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June 10, 2015
Posted at 1:47 am
 

I got scammed, and this is how.

This is a public service announcement. I got scammed, and I'd like to help others avoid that fate.

There is a company called Iolo, and they make a number of computer programs that help you maintain the health of your computer. One of them is called System Mechanic, and you can buy the disk to load it on your computer at WalMart and other outlets. I did that and I liked the program. The problem with that is that, when you register it, the program is only valid for a set time, at which time you have to renew it. Normally, I'd say it's a good value, but the problem is that, somehow, scammers have gotten hold of the Iolo users/owners email accounts and/or phone numbers.

Here's how the scam works. You get a call from someone who has an East Indian accent. We're used to that because of all the outsourcing of call centers. They know something about you and they use one of several approaches.

1. They ask you how System Mechanic is working for you and tell you they want to make sure you have the latest updates and examine your system to optimize it. They tell you it's part of your Iolo account privileges. You have to let them connect to your computer remotely to do this. Generally, the first time you do this, they speed your computer up noticeably. And you can watch everything they do because you see all their commands on your screen. It all looks above board.

2. After that, perhaps months later, they call again and tell you it's time to renew or upgrade System Mechanic and offer you a heck of a deal. The one I got stung on was a lifetime contract. I even have a copy of the contract printed out. Again, you have to let them connect remotely and they put four programs on your computer and then tell you on the phone exactly how to use them. One of them is called C Cleaner which I wasn't aware you can download for free. They gave me the professional version of System Mechanic and two other utilities, as well as a graphic with their phone number on it so you can call them if you need any services. All the programs worked very well and again, my system was lightning fast when they got done.

3. A while after that (for me it was only a month) they call and tell you that they have detected problems on your machine and that they think you've "been hacked." They want to connect remotely to examine your system and find any malware that the hackers put on your system. When they report back to you, they'll say that you were, in fact hacked, but they've fixed everything they CAN fix. There are other things they can't fix because it requires purchasing software licenses and drivers that were disabled by the hackers. There are things that are, in fact, disabled ... but not by any hackers. The bill for that can be anywhere between $299.99 and $1,780.00, depending on what they think you can spring for. I turned them down because I pointed out that my "lifetime contract" was only a month old and that they had said "If anything goes wrong, call us and we'll fix it," yet somehow this problem wasn't covered under that contract. Unfortunately, I turned them down while they were still remotely connected to my system. The system worked fine until I ran System Mechanic on it a few days later, at which time the reboot required revealed I had no network software installed, no sound card installed, and all the services required to restore to a previous set point were "disabled." My set points were all gone anyway. The computer would boot, and all the programs worked fine, but I could not connect to the internet. Even when I hooked my ethernet cable up directly to the box, it couldn't "see" it. Reinstalling the sound card also didn't work. In fact, anything I could think of to do to repair things didn't work because some service associated with that was "disabled."

By the way, I'm told that licenses do not get "disabled". Drivers may be removed from the system, but are almost always available as a free download. There ARE things you can disable, but the average computer user doesn't know how to do that. These guys do.

I took my machine to a local repair store who has a good reputation and the owner worked on it for two days without being able to undo whatever it was they did. He said he'd never seen anything like it in his life and he's been in business since DOS was what we all used. He had to refresh the drive. I didn't lose any data, but I lost all my internet favorites, and all the programs I had installed over the years. I had an external backup drive but even that wouldn't function to restore things.

What shows up on the caller ID on my phone when they call is "Network Wings". The phone number to call them back is 130-335-5187.

Basically, I have decided that any time I use a help line and it goes off shore, especially to India, I'm not going to do business with that company again. The Iolo web site has a fraud warning on it about this, but they didn't notify me of that. I had to go there (I was trying to locate someone to complain to) to find it. So I'm a customer of theirs, and have been for five years, but they didn't notify me that this problem existed. So I'm not going to do business with them any more either.

My computer guy said that everything you need can be obtained as a free download, with the exception of virus protection software, which is still worth paying for.

Please disseminate this information to everybody you know who has a computer. The only way we can combat this is to make it no longer cost effective for them to do business. When I talked to them, I could hear at least ten other call center employees in the background, so they're working things pretty hard.