straub’s advice is what she would have done, it is what it is now.
“Today I feel like I’ve taken charge back of my life and I’m not going to let this ruin me,” she said.
Olson says while the amount of money lost is unfortunate, it doesn’t change her life plans as she isn’t retiring from teaching yet this year. Olson is currently a full-time substitute with Fargo Public Schools.
She says new accounts have already been opened at Gate City Bank, as the others are frozen indefinitely. Olson also says the incident has been reported and is being investigated by both Fargo Police and the FBI.
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