Everyone has his or her way of dealing with obvious phone scams. Some just don’t answer the phone unless caller ID checks out. Some pick up the phone and politely say they are not interested. Some pick it up, curse and hang up. There are many attitudes one may take: karma will get them, it’s not worth one’s time, be nice to everyone–even scum deserve peace and love, meanness only hurts you, and so on.
I’m not here to judge those attitudes, but I do not share them. I don’t really believe in karma, and in any event, I believe that I can be the agent of negative feedback for bad behavior. It’s not worth my time if it makes my day worse, but if I walk away feeling I did a good thing, it may be well worth while. I do not believe that criminals deserve courtesy. Life has taught me that criminals need to have an unpleasant and unproductive experience. Now and then, life summons me to be the agent of that experience.
Phone scam callers are criminals who prey upon the most vulnerable people they can find: the very elderly, the fearful, the ignorant, and so on. I can’t tell anyone how to view that, but I view it as so contemptible that the question is not “should I annoy them?” but “if I ditch the chance to annoy them, what kind of passive enabler am I?” I will take action against them in the same way that, if I saw someone breaking into your house, I would not just walk past and say “not my problem.”
The Windows Security phone scam goes like this. An out-of-area number shows up on caller ID, sometimes looking like a US number, sometimes ‘private caller,’ sometimes a strange number beginning with a V. No matter how you answer the phone, the script begins: a very heavily south-central Asian accent, perhaps Indian or Pakistani but could be from elsewhere, identifies himself by an English name and says he is calling from Windows Security about your Windows Computer. Note that upper case is used advisedly, because he will repeat both terms often. He explains that they have identified a problem, which may be a virus, a scam, or some other malady that your system is propagating.
Of course, he wants you to go to your machine and navigate to a website, where he can rob you blind.
Since this is an enemy operating under deceitful premises, undeserving of fundamental kindness or empathy, we should do our intel analysis on him (and it is always a he). We may assume:
- He will not understand heavy regional accents or slang. This means that you control the degree to which he has any idea what you’re talking about.
- Likewise, he probably cannot tell a US accent from a Canadian or Australian accent. I speak French, but I can’t tell you if the speaker is from Marseilles, Brittany, Haiti, or Saint John. In Spanish, I can tell a Spaniard from a Mexican, but not a Mexican from a Guatemalan.
- He is using a phone connection that, due to distance, means that sound is not simultaneously bidirectional. This means that if you talk over him, he gets only scattered words.
- His goal is to talk you to the website, and as long as he imagines that possible, he will try. This means that if he hears enough promising words, he will stay on the line for a while.
- He has stock answers for a few standard questions: “what is my IP,” “where is your office,” and so on. Lies, but meant to sound plausible. This means that the normal challenge questions are pointless.
- He will seek to remain in control of the conversation, just like a car salesman. Thus, when he cannot control it, this will frustrate him.
- He is used to dealing with the computer illiterate and confused, because those are his prey. The dumber you sound, the juicier a target you seem to be.
- He is very far away and has no idea whether you even own a computer. The odds that he can retaliate against you are remote. Thus, it’s not like telling your local legislator to perform a disgusting and illegal sex act, which might just inspire him to find a creative way to get back at you.
- The only thing he knows about you is that you are an American. He assumes that you are therefore stupid and gullible. This should offend you, even if in an alarming number of cases (who do not read the blog), that’s not far-fetched. His opening stance insults your intellect, so in addition to being a criminal, he’s offensive and bigoted.
- While he is on the phone with you, he is not bilking Mrs. Edna Miller of Wheatena, KS out of her Social Security money, nor rewarding Mr. Olaf Nielson of Ice Lake, ND for his brave Korean War service by ripping off his VA money. Your donation of time is bread cast upon the waters, a random act of protection for someone you will never meet. Time is finite. And if enough people donate a bit of it, the scam may become unprofitable.
So how can you ruin his call and waste some of his time? Oh, there are so many delightful ways. I derived many of them from my own experience as a computer shaman, remembering the most irritating clients I had, and found others online. I recommend you vary them, always remembering the things you may not legally do: threaten violence, impersonate the secret police, and so on. Mix and match, and find the method(s) that work(s) best for you:
- Remove ‘yes’ and ‘no’ from your vocabulary, merging them into an indefinite grunt that sounds like ‘hunh.’
- Affect the most outrageous accent you can pull off. Go full Clampett. Do a terrible Cockney. Pretend you’re Borat or Cheech Marin or Pee-wee Herman. Test out your New Jersey or Boston phonetics. See how much hip-hop slang you know. The Anglophone world is delightfully diverse.
- Talk over him, in short sentences. He will get only scattered words due to the connection.
- Find a random device in your vicinity, and pretend that it’s a computer, and have him talk you through what he wants done. He doesn’t need to know it’s your microwave.
- Use very big words and accent the wrong syllables. That will make it hard for him to understand you. He is a foreign speaker, and accented syllables are very important to comprehension. Even if he knows the word, recognizing it over the phone when mispronounced will be a challenge.
- Tell him you are using a version of Windows that is obsolete or never existed. Windows 3 is a good call for obsolete. Windows Works Home Edition would be a good fictitious version.
- Affect an inability to differentiate Windows, an operating system, from Microsoft. Or from Excel, a spreadsheet application.
- Mix up your technical terms, using ones you have heard but do not know precisely what they mean (for most people, that is most technical terms, like ‘download’ and ‘login’). Just throw them in. He knows what they mean, probably, and will either make wrong assumptions, or will get bogged down explaining things to you, which of course you will misunderstand. Tell him you bought a rootkit online. Affect not to grasp the difference between Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer, and oscillate back and forth.
- Invent words you know do not exist. Ask him how to disable the contrapulation software. On your finger drive.
- Let him actually guide you in the direction of the website, but keep ‘mistyping’ it. Make him repeat it back many times. Careful, though, about slipping in .org rather than .com, for example, because they may have the scam set up at similar-looking domains. Pretend not to understand. Tell him it says ‘404 not found.’
- Tell him you went to the website and that it’s porn. Give medically graphic details. If you need help, go to some actual porn and just describe it. Express that you find it immoral.
- Mispronounce, commingle, and butcher product names. If your computer is an Acer, pronounce it like ‘occur.’ Tell him you bought a Hewlett-Packer-Dell with Microsoft and Adobe Internet.
- If you have two phones, put your husband or wife on the other line ‘to help figure this out.’ Revel in your spouse’s creativity.
- Repeat back his instructions in ways that suggest you did not understand what he wanted. He can’t see what you see, remember.
- Talk to your cat now and then. Let the caller sort it out. If you don’t have a cat, for purposes of this call, I herewith gift you an imaginary cat named Boris, who is swuch a wittwe snwookums. If you need more cats to pull it off, add to taste.
- Start a friendly line of inquiry into his accent, telling him it’s charming, and ask where he came from. Take an absurd guess, like Finland or Japan. Ask how his day is going. Tell him he must be very proud to be helping clean up all those virus spam malwares.
- Let your mind and your topics wander. Our society likes brief bullet points, sound bites, getting to the point. We are conditioned not to bloviate, interrupt, or say irrelevant things. Suspend this conditioning. Technical people especially hate wasted words.
- Invent a grandson or nephew who is your main technical advisor. (Your scammer is probably very sexist and would not believe it if you cited a granddaughter or niece. Likewise, if your voice is identifiably female, he will probably make foolish assumptions about your intellect that can work to your advantage.) Extol the kid’s computer virtues relative to yours, the Second Coming of Spock. Frequently cite spurious, irrelevant, or stupid technical advice as coming from the whiz kid.
- Work in obscure terms that only a very fluent (and somewhat perv) English speaker would know refer to kinky sex toys. See if he tries to use them in sentences responding to you while he tries to figure out what the hell you mean.
- If you can, record the whole conversation and share it for comic value.
- Go beyond everything I have suggested, and invent your own ways. Please share them with me in comments, so I can learn and grow with you.
Alternatively, you could just go to an online dictionary of profanities, but the trouble there is you don’t know his native language, so that will usually fall flat. Although when you score a hit, the resulting loss of composure can be most entertaining.