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USA TODAY

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Mar 31, 2021
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All she wanted to do was replace her old Roku device to stream movies and TV shows onto her new TV during the pandemic. If things worked out, she even hoped to use the set up to teach remote classes at a local community college.

Instead, Maureen McDonald ended up dishing out $189.99 to scam operators.

The Roku scam is as nasty as they come and one that many consumers, including me, never heard about or paid much attention to in the past. Yet as streaming services grew in popularity during the pandemic, scammers upped their game.

Nobody called or texted McDonald out of the blue to threaten or sell anything.

We know better than to be scared by those who claim that they're from the Internal Revenue Service or demand gift cards now to help a friend or grandchild in trouble.

We know to hang up when someone says we need to call Amazon customer support, for example, about a $350 phone that we never ordered.

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nstead, McDonald was trying to set up her new Roku device and all of a sudden a message flashed on the television screen to tell her to call this 800 number for help activating the device.

"For help, call this number — and that's what I called," she said. "It looked normal; it did."

"I call up and then there's this guy David."

David built some level of trust by being pleasant and guiding her on what to do next to set things up.

"The guy was actually kind of helpful," McDonald said.

So when he offered a lifetime full service plan for about $190 she signed up, paid him with a debit card and didn't think much of it. She thought she was buying a lifetime of software support and digital services.

Sure, the so-called service was more than twice the price of the device, which she bought for $80. (Her Roku device had an Ethernet port, which connects to a home network and the Internet via wired cable.)
And she didn't check the service out. She just thought it might help her in the long run.

"In the pandemic, streaming was my favorite companion," she said.

McDonald, a freelance journalist, kind of sneered at TV most of her life. But says things changed during the isolation that many felt as part of the social distancing measures during the fight against COVID-19.

She's been watching the last season of "Madam Secretary" on Netflix and "Father Brown" on BritBox.
Maureen McDonald ended up dishing out $189.99 to scam operators who pretended to offer a lifetime service that include a fee for activation of her new Roku device and technical support.

"In the midst of the pandemic in the winter, you get a lot more dependent on TV than you used to be," said McDonald, 71.

She might not have even realized that she was scammed but then David soon called again.

This time he told McDonald that if she didn't pay up again he would cut off her service. A lifetime plan turned into something more like just a couple of months. How could that be real?

And then she started to rethink the whole thing from the start.

"It wasn't until the guy called again and threatened me," McDonald said. "He didn't even wait a year."
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