Smart About Money: Scammers Hit Home


My father-in-law was home one afternoon and the phone rang. At first he thought it was a telemarketer. Then he realized the caller was saying they were from “Microsoft” and it was something about his computer. So he took a minute to see why they were calling.

The caller said he wanted to check on my father-in-law’s computer and that he might be eligible for a free upgrade. If he would give them remote access, they could take care of it all immediately online.

“It just didn’t sound right,” my father-in-law told me. “My first thought was, ‘Why would Microsoft bother doing that? They’ve never called me with any free upgrades before.’”

“Look, I’m all set,” he told them, and he hung up. This was exactly the right thing to do. His skepticism undoubtedly saved him from becoming a victim of a currently very common telephone scam.

Had my father-in-law allowed this remote access, the scammers could have downloaded malware onto his computer or stolen passwords or other information he has stored there. Whatever happened next, it wasn’t going to be good for him.

The same day he told me this story, I was home at lunchtime. The phone rang and it was the Microsoft scam! The caller ID said the call was from New York. The caller claimed to be from “Microsoft’s IT department.”

Knowing it was a scam, I asked a few questions. Since they weren’t getting the reaction they were looking for — I didn’t seem nervous and I was questioning them — they hung up on me! They could tell I wasn’t a “live one.”

Mentioning this to some colleagues here at the bank, our Assistant Vice President/Director of Residential Lending Bela Vasconcelos said she’d gotten a call from the IRS scammers. That’s another common scam where people get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS saying there is going to be some sort of action — like a lawsuit — against them.

Since she’s on the “Do Not Call” list, Bela was extra-surprised the scammers got through to her. Luckily, she knew that the IRS always contacts taxpayers by mail and never by phone. So she instantly realized the call was a scam.

The bottom line: Since scammers make phone calls all day and probably all night, anyone can get these calls and everyone does.

The best ways to protect yourself?

First, get into the habit of checking Caller ID before picking up a call. (If you don’t have a phone with Caller ID, it can certainly be worth getting one.) It’s fair to say that most calls with a number you don’t recognize are calls you’re going to be happy not to take. Let those go to voicemail. If it’s a stranger calling and they don’t leave a message, it couldn’t have been that important.

Always be skeptical of strangers. Be extra-skeptical of any stranger who’s trying to scare you or get you to “act now!” Remember, the more a stranger tries to alarm you, the more likely it is to be a scam.

Don’t worry about being rude. Hang up, give yourself time to calm down, and figure out someone objective you can double-check with. For example, both Microsoft and the IRS have scam alerts right on their websites. If you have a local computer person, they could be a resource for you. So could the police or your local bank. We are all always delighted to save people from being scammed.

Nick Maffeo is the president and CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to

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avatar Posted by on Apr 23 2015. Filed under Featured Content, Opinion, Smart About Money. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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