I have verified this story multiple times, from multiple sources. Apple’s conduct was so completely unprofessional and unexpected that when I first heard what had happened, I believed my father was misremembering the chain of events. He was not.
On January 24th at about 5 PM I got a call from my father. “Are you comfortable, because this is going to take a while,” he told me. I was.
“I started having an issue logging into my gmail last night. This morning, I still couldn’t log in. I had some time to kill, so I went to the Apple Store to see if they could help. They told me they didn’t have any appointments available with a Genius, but they made an appointment for a phone call at 12:15 in the afternoon. So I went home, went about my day, and waited for the call at 12:15.”
“They called for the appointment, and I spoke to a nice woman. After I explained the issue, she spent some time doing some research, and then got a Gmail support representative on the phone.”
At this point, I knew something had gone wrong. There are two things I want to make completely clear at this point:
- Google does not employ Gmail phone support for personal accounts, and if you’re speaking to someone who claims to be Gmail support, it is a scam.
- A real Apple phone support representative connected my father directly with an Indian Gmail support scam phone number. The Apple representative researched ‘Gmail support’ on google, and conference called them into the line. (It took me multiple days to believe Apple did this, but at this point I am convinced that they did.)
I told my father about my suspicions that Gmail did not have phone support, but let him continue.
“As I spoke with Jim Neel from Gmail support, he was able to use my computer while I was watching. He pulled up a variety of logs that showed that I had tons of error messages and said that my computer was insecure. He recommended I have my computer ‘cleansed.’ He said he didn’t do this work himself, but transferred me to a company they work with that does the work.”
My heart sank. Someone had been able to access my fathers computer remotely. And he was suggesting someone ‘do work’ on the computer, whatever that meant. I let my father continue.
When I walked my father through securing his Gmail account, we saw that during this period of time, his account had been accessed from a Windows computer in Delhi, India.
“So he transferred me to Frank, who worked at CZone. The guy said he lived in Ohio, but that the company’s headquarters was in Canada. So I spoke with them, and they looked at my computer over the phone and agreed that it needed work done to make it secure. They charged me $140 for the ‘cleanse’, and another $500 for a five year service plan to keep it up to date.”
“Did you agree to pay them for this?” I asked.
My father spent $640 dollars and multiple hours on the phone with scammers because he went to an Apple for help with his computer.
A few weeks after the incident, I was able to get to my parent’s house — they live across the country — the work amounted to installing a free version of Sophos, a 30 day trial of Malware Bytes, installing Teamviewer, clearing caches, and changing some firewall settings.
As I was talking with my father on the phone on the day of the incident, I didn’t have an easy way to access his computer remotely to evaluate the damage. So after we’d changed his Gmail password using a different computer, he began getting a ton of notifications asking for him to enter his password. I didn’t understand what was causing the notifications, so I recommended he go into the Apple Store and both explain what had happened, and have them verify that his computer wasn’t compromised. I advised him he should be prepared to completely wipe his computer, and reminded him that I’d set him up with automatic backups — so he shouldn’t lose anything when his computer is reset.
In the subsequent weeks, he’s spoken with Apple a couple of times, and in both they acknowledged what had happened but did not apologize for the incident. They explained that the initial phone support he spoke with seemed to have googled ‘Gmail support’ and conference called the number she found. It’s the type mistake I wouldn’t fault my parents for making, but it’s unacceptable that the Apple Support that they relied on had made the same mistake.
I’ve also spoken with Apple on numerous occasions. I’ve confirmed as much of the story independently as I could. I’ve independently verified that he was indeed speaking with a real Apple Support representative when he was transferred. I’ve been told by multiple Apple Support representatives that until this incident, they’d never heard of anyone being connected with Google Support.
I’ve spoken with the fake ‘Gmail support’ company multiple times, at one point offering to provide me access to an account I don’t own, if I pay $500 up front.
For the past decade, I’ve recommended Apple products to my parents. I can no longer make that recommendation.
The main reasons I recommended Apple were the simple and intuitive user interfaces on the Mac and iOS, along with the quality of support one can receive through the Genius Bar at Apple stores. In the past few years, annual OS upgrades have caused annual confusion for my father. While this was an annoyance for him, me, and the Apple Geniuses who helped him, I was still sticking with my Apple recommendation. My parents have been more self sufficient with his Mac, iPhone and iPad than they ever were with previous computers. They’ve learned to do all of the things they need to do with a computer — from sending emails, texting, and backing up their computer to doing their taxes and getting photos printed at the pharmacy. They’ve also become less anxious about using a computer, and they’ve learned that any time they run into a problem they don’t understand, they can get help at the Apple Store. However, this was a completely avoidable issue recently that left me fundamentally questioning my Apple recommendation. It cost our family a great deal of time and money.