OTTUMWA — Scam artists depend on people being worried about the situation they’re in, and their approach is designed to give people little time to think about what to do.

That’s what caught Mike Buchanan this weekend.

Buchanan, long a fixture in Ottumwa for his work on the radio, said he was caught off guard when his computer froze and warnings started popping up on the screen.

“Over the weekend we were hacked on our computer,” he said. “What happened was I was on the computer Saturday morning. I was looking for a recipe for my wife.”

The site he was on wasn’t some obscure corner of the web, either. It was a well-known Iowa company. But scammers have been known to use the trust people have in such companies to slip in ads with malware. The pop-up windows claimed Buchanan’s computer had been hacked and needed to be debugged, and gave a 1-800 number to call that it claimed was the computer company’s support line.

Buchanan called. The man who answered said he could help.

“At the time this guy sounded so sincere about what he was doing,” Buchanan said. But even during that conversation there were some red flags.

Buchanan could watch the computer screen as the scammer worked. There were some details that didn’t match up. And Buchanan knew claims that there were thousands of pornographic files on the computer were false.

At the end of the call, the man said there would be a $499 fee for the service. Buchanan gave him his bank account number. The nagging sense there was something wrong grew after the call ended, though, and a talk with police confirmed it.

That key step is one a lot of people don’t take. People who think they may have been scammed are embarrassed. But it’s important to overcome that concern and get the right advice. That’s exactly what experts advise. Banks have more experience dealing with things like this and they can be an important ally in protecting your accounts.

Police also want to know when scams are targeting the community. They pointed Buchanan back to his bank, which changed his account numbers.

Experts also advise getting copies of your credit report after being hacked, and it can also be a good idea to change account passwords once you know your computer has been secured, or use a different computer to do so. The biggest thing is to not panic, but work quickly to secure your information.

The scammer kept trying. But his intended victim now knew better. “He called us three different times and I would not answer,” Buchanan said.

Recovering from the scam isn’t over. Buchanan said Monday he was taking his computer to a professional to get it scanned for any programs the scammer may have installed while he had access to it. And he and his wife are being very careful with their network until that is done.

“It was so easy,” Buchanan said. “They have such a sneaky way of doing it.”

Buchanan said he hopes people can use his story to protect themselves, especially elderly residents who might not have the same degree of computer savvy as younger generations. It’s not a position he wanted to be in, but he said there’s a chance his headache could save others from the same situation.


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