Life Tech The light-fingered Peeping Tom inside your computer

The light-fingered Peeping Tom inside your computer

One of the scam's victims - his face obscured -as he appeared on YouTube. Photo: YouTube via ABC
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Melinda* had no idea she was being filmed. She had gone online in search of help to fix a problem with her computer.

Instead, she wound up being secretly recorded by criminals who seized control of her computer and switched on her webcam.

“I’m very happy with the service I have received today,” she says in the video, reading off a script provided by the scammers.

Melinda was unaware that she had been ensnared in a sophisticated “remote-access” scam.

The scammers who targeted Melinda have secretly filmed dozens of Australians in their own homes, luring them in through fake tech support websites.

Remote-access scammers trick their victims into handing over big money — as well as control of their computers — in return for fake fixes for technical problems that never existed.

The scammers then post the videos to their YouTube page, using them as testimonials to convince future targets that their services are legitimate.

The ABC has tracked down some of the dozens of victims caught up in the scam.

Monash University medical professor Geoff Sussman was fleeced for $1,590 when the scammers accessed his computer. He managed to get his bank to reverse the transaction, but the experience was deeply frustrating.

Professor Geoff Sussman had no idea he was being filmed – or that the clip would end up on YouTube. Photo: ABC

“It’s very annoying and upsetting,” Prof Sussman said.

“There are far too many scammers out there, and even intelligent people can get in their web.”

Professor Sussman’s troubles began when he went online in search of help downloading Adobe software to a new computer in November 2016.

He found what he thought was an official Adobe tech support page, and called a 1800-number listed on the site. The phone number connected him to an organisation called Macpatchers, whose website has since vanished from the internet.

The Macpatchers tech support operator told him a virus was stopping him installing the software, and asked him to download a program that gave remote access to his computer.

“They’re very clever about that. They say, ‘look we need to check why this is, and the only way we can do that is to in fact get access to your computer,'” he said.

“Once you give them access to your computer, it’s goodnight sweet prince.”

Professor Sussman said the operator “did some things” to his computer that made it look like they were removing the viruses.

At the end of the process, they asked him to read out a line of text on his screen confirming he was happy with the service.

They did not tell him they had switched on his webcam and were filming him speak.

“It makes you feel used by these people, that they’re violating your privacy,” he said.

“I had no idea I was being filmed, and I certainly had no idea they were using me to promote themselves.”

The video is among 69 secretly recorded clips of Australians posted on Macpatcher’s YouTube channel.

The videos capture victims in extremely private settings — their bedrooms, lounge rooms, kitchens and studies. In some videos, children drift in and out of shot. One man sits shirtless in front of his computer.

Those who spoke to the ABC were understandably horrified to discover the videos had been posted online.

‘Scam-baiter’ fights back

The scam was uncovered by self-described scam-baiter David, who seeks out organised criminals online.

He requested his full name not to be used, because he has made enemies out of the criminal organisations he investigates.

“Scam-baiting involves looking for scammers online, calling them up, pretending to be a victim, and then exposing what they do,” he said.

“I like to record the process using screen-recording software and then post the videos online.”