POLICE are urging residents to be on their guard after a ‘computer hostage’ scam left victims in Whitefield and Unsworth hundreds of pounds out of pocket.
Cllr Joan Grimshaw was ordered to hand over more than £2,000 by scam artists who threatened to isolate her home computer if she did not stump up the cash.
The Unsworth representative managed to avoid paying the fraudsters, although she did lose treasured family photographs kept on her computer.
However, four other people have been forced to pay about £200 each, and police believe others might have fallen victim.
PC Richard Garland, of Whitefield police, said: “This scam is nothing new, but those behind it are targeting our area for the first time — and in a big way. We believe they are identifying targets using the phone book and all the victims we know of live in Whitefield and Unsworth.”
A phone call will be made from a London number, re-routed from abroad. Someone claiming to be from Microsoft will ask the householder about a problem they are having with their home computer, and ask them to go to a certain website and click on a link.
Clicking the link allows the scammers to seize control of the computer and the user can only regain control if they pay a £200 fee.
Since February 25, Whitefield police have received five reports of this type of offence.
The first was in Links View Court in Whitefield where a 70-year-old woman paid £190 so she could access her computer system once again. The second was in Sunnybank Road, Sunnybank, when a man paid out £120.
Another victim in Ringley Close, Whitefield, paid nearly £200 while a resident of Nuttall Avenue, Whitefield, forked out £300.
Cllr Grimshaw, aged 70, of Heathfield Road, Unsworth, said: “I can understand why people might not want to come forward to the police, because I felt quite silly after it happened to me. I also felt as if someone had intruded into my home. It was a horrible experience and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Cllr Grimshaw, who is set to become Mayor of Bury in May, said it started when she got a phone call from a well-spoken woman on February 21.
She explained: “I had been getting an error message on my computer for a while, so when the woman rang claiming to be from Microsoft I thought it was genuine. I put in a web address that she gave me and I saw all these red boxes reading ‘danger’. A display came up with all these faults and a box demanded £2,000.”
Cllr Grimshaw sought advice from town hall IT engineers who advised her to disable her internet connection before the fraudsters hijacked her PC.
“I did so and then the fraudsters called me five times in 10 minutes and were very angry.
“They had also tried to gain control of my laptop and, in the end, I lost precious pictures from my great granddaughter’s christening.”
A Microsoft spokesman said: “We do not send unsolicited email messages or make unsolicited phone calls to request personal or financial information or fix your computer.
“If you receive an unsolicited email message or phone call that purports to be from Microsoft and requests that you send personal information or click links, delete the message or hang up the phone.”
Police suspect the perpetrators come from India.
Officers are urging victims to report any suspicious phone calls to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit actionfraud.org.uk