A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Thursday, 6 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #237 - Scammers - some good news at last



A few weeks ago, while I was at my mother’s home, waiting for an ambulance to take her into hospital, the phone rang. I was expecting a situation update anyway, so I answered it very quickly. On the other end was a very cheerful gentleman – almost certainly from the Indian subcontinent – who was obviously sitting in a large room full of other busy callers. He told me his name was Ronald (is Ronald a common name in Kolkata?) and that he was calling from the Windows Help Team.

Normally I would just have put the phone down and practised my deep breathing for a few moments, but that was not a good day, so, Ronald, if you ever read this, I apologise for my language, and I sincerely hope you did not attempt to follow my instructions on what you could do with yourself. Nothing personal, mate.

I’ve become a bit detached from phone scammers now – I wouldn’t say I have forgotten them, but we now have a wonderful in-house phone system here which filters out and blocks problem calls so successfully that we have had none for many months – and it used to be a major issue for us, as featured in my previous rants on the subject (see here). At one time, things got so bad that I got a little obsessed with this evil industry, and I even managed to get hold of some names and (unbelievably) Facebook profiles for some of the individuals behind it. Not that I could (or would) do anything about it – just to have a look at the enemy.

These call-centres are often more sophisticated than they sound, and employ good quality
technology - there is a lot of money in this so-called industry
If a scammer cold-calls, of course, the only sensible action is to put the phone down on him, and don’t respond. Occasionally, I admit, I did attempt to be clever, but it was always a waste of time and effort - the callers have heard it all before. My only minor success (debatable) came on another occasion when I was at my mum’s, and, since I had a few minutes, I played along a little. I told the caller that he had got through to a day-centre run by the Church of Latter Day Escapologists, and that we had no computer here. In fact, I told him, we at the CLDE do not believe in technology, so we do not have a telephone, either. Undaunted, he launched into his spiel. When it was obviously my turn to speak, I kept silent for a while. He asked me was I still there, and I asked him, was he a religious man? Yes, he said, he was. And does your mother know what you do for a living, I asked – he hung up. It would be nice to believe that I scored a hit, but I know in my heart that he was either bored or else needed to get on with meeting his quota.

OK, Foy – so why have you dragged this old stuff out of the archives? Do you, perchance, have some kind of point to make?

Well, in fact, maybe I have. I am delighted to learn that the police in Thane, near Mumbai, the chief financial centre in India, have arrested a great many people who were involved in a phone scam which targeted individuals who were on lists of US tax defaulters – at its peak, this scam has been making $150,000 a day. The local police are now working with the FBI, we are told, to progress this through the courts.

Hallelujah.

This may be a false dawn, or a damp squib, or any kind of inappropriate metaphor you wish to suggest – it may come to nothing at all. On the other hand, the mere fact that the Indian police are prepared to get involved in this kind of initiative is a reason to be just a little hopeful – the general view in the past has been that the police and the telecom companies in India have been liberally bunged with backhanders to stop them interfering. A more active role would be a great start.

Interesting press photo of a group arrested in India in connection with a different
phone-based scam - seems to confirm my general feeling that you should never trust
people who wear rectangular eye-shades.
I promise I shall not get obsessed again, but I really do see this kind of scam activity as especially vicious and heartless, and any small steps towards stopping it are most welcome. Having some evidence that at least the Indian police now regard it as a crime is certainly very pleasing.

The BBC news story about this can be found here.

If the link doesn’t work for you, please email me with your credit card details, including the 3-digit security code, and my helpdesk people will be in touch.

13 comments:

  1. Very fine form today! With phone scammers, sometimes I play along sometimes I don't. My favorite is the Microsoft Windows troller. Now, if I could locate my CC, I would be happy to oblige!

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    1. There is some excellent stuff on YouTube - Carey Holzman recorded a marvellous conversation - some great moments as the caller gets irritated when Carey rambles off-topic.

      Don't worry about your CC - I have it here - it's quite safe.

      Trust me.

      Delete
  2. Good stuff. I dealt with nuisance calls by setting the telephone carefully aside and going to have a bath or wash the car or something, secure in the knowledge that I wouldn't be disturbed by the telephone ringing while the nuisance talked to itself for half an hour.
    Funnily enough, I haven't had a nuisance call for a while either.

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    1. Very good - I love it. There is also a lot of bizarre humour in the idea of a fake tech support team trying to hold a sensible conversation with someone who either doesn't have a computer or just doesn't have a clue what they are talking about - so many of the best YouTube clips are of fake techies speaking to fake idiots.

      I think what upsets me most about these particular scams is that they prey on the gullible, the innocent, the trusting elements of society. Maybe all crime is like that, but this is cowardly and seems dreadfully unfair.

      I'll be all right - just give me a moment....

      Delete
  3. Pin code, security code, trouser length and shoe size all sent. Please send all details to how2kickscammers@intheballz.com

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    1. Thank you Ray - I am pleased to be able to tell you that your trouser length entry won a prize in our star draw. If you can also send your bank details we'll arrange to transfer the cash.

      Delete
    2. Woo Hoo! Hmm? You sure this isn't another scam??

      Delete
  4. If the caller is an actual person, not a robo-call, I let the guy talk for awhile, and then ask, "What are you wearing?" So far, no call-backs!

    Helpfully yours,

    Chris

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    1. That is particularly good - thanks for this - noted.

      One of the funniest YouTube conversations I saw of this type was where the call-receiver claimed that he, too, was a Windows support team, and claimed that he was going to help clean up the scammers' machine. Some classic moments when the recipient keeps saying, "No, you misunderstand what I'm saying (okay?) - I am supposed to register YOU for the extended warranty - it is YOUR computer which has the malware problem."

      I had a techie friend who had a recording of insane laughter which he used to switch in when he got nuisance calls. Actually, now I think about it, it's a shame that these poor scammers are subjected to all this abusive behaviour and unkindness.

      Delete
  5. As I have had scam calls from a variety of sources and like most other people get the e-mails from 'my bank', who of course I don't bank with - this all leads to the problem that trust and integrity of all such contacts even the legal ones is undermined to the point that I now NEVER interact with any caller and any e-mail that asks me to click on something just gets deleted, even though I am clearly deleting legitimate contacts.

    The commercial sector as a whole needs to take better steps to try and get some of this integrity back, otherwise we all lose.

    To help drive this point home, if I end up speaking with someone who may be genuine, I explain that I no longer take calls and ask them to write to me at the address they have on file.

    My most recent encounter was a little exasperating, as I had just walked into a death at their place when the phone rang, I said, "look mate, I am just dealing with a death can you go and scam someone else today"? The caller hung up. The point being the impact of that call was out of proportion to the usual nuisance that they cause, rather like the 'congratulations you have won £500" calls that you typically get when you are waiting on hospital news or some such. Secondly the place that I was at belonged to a nice old lady, who quite probably would have 'helped' the scammer - it makes ones blood boil.

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    1. One of my earlier rants on this set out my personal fears for the future viability of an internet or communications world which no-one can trust. My elderly mother (partly under instruction from me) is very unco-operative on the phone, exactly because she doesn't hear very well, and has a lifetime experience (sadly) of not being able to trust the world outside her door. This backfires on occasions - we have difficulty ringing her, since she usually fails to recognise our voices, and one day last year, when her community alarm was triggered (she fell over in the bathroom, and couldn't get up), she put the phone down on the response team, telling them that she didn't take marketing calls. Hmmm.

      I don't know how we get the trust back. Whatever we do will no-doubt be subject to phishing or misrepresentation, but I would be delighted to see a lot of backtracking on the anonymous freedom of speech principles of (for example) the internet - I could probably be publicly garotted for mentioning this, but I can't see how a world where everyone was identified and authenticated when they phoned or emailed or messaged (or anything, really - when they left racist filth on the Manchester Utd website, for example) would necessarily be worse than what we have.

      One of the most valuable aids we have on our phone system is the caller display. We are getting to the point where NUMBER WTHHELD calls will not be answered here - certainly (I am sorry to say) calls from India do not get through our filter system.

      I think I subscribe less to the spirit of "don't trust anybody" than to the old auditors' creed of "trust but verify".

      Current trends are not good - the existence of scammers of this type is a sad reflection on the state of the world. What happened to self-respect and all that stuff?

      Delete
  6. My wife, who is a lovely and somewhat unworldly lady, fell victim to a Windows scammer from India. A sum of money was charged to her credit card, and despite my best efforts, I was unable to recover it, though the fraud folks at Visa were very sympathetic. They told me that in their experience, the scammers could produce a screen shot of the victim's computer, proving that a service had been paid for. One of these scammers regularly called us for months thereafter. I had to desist answering because I raved and cursed so badly that I feared I would have a stroke. I still get angry thinking of it.

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