SINGAPORE - Lyena (not her real name) was kept on the phone for two hours by a scammer impersonating as a Microsoft technical support employee, during which he managed to get her bank details and arrange a transfer of $35,000 out of her account.
It was a traumatic experience for the 60-year-old educator, even though the money was eventually recovered, thanks to quick action by the police.
Speaking to reporters in a phone interview on Saturday morning (Sept 12), Lyena said she saw a pop-up message on her computer on the evening of May 28, saying her computer was "at risk" and that she had to seek help immediately.
As her computer's anti-virus software had just expired at that time, Lyena panicked at the thought that her computer had been infected by a virus and called the number provided in the pop-up message.
"The man who picked up the phone introduced himself as a Microsoft employee and he sounded very professional. He asked me to install UltraViewer, an application that would give him remote access to my computer, so that he could find out what the problem was," Lyena said.
In a two-hour-long phone conversation, the scammer convinced Lyena that her computer had been hacked by eight people and even furnished photos of these "hackers".
"He then told me that I had to give him my bank account details so he could protect my bank account from these hackers, which I stupidly did," she said.
Lyena received a call from her bank the next morning informing her that $35,000 had been transferred out of her account into another bank account.
It was only then she realised that she had been scammed, and she made a police report immediately.
Lyena said she is grateful that the police conducted their investigations swiftly and were able to recover $33,000 within three days and the remaining $2,000 soon after.
"I would never have thought that I would become a victim of a scam and it was a really traumatic experience. I've since installed anti-virus software in both my phone and computer," she said.
Mr Alan Kit, senior investigation officer at the Commercial Affairs Department, said the police immediately contacted the banks to freeze the accounts when Lyena filed the report.
"We got hold of the particulars of the beneficiary who had received $35,000 from Lyena's bank account. My colleague and I went down to his address immediately and were able to recover $33,000 in cash," Mr Kit said.
The remaining $2,000 had been frozen in the beneficiary's bank account and the police obtained a court order to return the money to Lyena.
Mr Kit added that the scammers had contacted the beneficiary, who is a businessman, and gave the excuse of buying surgical gloves from him to deposit $35,000 into his account.
The beneficiary had withdrawn $33,000 to pay his glove supplier and had no idea that the money was from the victim of a scam.
In the first half of this year, there were 317 cases of tech support scams reported to the police, more than 10 times the 30 cases in the same period last year.
Victims lost a total of $15 million, up from $340,000 in the same period last year. It is the second-largest amount cheated from victims, the first being investment scams at $22.3 million.
The largest amount cheated in a single case in the first six months of this year was $958,000.
Mr Kit said scammers impersonating tech support staff are on the rise now that many people are working from home.
He advised the public not to follow instructions to install applications, type commands into the computer or log in to online banking accounts.
"All incoming international calls are prefixed with a plus sign and the public should be wary when receiving unsolicited calls from overseas," he said.