PRINCETON — A Princeton woman has come forward to warn of a harassing telephone scam that seems to be hitting various residents in the LaSalle and Bureau counties area.
Jodi Westerhold first received a call on her cell phone from an unknown number in December from a man claiming to be from Microsoft and Online Windows Support.
“At that time, I told him to quit calling my number, as he was calling my personal cell phone number, not my landline,” she said.
The calls quit for about a month, until on Jan. 19, when the caller began dialing her phone number at least once everyday. In one day, she recorded a total of 10 calls that came in between the hours of 8:56 a.m. and 5:32 p.m.
Westerhold said sometimes the number would show up as unknown, and other times a California number would come in immediately or shortly after the unknown call.
When trying to trace back the California number, it turned out to not be a working phone number.
Determined to get to the bottom of what the caller wanted from her, Westerhold began answering the calls and taking notes on what the man wanted from her.
“The man quickly introduced himself as Mike and said he was with Online Windows Support or Microsoft Corporation. He has a very thick accent, perhaps calling from somewhere internationally,” she said. “After introducing himself, he quickly tells me he is calling because my computer is sending several error messages to the global servers at Windows Online Support or Microsoft Global Network.”
Westerhold said while she found it difficult to believe someone was calling her claiming to be with Windows Support, she had just purchased a new computer and registered it, so at one point the call seemed a little convincing.
“The man is very persuasive, persistent, talks urgently and tries to immediately instill fear in your mind that your computer is at a severe risk, yet while reassuring you at the same time, he will be able to help and save and protect your computer,” she said.
During a call, Westerhold said Mike claimed he could show her the error messages on her computer and began giving her directions on what to do with the computer to “apparently” fix the problem.
The directions consisted of using the keyboard to activate programs on the computer, and then typing in web address: www.ammyy.com.
Westerhold said when she went to the web address, her antivirus protection brought up a message saying the address was to allow another user to access her computer.
“I know that there are so many scams out there anymore, and this one could be very easy for a lot of people to fall victim,” she said. “Within the click of a button someone could sadly and unknowingly give their personal information away and let Mike take over their computer and gain access to all of their personal information.”
Westerhold filed a complaint with the Princeton Police Department.
“The officer that took the report asked if I could contact my cell phone provider and have the number blocked,” she said.
Westerhold said the cell phone company cannot release the records to her because the unknown number is blocked, and it’s against privacy laws.
“The only way to obtain the unknown number is by having local law enforcement contact the cell phone company subpoena department,” she said.
She also said there are several parameters involved that start with the officer filling out paperwork with the Bureau County State’s Attorney’s Office to gain access of subpoenaing the phone records. The officer will then have to contact the cell phone provider subpoena department to start the process to obtain the numbers.
“Since the cell provider will not give out the records and has to be handled by law enforcement, the office told me the process is lengthy and could take up to six to seven months or longer to receive any information,” Westerhold said. “If the calls are coming internationally, they cannot charge someone for harassment, but he did say the phone numbers would be passed off to a detective to further investigate.”
Westerhold has also contacted the Better Business Bureau and spoke to a representative who said they were aware of the scam, and it’s being investigated. The Bureau also directed her to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Westerhold said the most frustrating part of the situation is the harassment.
“I’m not answering the calls, and they are still coming from the same person,” she said. “And 10 calls a day is absurd, and they must know they cannot be held responsible for any type of harassment.”
She said her cell phone provider not releasing the records of the unknown number is also frustrating.
“I own the account. I pay the bill; the process would move a little quicker if the police were not required to have the records subpoenaed,” she said.
Westerhold most likely will have to obtain a new number in order for the situation to dissolve. While this would eliminate the harassing calls, changing a number is just an inconvenience that Westerhold is not looking forward to facing.
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