A small but justifiable rant about international computer phone scammers

In these days of cellphones and social media our landline barely rings. Cool. But when it does, nine times out of ten it’s someone with a strong accent, further clipped with VOIP distortion, purporting to be from Microsoft.

1195428087807981914johnny_automatic_card_trick_svg_medYup, these barely intelligible strangers insist they have detected a virus on my computer. Of course they want to help me fix it. And of course it’s blatantly not Microsoft. The scam’s been around for years. I’m told these con artists use FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to get you to let them totally control your computer. Yup, your bank details, tax records, medical history – whatever you’ve got there. They can also trash anything they want.

Problem is, I am a science geek. This gives me passable knowledge of what computer OS’s and malware actually do. And I hate phones. Bad combination when someone rings up at dinner time trying to dupe me with computer talk. Fools.

The reality is that (a) Microsoft don’t ring people up, (b) yes, your computer’s identifiable via your internet protocol (IP) address. But only your internet service provider (ISP) has both your phone number and IP data, and if they’ve shared that then – under New Zealand law, certainly – your solicitor’s going to turn that ISP into a pile of pulped dog meat. Finally, (c) Windows doesn’t track viruses or report them. Anti-virus (anti-malware) software does – but as far as I’m aware, all of it will tell you there’s problem unless you’ve told it not to. Certainly, nobody rings you out of the blue.

Tactics I’ve used include:

1. Hanging up instantly. This really is the best.

2. Asking when they think I was born, was it yesterday? (One of them said ‘I do not know your birth date, Sir.’)

3. If I’ve got time I’ll string them out and then disingenuously ask whether the ‘Windows’ key is the same as the ‘Apple’ key. Usually they hang up at this point.

4. I’ll say something in Anglo Saxon. The scammers seem to know these words, too. Sometimes they ring back to tell me off for being rude. But my vocabulary of old Anglo Saxon words is always better than theirs.

Have you ever had these scammers ring through? How have you dealt with them?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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30 thoughts on “A small but justifiable rant about international computer phone scammers

  1. I found myself nodding and smiling in agreement and familiarity reading your post. 🙂 A little known thing about me – I’ve trained in cyber security. Ah ha – not only a woman, but a spiritual writer – fools, yes, in thinking I do not the tricks of their trade. A scammer would not want to be on my bad side. Oh, I do not use my skills for evil, I use them to gently educate others when the subjects of scams, viruses, etc, happens to come up. When encountering these types of scams, I like to keep the person on the phone until they tire of my numerous technical questions, which far bypass their knowledge of such things, and they are soon begging to get off the phone with me. I like your Anglo Saxon suggestion. Will try this as well. 😉

    1. Yes, as soon as you deviate from their script with proper tech, they flounder… Anglo Saxon IS on their script, it seems – I actually had a ‘supervisor’ ring back after I revealed my Anglo Saxon vocabulary to one of them. How dare I be rude! Oh really? The supervisor learned that I knew even more Anglo Saxon… They never did ring back, though I have heard of some of them harassing their targets, later, with calls in the middle of the (local) night. All illegal, of course, but who can stop them?

  2. Funny you should post about this when just two minutes ago the phone rang with a foreign, distorted voice who said he was from ‘the New Zealand Government Grants Department’. Sometimes I too enjoy stringing these guys along to keep them from making their next call, but this guy was so unconvincing I just burst out laughing, and when I called him a silly pillock he hung up. Gosh, I hope it wasn’t Creative New Zealand calling with a grant for my next novel!
    Yeah, right.

    1. They were too busy ringing me with a grant for my next novel! 🙂

      (Actually, I do know when I will get such a call…it is when pigs become an aerial menace while, deep beneath us, there is a sudden run on ice-skates…)

  3. Too funny, Matthew! I can just picture how you handle them. Lol! I usually say, “I don’t need anything, thank you.” Then I hang up before these pesky callers can try to talk to me.

    We have a lot of calls from the Red Cross for my blood and telemarketers who want a slice of my money. There won’t be much left of me. Lol!

    1. Hanging up is definitely best – the police, here, have issued just that advice relative to the phone computer scammers. A friend of mine has a phrase – ‘don’t feed the troll’, which pretty much makes sense. But I have to say it’s tempting, if I have the time, to engage them a bit. Though, surely, these scammers must know by now that 99 percent of the people they ring are well aware of the scam these days? It’s been all over the news here.

  4. Actually, I’ve never gotten one of these. I recently got a landline again and am now getting calls from mysterious numbers, even only my wife and I know the number. Of course, I don’t answer calls from strange numbers, so perhaps I’ve been missing out on the fun. I try to be gentle with telemarketers. It’s a sucky job as it is, but if these folks want to hack my computer, my bleeding heart might just dry up like a stone…and then I can get downright evil. It’s my dark side that I only let out for people trying to ruin my life. Heaven forbid if such people ever reach me. I’ll have my way with them! >:)

    1. Muahahahahaha! 🙂 Actually, I agree. My number isn’t listed, and here in NZ it is illegal to cold-call numbers not in the phone directory. But that hasn’t stopped the bot-diallers and international scammers. And I figure, well, if they’re going to intrude…

  5. 2. Asking when they think I was born, was it yesterday? (One of them said ‘I do not know your birth date, Sir.’)

    my absolute favourite!!

    1. Thank you! It occurred to me on the spot…one of the rare moments when I was actually able to give a lucid and swift response in any sort of conversation… 😉

  6. Is the ‘Windows’ key the same as the ‘Apple’ key. Brilliant. It’s similar to the advice someone gave me for handling telemarketers: tell them to call back later as you’re on your way to see a debt counsellor.

    1. Yes, their script only works for Windows. I don’t have a single Apple device in the house, but hey… ‘Debt counsellor’ is a good one…must file it for use on them…! 🙂

  7. Hi Mattehew… yes, I first started receiving these calls a few years ago. I was a computer trainer and I knew they weren’t from Microsoft. I also had a very reliable anti-virus prog.
    I haven’t used the Anglo-Saxon on them. Now, I just hang up. A new development recently was that I received a call on my mobile (usually only family call on that)… it was to congratulate me because I had been selected to receive a mobile phone. I told them I wasn’t interested and hung up. Next time, I rejected the call.

    One thing that concerns me, how many computer almost-illiterates fall for the scam. (Usually older people, sadly.)

    1. It’s a worry when scam/spam activities extend to mobile phones. I’ve had the odd rogue call on mine. Possibly bot-diallers, though I have a slinking suspicion that the number ranges are illegally sold on databases. Certainly that’s true of landlines. It’s a sad indictment of the human condition to think that the first thing some people think of is how they can fleece others, using whatever new tech has just turned up. I really wonder what has become of genuine care, compassion and tolerance sometimes. Sigh…

  8. Oh yes, toying with these people can be great fun. I.e. It’s my son’s computer how do I turn it on? Oh, where is the on switch? Is this little drawer with a round thing in it suppose to come out?

    About this time they hang up. Sometimes I tell them I’m busy. If they give me their number, I’ll call them back. Never happens. It is annoying as hell, so if I have time, I make them work for the hang up. 🙂

    1. Toying with them is definitely a great sport. I view it as a kind of fishing – hook them on and reel them in with the kicker (usually a burst of Anglo Saxon…) The problem is the time factor, alas… 🙂

  9. These folks are ready-made anger management therapists! I think it’s perfectly fine to take advantage of the time phone scammers are willing to spend hanging out on the phone with me by de-stressing. And they don’t need to get a word in edgewise. I just leave my frustration behind at the sound of the click.

    I would also suggest general therapy when telemarketers ring up. Just ask them for their names and say, “Well, (name),…” and let it all out.

    Loved this, by the way!

    1. Yes, they’ve usually earned a good ‘ventilate’ by their intrusion. I feel sorry to some extent for the telemarketers – they’ve got a rotten job for contemptible pay. But these calls are starting to get made by the same style of call centres running the scams.

      I have to admit, I discovered that my main Anglo Saxon word, one of my favourites, keeps turning up on the front page of the paper…apparently it isn’t rude any more. I’ll have to find another one.

    1. No landline is a plan we’ve been considering in our household for a while. Alas, New Zealand’s main telco, which still totally dominates thanks to its original role as a state-run sole provider before it was casually given away for a token payment to foreign commercial interests, doesn’t seem to like supporting ‘naked DSL’. And here, for now, cellphone providers seem to regard customer gouging as a kind of competitive sport. But we’ll get there…

      1. We’ve enjoyed the benefits that come from competition in that industry. On the other hand, cable television (which I don’t have) and internet (which I do have) providers are well known for price gouging, astoundingly awful customer service, and unflinching government support.

  10. I hate the phone enough to not answer it most of the time. There’s a plus about caller ID i suppose. Real people can leave a message. The few times I do pick up the phone, i hang up right away.

  11. “I do not know your birth date, Sir” that’s priceless!
    The calls get more and more bizarre, I get the occasional one that begins “Salem alikum” which is an Arabic greeting, religious conversion is back, the missionaries have moved to the telehone. 🙂

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