Pensioner hit by scam theft

Ripon resident Audrey Blackburn, 74, was hit by phone and internet scammers promising expensive repairs to her home computer (111005AR1pic)
Ripon resident Audrey Blackburn, 74, was hit by phone and internet scammers promising expensive repairs to her home computer (111005AR1pic)

A RIPON woman is warning computer users to be on their guard after she paid hundreds of pounds in a sophisticated phone and internet scam.

Seventy-four-year-old Audrey Blackburn was targeted by criminals who persuaded her to pay for expensive repair work on her computer.

Mrs Blackburn, who uses the computer for her work as a writer, said she “felt sick for a week” after receiving three phone calls from fake IT engineers.

The first call came on Wednesday, September 7 when a man claiming to be from a company called Comantra told Mrs Blackburn that her computer was infected with dangerous viruses, and persuaded her to pay £90 to have her computer repaired and serviced for the next two years.

The next phone call came the following day, this time from a man claiming to work for computer giant Microsoft.

He told Mrs Blackburn they had noticed “unusual” activity on her computer, and persuaded her to pay out more than £100 to have the damage repaired.

However, an email receipt showed the payment to have gone to a company based in Mumbai.

Later that evening Mrs Blackburn heard back from staff at Greystones Primary School, where she is a governor, who told her they thought she had fallen victim to a scam. A final phone call then came, but Mrs Blackburn refused to speak to the scammers and early the next morning she went to Ripon police station where officers sent her straight to the bank to cancel her credit card and stop the payments.

“The police told me not to be ashamed because they are professional criminals in an international scam,” Mrs Blackburn said.

By reporting the scam to the police and her credit card company straight away Mrs Blackburn was able to stop the second payment leaving her account, but she is still battling to have the first payment refunded.

After realising what had happened Mrs Blackburn also turned to her friend David Elsy, a former Mayor of Ripon who runs an IT business in the city.

“David was wonderful, he took my computer away to remove all the viruses the scammers had put on it, and told me to call him immediately if anything like this happened again.”

In a bid to get Mrs Blackburn’s money refunded Mr Elsy has also written to Mrs Blackburn’s credit card company, explaining that instead of doing legitimate repair work in return for Mrs Blackburn’s money the scammers have in fact damaged her computer further.

Now Mrs Blackburn wants to stop other people falling victim to the scams.

“I have been telling everybody I know so they can’t do it to anyone else.”

North Yorkshire Trading Standards Officer Len Swift urged computer users to be wary of companies offering to repairs from a distance.

“Anyone can do something to a computer that looks like a repair, but if you have a problem I would advise you to go to a local trader who can come to your home, explain what the problem is, and give you an estimate for the work.”

Ripon police’s Insp Thorpe said there have not been many incidents locally but these scams are becoming more common. People who received suspicious calls should inform their telephone company and trading standards.