V.I. couple fall prey to 'Windows Technical Help' scam

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ST. THOMAS - The phone call from the "technical help" company rang at the perfect time, or so Sharon and Donald Collins thought.

Donald Collins last week had been trying to install a new program on their computer, and he was having some difficulty.

Coincidentally, the St. Thomas couple received a call from an employee who claimed to be working for Microsoft, specifically the Windows Technical Help division.

"They were going to help us," Sharon Collins said.

Unfortunately, the call was instead from a scammer, who would persuade them to pay the company $201 to install the program and take care of any issues.

They did not realize it was a scam, until another employee called several days later, saying that the company was going out of business and it wanted to refund their money.

To do so, the company would need to access their computer again, meaning the company needed the Collins' information. Instead of giving them a refund, the scammers locked the Collins' computer and demanded $500 to unlock it.

"They even called back this week," Sharon Collins said. "It's like harassment over the phone."

While the V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs has received no reports recently of similar activity, DLCA Commissioner, Wayne Biggs Jr. said that he has heard of similar scenarios in the past.

"They should definitely come in and make a complaint," Biggs said. The department can log the complaints and detect trends, and also can notify the FBI, which often investigates cyber crimes, he said.

"These days, there's a lot more Internet scams," Biggs said.

Others in the territory might be falling victim to the same scam, but unless they make a complaint, the DLCA may not have heard about it, Biggs said.

Sharon Collins, who thinks that the scammers are targeting the Virgin Islands area code, told her dentist and fellow members of her Bible group about the nightmarish experience, and several people said they had heard about other residents who were similarly victimized.

According to Microsoft's safety and security website, the "Windows Technical Help" scam is not uncommon. Microsoft states on its site that, "Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes."

The site describes almost exactly what the Collins' went through, the offer to help with their computer, the request for their information and the remote access that the scammers acquired through the use of that information.

Anyone who has had a similar experience can contact the DLCA at 774-3130 on St. Thomas, 773-2226 on St. Croix or 693-8036 on St. John.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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