Sympathy for the scammed

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

The news that someone in Cromwell fell victim to one of the many cold-calling scams doing the rounds at the moment is a timely reminder that we need keep our wits about us, both online and off.

Many online Southland Times readers weren’t particularly sympathetic on reading about the victim losing a whopping $4000, but I can’t help feeling sorry for them: not everyone reads or watches technology news and I’m sure we all know someone trusting enough to take the “I’m calling from Microsoft” line as gospel.

It’s not that I’m an extra nice person. In fact, much of the time I’m not even an averagely nice person. However, I really can see how someone who is new to the internet, or maybe just a little naive, can be sucked in. It’s not like the fake lottery/Nigerian scams where people let pure greed get in the way of good sense.

I get fairly frequent calls from the fake Microsoft representatives telling me there’s a problem with my computer and requesting my credit card number to fix said problem. Sometimes, I simply hang up, often uttering a rude word or two before doing so, but I do also quite enjoy wasting their time. I figure if they are tied up on a fruitless phone call with me, they aren’t targeting some other poor bugger.

The simplest method of messing with them is to just pop the phone down and let them carry on talking until they finally realise you’ve abandoned them. They will get the message and hang up. A variation on a theme is to ask them to hold on while you go get your credit card: I’ve found they will stick around for quite some time if they think you’ve taken the bait.

If you would rather go for a more interactive option, try repeating everything they say but making it a question . . . “you’re from Microsoft, you say?” . . . “is there something wrong with my computer?” . . . “do you need my credit card number?”

Or go for the toddler-inspired “but why?” response to everything they say.

More recently, I’ve been a little more creative, reciting the lyrics of whatever song happens to be playing when they call: yesterday it was Rocket Man, last week it was Walk on the Wild Side. However, I think my high point was Barbie Girl: I almost made it to the end of the song before he twigged and hung up on me.

Be careful out there.

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