Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A chat with a telephone scammer

Over the last few years fake telephone support calls have been a persistent nuisance. The scam is well known, you can read about it here  or here. You get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft who says that there is a problem with your computer and they will try to charge you a fee to fix the problem. Often they will actually cause a problem by tricking you into visiting an infected website en route to charging you for an unwanted repair.

 I work at home a lot and I get one of these calls about once a month, always during office hours. Some time ago I decided to do more than just hang up so I made something of a sport out of playing along and baiting the scammers. At first I tried to milk it for humour: deliberately misinterpreting their commands and generally wasting their time. To be honest most of the jokes were stuff I had read others doing (like pretending to be really really dumb or entering their Windows commands into a Linux machine). I did add a particularly nasty twist of my own though. At the point when I was supposed to have landed on their infected web page I would instead pretend to get a miraculous message from a heavenly spirit. I would read out a divine warning supposedly directed at them threatening eternal damnation if they persisted in their dishonest work.


I was angry at people who had the audacity to contact me in my own home and try to rob me. If I managed to scare the daylights out of them with my bizarre performance I was glad but perhaps I was also hoping just a little that I might be able to convince someone to leave behind their dishonest career. I am not a great actor so I doubt I fooled many people but I did have a few genuinely upset reactions. I even felt a little guilty about it afterwards.

I have softened my tone nowadays. Now when I get these calls I let the person know that I am aware of the scam I also try to quickly point out that these calls hurt people and that they should really try to get a better job.  While that usually ends the call sometimes they hang around for a chat. Today a young gentleman from India asked if I could help him get a better job. I can't unfortunately, but chatting to him about his circumstances did highlight the differences between our lives and our societies.

I can't claim to have learned all that much about Indian society (the scammers who ring me all seem to come from India) but I guess I have a better understanding of why someone who feels they are caught in a poverty trap might be prepared to take dishonest employment. I am still not prepared to condone what they do though.

2 comments:

Wilhelm Arcturus said...

We have got a few of these calls during the first few months of this year. I had already briefed my wife and daughter on the fact that these are scams, so no harm done other than wasting our time.

If I have time and an inclination for games, I go sit in front of our iMac and try to follow along, describing what I see until they figure out it isn't a Windows box. Otherwise I go straight to the MacOS defense in the vain hope that I might get flagged as a low value target. (That might work, since it has been a while since I have gotten such a call.)

mbp said...

Hi Wilhelm. I wonder if my willingness to play along has contributed to the number of these calls I get. That said nowadays I just come clean straight away and it is surprising that some of the callers are willing to have a chat anyway. For the most part they are just kids (late teens early twenties) who landed in a disreputable job. They do know what they are doing though.