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October 26, 2012 3:34 AM   Subscribe

"I am calling you from Windows": A tech support scammer dials Ars Technica

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission
launched a major international crackdown on tech support scams in which telemarketers masquerade as major computer companies, con consumers into believing that their computers are riddled with viruses, spyware and other malware, and then charge hundreds of dollars to remotely access and “fix” the consumers’ computers.

At the request of the FTC, a U.S. District Court Judge has ordered a halt to six alleged tech support scams pending further hearings, and has frozen their assets.
More Ars: How To Troll A Tech Support Scammer
A good troll is a prepared troll, and Ted was ready. He dragged out the call by pretending to connect his Windows 95 and Windows Vista computers to CompuServe via dial-up Internet, by providing an expired credit card number, and by providing absurd answers to basic questions.
After FTC crackdown, users chronicle tech support scam calls:
Recording of Scam Telemarketers (Video)
Trolling The Windows Indian Phone Call Scam (Youtube)
Scamming the scammers -- catching the virus call centre scammers red-handed (Youtube)
posted by the man of twists and turns (98 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously

I received one of these calls. It was a surreal experience because unlike most telephone scamsters who hide behind recorded messages promising free cruises or credit card interest adjustments, I was speaking with an actual human being who was actively trying to trick me into giving him unfettered access to my computer.

The weirdest part was that despite how incredulous I was, he kept trying. No matter how many times I asked him how he knew my computer he had a "major security flaw" or where I could find more information about this flaw on the internet, he would just reread his script from the beginning in earnest. It should have been obvious right from the beginning that I wasn't an easy mark, and yet he kept it up for an excruciatingly long ten minutes. By the time I hung up the phone, I actually felt sorry for him.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:53 AM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


These guys called me several times a week earlier this year. I tried to waste their time, talked to their manager, etc etc, but they didn't care. I think the people making the calls honestly believe they're selling a useful and legitimate service.

However, when I asked to be removed from their list, they said, "Oh, okay!" and the calls stopped suddenly.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:54 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I asked one of these to hold on while I connected. He was still there after 40 minutes. I didn't check how long he waited for in the end.
posted by monkey closet at 3:58 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I started getting these calls the day after that Ars story appeared. The calls are so transparently phony, it's laughable.

Now, why can't the FTC go after Rachel from Cardmember Services? I get at least two of those calls each week, and that's been going on for a couple of years.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:07 AM on October 26, 2012 [22 favorites]


Last week I heard a coworker spend what sounded like a frustrating half-hour on the phone with the tech support department. I didn't realize what was happening until I heard the follow-up call to actual corporate tech support in which she had to explain she'd given someone access to her corporate laptop after they'd called her cell phone and claimed to be from "tech support."
posted by Banky_Edwards at 4:16 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the people making the calls honestly believe they're selling a useful and legitimate service.

They do! But it's not useful and legitimate to you — it's a useful and legitimate use of your credit card to them.
posted by Wolof at 4:17 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


, I was connected to "John," a young man with a clear Indian accent

I have never once had much of a clear line, much less a clear Indian accent.
I've spent a good 40 minutes with one of the class, less with others.
Sometimes they know what they are doing.
Sometimes they call back to abuse you.

And they always call back when they thing they have a hot lead.
posted by Mezentian at 4:20 AM on October 26, 2012


One of these fucking assholes rang me while I was trying to have a nap today. Fuck the fuck off, thanks.
posted by Wolof at 4:20 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


My question is, what scammer got them to install Windows on their machines in the first place?

I'll show myself out.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:24 AM on October 26, 2012 [26 favorites]


The weirdest part was that despite how incredulous I was, he kept trying.

I got one of those calls and flat out said 'I know you are not from Microsoft and I know this is a scam' but he didn't deviate from the script for a second.

Been getting that thing a lot recently where scammers/call centres/whatever mass dial people - if someone else has already answered before you pick the phone up you just get a dead line. Those are really annoying.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:26 AM on October 26, 2012


I wonder how soon they will adapt to The Windows 8?
posted by Mezentian at 4:29 AM on October 26, 2012


So are these always land line calls? I keep waiting for weird crap like this to hit my cell, but so far nothing.
posted by selfnoise at 4:38 AM on October 26, 2012


Now, why can't the FTC go after Rachel from Cardmember Services? I get at least two of those calls each week, and that's been going on for a couple of years.

Get the phone number and any details you can pry out of the person and call your credit card company with the info. They can call and get more traction than an individual consumer can.
posted by winna at 4:39 AM on October 26, 2012


Ok, my BASH shell is open, what did you want me to type?
posted by blue_beetle at 4:40 AM on October 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


Now, why can't the FTC go after Rachel from Cardmember Services?

Forwarded to the FTC so hard.

...what scammer got them to install Windows on their machines in the first place?

Bill.
posted by DU at 4:47 AM on October 26, 2012


Get the phone number and any details you can pry out of the person and call your credit card company with the info. They can call and get more traction than an individual consumer can.

That's extremely difficult. I've tried asking innocent-sounding questions like 'my phone is randomly cutting out; how can I reach you again if we get disconnected?' and I'm usually met with a "Nice try" or even a "Fuck you" followed by a hangup.

I hope those operators are getting paid enough. They're very good at what they do.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:48 AM on October 26, 2012


What I really hate about these people is that they prey on the elderly. I think my mother must've got onto some kind of 'hey, she should be an easy mark' list, because for weeks, one of them would ring her every afternoon. She's smart, and she uses a Mac, but it's damn annoying for her and it infuriates me that they'd target her like this.

I spoke with Telstra and they claimed there was nothing they could do -- not even block the numbers.

Scammers suck.
posted by Georgina at 4:57 AM on October 26, 2012


Just googled some info on Rachel. Apparently the FTC "shut them down" but they haven't actually stopped.

I saw one guy had a great idea, which was to play the 3 tone "this number has been disconnected" signal to all robocalls so you'll be auto-deleted. Dunno if that would actually work though. I wonder if you set that to be your "leave a message" beep if the out-of-order protocol would still fool the autodialer.
posted by DU at 4:57 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


winna, banks are pretty much like honey badger when it comes to fraud. They don't give a shit. The problem being that their idea of real money and mine are rather different. To me, 50 bucks is real money. To them, that number is more like $50 billion. It's just a cost of doing business.

It's more profitable to raise overdraft fees or late fees to offset the losses than it is to treat fraud seriously. Sure, they do some fraud prevention, but it's more about image than actual security. Such is life when the free market is lacking in anything more than the appearance of competition and the appearance of regulation.
posted by wierdo at 4:58 AM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


However, when I asked to be removed from their list, they said, "Oh, okay!" and the calls stopped suddenly.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:54 AM on October 26 [+] [!]


I used to work in a call center that made what was essentially a step up from cold-calls. This is really the best way to get calls to stop. Don't hang up immediately. When people hung up on us, we made a note in our system and called back the next day. When we could hear in the background people tell the person who answered the phone that they weren't there, we made a note and called back the next day. I once got a machine that just played a loud, obnoxious noise. I turned the volume on my headset down, made a note in the system, and we called back the next day. But when people asked to be taken off the list, we closed those lead because there was nothing for us there.

You want the calls to stop, tell them to take you off their list. It takes five seconds, and then you're off to your next adventure.
posted by gc at 5:00 AM on October 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


I wonder if you set that to be your "leave a message" beep if the out-of-order protocol would still fool the autodialer.

Apparently so, at least back in 2006. Some autodialers probably ignore it now.

You want the calls to stop, tell them to take you off their list. It takes five seconds, and then you're off to your next adventure.

Only if they are legal. And really, a hangup should be legally interpreted as a "take us off your list".
posted by DU at 5:08 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


The calls are so transparently phony, it's laughable.

To you, yes, but not to everyone. This blog post is an interesting example of how even a highly intelligent, computer-literate person can be completely taken in.

On the other hand, one of these scammers got totally pwned by my 80-year-old mother-in-law, who told me with great pride how she'd kept him on the phone for 20 minutes ('now, hold on a moment while I find a pen and paper to write all this down .. now, what were you saying again?') before finally announcing: 'well, I'm afraid I don't think that can be right, because, you see .. I don't have a computer.' As an elderly person she's well accustomed to being targeted by scammers, telemarketers and conmen of all sorts, so was instantly suspicious where a younger person might have been more trusting.
posted by verstegan at 5:19 AM on October 26, 2012 [65 favorites]


You want the calls to stop, tell them to take you off their list. It takes five seconds, and then you're off to your next adventure.

Ok so now I got YOU to stop calling me but what about the 12 other calls I get per day?

I kid. This actually does seem to work better.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:30 AM on October 26, 2012


One of these guys read to me from a script that said, "If this is not a valuable call for you then I assure you that I will be the first one to hang up, so you have my word on that."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:38 AM on October 26, 2012


Back in my actory days when I lived in Denver with another actor (before all those new-fangled cell phones and caller ID), we used to get telemarketing/scam calls about every hour. I'd keep the person on the line while my buddy screamed out random macabre shit like "HELP ME FINISH CUTTING UP THIS BODY!" in the background. It took a couple of weeks but the calls did stop.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:39 AM on October 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


I wonder how soon they will adapt to The Windows 8?

That's the thing - they're targeting people who still have XP.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:45 AM on October 26, 2012


During the 2-3 week period earlier this year when I got these and the printer scam people calling upwards of 5x a day, I started answering my phone as "Apple Store Soho, how can I help you today?" Scammers hung up right away, legit callers meebled confusedly for long enough for me to explain that they didn't have a wrong number after all. Most enjoyable.
posted by elizardbits at 5:50 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I got one of these calls a few weeks ago. A man with an Indian accent said, "I'm calling from the Windows Corporation about your computer, okay?" Sometimes it is nice to have carte blanche to tell someone what you think of him. I generally make the effort to be civil if curt to telemarketers. They may be a nuisance, but they aren't doing anything illegal or immoral. The "Windows Corporation" callers are another story altogether and they make me sick.

Someone I know received such a call and said, "We have enough windows, thanks," before hanging up.
posted by orange swan at 5:56 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Before I realized that just picking up the phone put me on their call-list, I actually would ask these guys why they are wasting their life as scammers. They don't like that.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:57 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've had one of these and it was surreal. I knew it was a scam, but when I asked pointedly what mechanism enabled him to relate my IP address to my phone number (an impossibility) he insisted that there was some sort of global registry that links this up. When I explained that I administer windows desktops and servers (thankfully not my only responsibility) he was unfazed. For every bullshit claim he made that I demolished he seemed quite convicted that he knew what he was talking about.

I can't imagine why he persisted on the phone call with me, but I suspect they have found that even experienced IT professionals will fall prey to them with enough time and pressure. This is particularly disturbing and makes me wonder how many people get pulled into this scam who don't have the experience to know straight away what it is.
posted by dgran at 5:58 AM on October 26, 2012


KevinSkomsvold: "we used to get telemarketing/scam calls about every hour. I'd keep the person on the line while my buddy screamed out random macabre shit like "HELP ME FINISH CUTTING UP THIS BODY!" in the background."

When I worked at a call center, we LOVED this shit. Work gets boring, stuff like that makes our day. Another classic is "hey, are we almost done, I am trying to jerk off and think about my Grandma", I stuck with that guy until the survey was done, but his sense of humor just brightened my whole week (no sarcasm). You don't need to be passive aggressive or elaborate, just say you are not interested and ask to be taken off the list and that will almost always work. Hanging up mid intro is marked as callback. Weird jokey shit will be tolerated or marked as a callback.
posted by idiopath at 6:01 AM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


"You don’t have to keep calling me 'sir,'" Ted said. "I mean, we’ve been on the phone an hour and 50 minutes together. My friends call me 'Cinnamon.' If you want to call me Cinnamon, that’s fine." (The scammer actually starts calling Ted "Cinnamon.")

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

I kind of envy the people who troll the scammers. I can never bring myself to waste my time in wasting their time. Perhaps this is the sort of thing for which I should have acquired patience and self-discipline.
posted by orange swan at 6:15 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not that the FTC action has done much in the way of getting rid of the problem once and for all, but still, it'd be nice if our agencies up here in Canada would get off their asses one of these days.

I kind of feel like the telcos aren't as lazily indifferent to the problem as we'd all like to believe. The pile of money they make from cold calls to mobile phones must be monumental.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:17 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just googled some info on Rachel. Apparently the FTC "shut them down" but they haven't actually stopped.

They shut down ONE of the "Rachels". And only after that office had bilked about five people. There are scores of them out there.

Recently the FTC announced that they were offering a $50,000 cash reward to anyone who could come up with a way to block robocalls like "Rachel/Heather/Casey from cardmember services".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on October 26, 2012


Man, these guys suck. They are all about preying on the elderly and the technically inept.

The advice I gave my mother is: before they go anywhere, ask them to tell you who you are, where you live, how they got your details and when you became a customer. If they fail on any of these or avoid any of these questions then they're scammers.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:35 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Thanks to Babylon Search that I cannot get off my computer, I'm suprised I didn't get these calls.

I did get one of these, however, from the Fraternal Order of Police asking for donations. Very NY sounding accent. When I said, well, seeing my husband is a cop, I contribute daily. The guy hung up.

Shame, he didn't get to call me Cinnamon.
posted by stormpooper at 6:36 AM on October 26, 2012


Recently the FTC announced that they were offering a $50,000 cash reward to anyone who could come up with a way to block robocalls like "Rachel/Heather/Casey from cardmember services".

Scammer calls you, you press star-whatever to block the number and flag it in a central database, an accumulation of flags beyond a given threshold blocks the number service-wide. You know, just like we've been doing with email for ages and ages now.

$50,000 please!
posted by Sys Rq at 6:38 AM on October 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


I'm just going to make a note right now that starting on my 70th birthday, I'm going to tell any stranger who calls me that they have to talk to my daughter first.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:38 AM on October 26, 2012


Scammer calls you, you press star-whatever to block the number and flag it in a central database, an accumulation of flags beyond a given threshold blocks the number service-wide. You know, just like we've been doing with email for ages and ages now.

How does your system differentiate between putting the block on the fake number that shows up on the caller ID and the real number they're actually calling from?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


My (nontechnically inclined) wife made me so proud the other day when she got one of these calls and just immediately was all, "What the fuck? There's no way! Shut up, scammer!"

When I got mine, I was totally thunderstruck at the impossibility. I think I actually just started laughing when I heard the pitch. I argued with the guy and asked him how in the world he could do his job with a straight face and a light heart. I told him he was a thief who stole from the old and the infirm, and wondered how he could sleep at night. I told him that I wished him well and that he would be able to find a better job someday soon.

He was flustered and sincerely seemed to think he was providing some sort of service; he was only scripted at the beginning of the call.
posted by mwhybark at 6:46 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I did get one of these, however, from the Fraternal Order of Police asking for donations. Very NY sounding accent. When I said, well, seeing my husband is a cop, I contribute daily. The guy hung up.

There was a story a few years ago about these. The deal was that the scammer company would call police departments and pitch an offer where the company would do all the work of calling people for donations, and the police department would get some percentage of the proceeds. The people they were using to make the calls were guys who were on work release from jail.
posted by gjc at 6:52 AM on October 26, 2012


He was flustered and sincerely seemed to think he was providing some sort of service; he was only scripted at the beginning of the call.

I wonder if the front-line call center guys making these calls in some cases actually believe they are providing technical support. They have a script they are supposed to follow, and they might not themselves understand what they are instructing the call recipient to do.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:54 AM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I used to get calls from someone telling me they had evidence my computer was running slowly, and they could help. I found the most effective (and fun) response was this:

"Yeaaaaah.... I... like... it... that... way......... because... it... matches... the... speed... of... my... braaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiinnnnnnn..."

*click
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 6:54 AM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


On the other hand, one of these scammers got totally pwned by my 80-year-old mother-in-law, who told me with great pride how she'd kept him on the phone for 20 minutes ('now, hold on a moment while I find a pen and paper to write all this down .. now, what were you saying again?') before finally announcing: 'well, I'm afraid I don't think that can be right, because, you see .. I don't have a computer.'

Please don't take this the wrong way, but I think I just fell in love with your mother-in-law, at least a little bit.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:57 AM on October 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm just going to make a note right now that starting on my 70th birthday, I'm going to tell any stranger who calls me that they have to talk to my daughter first.

"Wait a minute, you better talk to my mother."
posted by Rangeboy at 7:02 AM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've gotten a couple of these calls in the past couple of months. The first time it happened, I stalled with the guy until I could do a quick internet search, and once I realized it was a scam, I just said, "you're not really from Microsoft, are you? This is a scam, isn't it?" and hung up.

The second time, I truncated my response to "this is a scam, isn't it?", and the woman made an aggravated noise on the other end like she'd been getting responses like that all day, and then hung up. I remain hopeful that getting the word out there will help keep these people at bay.
posted by LN at 7:02 AM on October 26, 2012


I find the calls trying to take my money and steal my identity actually amusing compared to the DAMN ROBO-POLITICAL CALLS which have resulted in my shutting off the ringer on the home phone number (which is the number they ALL come in on). The voice mail message says "call us on our cell numbers if you have them, or leave a message, we check the messages once a month".
posted by HuronBob at 7:03 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Years ago I stopped answering numbers I didn't recognize. If it is important they'll leave a message. I'll google the numbers that call me and will add them to a contact with the ringtone set to nothing so they call and unless I'm looking at my phone will never know they called.

Real banks and computer companies will leave a message (unless they are trying to sell you something). I'm sure if the police or hospital is trying to reach me I'm sure they'll leave a message too. There's just no need to answer the phone when the number is blocked or you don't recognize the number.
posted by birdherder at 7:05 AM on October 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but I don't see how the caller's nationality is relevant. Wouldn't a legit call from Microsoft have come from India as well?
posted by modernserf at 7:06 AM on October 26, 2012


Glad I don't have a landline, but I worry that they will target my parents, who are not very computer literate. My dad would probably figure a simple scam, but reading the Ars piece, they can be quite clever in presenting the data as other than it actually is.
posted by marienbad at 7:17 AM on October 26, 2012


Wouldn't a legit call from Microsoft have come from India as well?

I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a "legit unsolicited tech support call" though.
posted by elizardbits at 7:28 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a "legit unsolicited tech support call" though.

You say that, but a while back I forgot to update Wordpress for a while and started getting unsolicited tech support emails from Google.

Okay, so it was just an email saying "sort your shit out" (I'm paraphrasing) but...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 7:34 AM on October 26, 2012


I will answer my phone if and only if you send me $50 before every call.

If I decide the call is worth my time, I will give your $50 back.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:37 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hi, we're a company affiliated with Google and can guarantee you the #1 spot in Google search."

If you own a business you probably get this call several times a week. I like to point out that I am already the #1 spot in Google when I type in my business name and city. It's like magic!
posted by misterpatrick at 7:45 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You say that, but a while back I forgot to update Wordpress for a while and started getting unsolicited tech support emails from Google.

An email is one thing. A phone call, though?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on October 26, 2012


People answer their phones?
posted by Mick at 8:18 AM on October 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


All my calls go through Google Voice. It has a checkbox "Ask unknown callers to say their name". That completely stopped all telemarketing and scam calls.
posted by bhnyc at 8:29 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love using my Google Voice number as my primary; with an Obi box at home it gives me a "land line", and then forwards to both my cell and my work phone. Couple clicks to block a number from reaching me ever again.
posted by mrbill at 8:46 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've had several of these calls. Mostly I just play along until the guy gets annoyed, which can take quite a long time. One guy I kept on the phone for about 35 minutes, until I had to leave. Then I said something about "Ok, you're obviously trying to scam me, and I've been lying to you about my computer." He went up one side of me and down the other about how I've been wasting his time, and I'm an unethical bastard and stealing his meagre wages. He was kind of polite about it too. A couple of them I had to say bad things about their mothers to make them hang up.

Wouldn't a legit call from Microsoft have come from India as well?

No. If you ask them, they'll tell you that they're in Columbus, OH (or somewhere nearby). Columbus has a large population of Hindi-speaking call centre workers, apparently.


Apparently the FTC "shut them down" but they haven't actually stopped.

This is the most amusing part of the Ars Technica article: the guy's unquestioning belief that somehow the FTC is going to deal with a bunch of phone scammers in India. The FTC can't even deal with the rogue telcos in the US that are taking money to enable these businesses, allowing them to call wherever they want while hiding the originating number/network. Because PROFIT!
posted by sneebler at 8:59 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes! I was getting about two of these calls a week for a while, occasionally more. They're always distinguishable by the loud background noise, and some guy with a heavy Indian accent named Dave or Bruce shouting at me.

Sometimes I couldn't hear them over the background noise, and they'd hang up. Then a different person would call about ten or fifteen minutes later. Usually I'd ask them how "Windows" could have my phone number and they'd hang up. One guy got really mad and started shouting commands at me: Go to your computer! Turn on the computer! Then he hung up. Once I went along with it to the point where event viewer was running and he'd informed me the error messages were terrible viruses, then he wanted me to go to a random website, I balked, and he hung up. The last one was from "Windows in Redmond, Washington," but I was tired of the whole thing by then and hung up on them.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:08 AM on October 26, 2012


I got one of these, and when they didn't desist after a polite "No thank you," I went into full troll mode. First I asked which computer it was, because I have several. The young man stumbled out, "Uhhh, the one upstairs?" Okay, which one? He pressed gamely on: "The one in your office?" Okay. The only computer I have in my office is an ancient Mac 512. So away we went... me trying every one of the three network settings, even digging out my old AppleTalk network connections so it was on my home network, and then he brightens up when I mention I can't get it to see my networked laser printer: "My scan shows it's got a terrible virus, let me try to take over it now..." I sit back and listen to him clack away. "Hmmm, I can't take control. What operating system did you say it was?" "I didn't," I reply, "But it's MacOS .97." "You mean Windows 98? Or MacOS Ecks 10.7?" "Nope, MacOS .97. Says so right here, in the about box. Copyright 1984." A few long beats passed. "Ahhh. Well, I'm afraid that's our problem then," he stammered out. More time and awkward silence passed. "I think you're on your own then." And with those words, he quickly disconnected me.

If you did not receive a pointless call for any of those thirty minutes I spent chatting with him, you're welcome. I do my best for my fellow man, at least when they're not actively wasting my time.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 9:17 AM on October 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


I hate these guys. Mu parents received one of these calls in the UK last year. My trusting and computer illiterate mother got as far as the website before balking at handing over a credit card number.

I received one of these calls too. I took the "We have all the windows we need, but we were thinking of putting in a conservatory" approach. They never called back.
posted by arcticseal at 9:36 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who in the hell still answers their phone? People without caller ID? No voicemail?
posted by Cosine at 9:47 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it wasn't for scammers (and charities and the occasional survey), I'd get no use out of the phone at all.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:49 AM on October 26, 2012


I wonder if there's some way a skilled computer user could counterattack the remotely accessing computer? The second it tries to connect you'll get their IP address. I'm not sure the remote access software is a suitable attack vector (you could have them remotely access a VM for safety), but I doubt the accessing computer or the network it is on is well protected.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:58 AM on October 26, 2012


Who in the hell still answers their phone? People without caller ID? No voicemail?

People sitting in cubicles with managers who glare at them and report them to the higher-ups if they're not answering their work phones on work time? Maybe?
posted by elizardbits at 10:13 AM on October 26, 2012


I do! I'm closer to birth than death and so view it as my duty to answer the phone during this election cycle. The number of phone surveys I get every day leads me to believe I am personally responsible for Elizabeth Warren's rise in the polls.

When I get the guys claiming to work for the cops or firefighters, I just fall back into my Rob Lowe routine.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:20 AM on October 26, 2012


Recently the FTC announced that they were offering a $50,000 cash reward to anyone who could come up with a way to block robocalls like "Rachel/Heather/Casey from cardmember services".

Which is a wonderful example of government pretending to care. The problem isn't so much with the scammers as it is with the Telcos. Who makes money from each and every one of those Robo-calls? The Telcos do. Each and every time. Telcos do not want such calls to end because it is a revenue stream for them.

I can think of several ways of completely eliminating robo-calls but each one relies on telcos implementing software on their end that will be cost-intensive. How about an option of having a voice prompt on any calls you receive which asks the caller to press 3 randomly generated digits before sending the call through to you? How about a blacklist of spoofed ANI's ? How about giving you the option of not receiving any calls originating from a foreign country? Any of the above require the telcos to actually do some work and in the end the work that they do will lose revenue for them. Election year robocalls are a cash boon to Telcos.

The FTC contest is a dog and pony show.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 11:26 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sitting at my desk one day and my deskphone rings. It never rings, no one in my company ever uses desk phones. I answer and a woman with one of the hardest to understand accents I have ever heard asks me if this is the IT department. I say yes, I figure it is an end user out at one of our stores and am puzzled as to how they got my desk phone #.

"Iz diz adreal mmpandee?"
"I am sorry, what? "
"Idz dis ad reel compandee? $parentco? Idz $parentco ad reel compandee?"

At this point I realize it is not any of my end users.

"Yes, $parentco is a real company. "
"Idz you in da nited states?"
"Yes."
"Idz you work wit computers?"
"Yes, I do, but $parentco is a grocery store."
"DO YOU WERK WID COMPUTERS? ARE YOU REAL? YOUR EMPOOREE IZ HERE AND I TINK HE IS CHEATING ME. ARE YOU REAL COMPANDEE? "

So I was bored with time to spare and I somehow got her to tell me that some company technician was at her house and was trying to fix her computer and had said he worked for a US company with my $parentco's name and she had googled it, found my office location and dialed the number. The receptionist here had heard IT and forwarded it to me. I googled the name myself, since I couldn't find anything and the woman was getting more and more agitated with the situation I finally just told her that if she felt uncomfortable with the Tech she should ask him to leave. She took this as a call to action and started yelling at the guy in a different language, it sounded African not Indian or Spanish. Then the phone gets handed to the tech and he is very angry with me. His English is better but not by much.

"Who are you muddafucker? Who are to tell me my compandee is scam? Fuck you muddafucker I am real compandee."

He hung up on me. At that point I had the call on speaker so my coworker could we. It is very hard for us to not answer the phone with that accent "who are you muddafucker?"

tl;dr
in other countries these guys don't cold call you they show up at your house
posted by M Edward at 11:32 AM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


If you feel like trolling, act real concerned. Keep them on the line for several minutes. Then start giving them a credit card number. In the middle of giving them the fourth or fifth digit, abruptly disconnect the call. They will call back. Have someone else answer the callbacks. No they've never heard of you and no they don't have a computer.
posted by azpenguin at 11:36 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had one of these call me.

I trolled him for a bit asking him if he was sure, was he really sure, then started the support thing and caused him some pain when I told him I didn't have a 'start button', and then hit him with, "Oh, wait, you're talking about Windows. I use Macs. Scammer." And hung up.

Then called the number back, got a guy who went, "For the love of God I'm not some tech support person!" And when I explained the situation to him - apparently these asshats had been spoofing his cellphone number, and I was the first person to explain instead of screaming at him - he was very appreciative and was going to call and find out what he could do.

I wished him luck. He was going to need it.
posted by mephron at 12:03 PM on October 26, 2012


That poor guy.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:04 PM on October 26, 2012


the one call I've had was pretty boring. I was in my car about to see a friend and so wasn't ready to troll. I just said I didn't need help, I'm fine, and the lady who called was like "um, ok, bye then"
posted by AngelWuff at 12:25 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked at a call center. This was just for surveys (although the entire operation was shady, none of us really knew who we worked for or why), but the rules are pretty much the same.

If someone hangs up, it's marked as a callback.

If someone asks to be taken off the list, it's put into another pool. These people are called back again. If they ask to be taken off the list again, it's put into a third pool. They are called back again. If they then ask to be taken off the list, they were removed for a certain period of time before being put back into the original pool of numbers.

The caller is insistent because he or she is paid based on successful calls completed. This means they either get you to finish the survey, or buy whatever they're selling.

ALL of them are scammy.

It's my understanding that landlines are 90% of what's targeted, with cell phone numbers slowly being sold to them by people you owe money to.

So for example, if you owe money for a student loan, and they sell off your debt to "Asset Acceptance", AA will then in turn sell your number and personal information to any takers.

Then the phone calls begin, and the only way to stop them is block the numbers (sometimes impossible) or change your number.
posted by Malice at 1:01 PM on October 26, 2012


TRIPLE on the telcos being responsible. They coin money from these services, and yet are unwilling to do the slightest amount of work to prevent the damage that they are doing.

For example, anyone with any sort of technology can spoof the number they're calling back from - even (as someone points out above) giving an existing number (and therefore basically destroying it).

You as an individual simply have no way to fight back at all. But who's the one allowing these companies to spoof numbers? The telcos! The engineering required to say, "You are purchasing this trunk service, and here's the list of caller ID numbers you are allowed to emit," is not so great - it would have been nothing at all if they'd built it in when they built their networks, and they absolutely should, because it should be absolutely obvious that allowing someone to claim to be any number at all is a magnet for abuse - and I mean criminal abuse.

And in the United States, cell phones pay for incoming calls as well as outgoing ones - which means getting a cell phone number is like getting a magic line into my house where anyone in the world can call me, claiming to be anyone else in the world, and charge me for the privilege.

I've had chats with a couple of scam artists in the past. I called up Canter and Siegel when they did their huge scam 18 years ago and had quite a long conversation with one of them, pretty sure it was Siegel. She stuck to her guns - it was my first encounter with someone who felt that preventing someone from making money was oppression, even though they were selling something that you could get for free, and even though they'd had to spam thousands of Usenet groups to do it.

A friend of a friend's email address was hijacked and I had a Google chat exchange with the fake. I pointed out that their English was bad, they didn't even have the sex of the target right, and they should be ashamed of themselves. Interesting enough the counterparty agreed, and apologized to me and disconnected. More interestingly, I made some effort to contact the FOAF to let them know, got through to them through the mutual friend, but the FOAF never bothered to thank me. Overall, the scammer seemed more thoughtful than the real person.

Generally, I'm actually in favor of 419 scams (that is, Nigerians trying to con people one at a time) in a strange way - because they're all relying on criminal tendencies in their victims, because "Mom" is never going to fall for these things because she doesn't really want to get $10 million dollars that some recently deceased potentate has left in a Swiss bank account. It's sort of like a morality play - they basically all have the following story: "Person X was high up in corrupt country Y and accumulated a lot of money (which would have to mean, stole a lot of money from the people) - you can have millions of this (stolen) money if you help us."

These tech support scams... absolutely not. For one thing, they prey on the insecure, people who really do have issues with their computers - (and computers really don't work very well!) They're targeting older people, people who are less savvy - and they're not getting them involved in a money-making crime, they're pretending they will save them misery. For shame!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:19 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


> If someone asks to be taken off the list, it's put into another pool.

This is a legal offense, each one which could cost the company hundreds or even thousands of dollars per call. The brazenness of these actions indicates that they are pretty sure that they can never be called to task - because they are completely shielded by the Telcos from the consequences of their illegal actions.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


All the above is why I always maintain a local area code Google Voice number that feeds into my main number. Just like my main email, I give my main telephone number out only to friends and family and use The Google Voice number for all commercial transactions, bank account, credit card, etc. Google Voice has an easy system for blocking calls, it's free, has automatic spam call detection (!!) and very worst case - which I have not had to implement as yet - I just get a new Google voice number and trash the old one.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 1:33 PM on October 26, 2012


The trick I love to pull with these telemarketspammers, when I have the time, is to get them all really confused and actually fairly angry at each other --- I was most successful one day with a "auto warranty" spammer, who I had on the phone for over 30 minutes with no less than 4 people finally involved and complaining about each others' incompetence.

When they call me, typically they're just the first person (Spammer 1) to "qualify" you. I give them a fake name, try to draw it out as long as possible. After they have a certain basic level of information, they will then pass you on to someone else (Spammer 2). When I get passed on, I give a different fake name. Spammer 2 therefore thinks Spammer 1 did something wrong, but they soldier on and go through the entire "qualifying" phase again and ask a ton of questions.

It is not uncommon if you draw it out long enough that you'll end up on hold briefly. If I ever end up on hold, when they come back, I tell them I'm not "Anthony Schmidt," I'm "Rudy Alvarez" and continue with the confusion.

On my most successful call, I finally got them and one of their supervisors all together and comparing notes, after they'd been exasperated that someone keeps passing people over with the wrong info. Finally I had 3 Spammers and their boss finally connect and say "So are you Anthony Schmidt, Rudy Alvarez, or Thomas Angleton?" I could barely hold my own laughter, when I thanked them for letting me waste their time.

One trick I didn't get the chance to pull was with my stepdaughter (it was partly her idea, and she was all on board but the auto warranty and cruise people stopped calling for a long time) -- she was going to take over the phone and when someone asks to get her parents on the phone her script was to say, in her smallest little-kid voice "I'm not allowed to wake up mommy (or daddy) after they've been drinking."
posted by chimaera at 2:18 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


...when ordered to click some simple mouse buttons, instead began typing the Great American Novel.
OMG, that's what I hear whenever my Dad calls me up and asks how to do something on his computer. Then he gets back on the horn and says, "What button?"

TIL my dad is trolling me.
posted by jamaro at 3:07 PM on October 26, 2012


In the middle of giving them the fourth or fifth digit, abruptly disconnect the call. They will call back. Have someone else answer the callbacks. No they've never heard of you and no they don't have a computer.

Or have the other person answer and say "Mr Bloggs? I don't understand, you - you can't have been speaking to him. He died a year ago this very day."

Maybe play the Twilight Zone music at this point, or Carmina Burana.
posted by reynir at 3:34 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


hey, she should be an easy mark

I had heard of this, so when they ring they ask for my wife as the phone is in her name. I pretend I'm extremely old and doddery and that my wife has just passed away, and I'm very thankful for their call as I assume they are ringing to offer their condolences.

My kids love it

When they tell me that I can get cheaper electricity I thank them profusely and hang up.

One guy told me he would pray for me and asked me if I was OK and didn't try to sell me anything - I was touched.
posted by the noob at 4:08 PM on October 26, 2012


I've always wanted to really graphically fake the sound of someone being brutally murdered in the background of a telemarketing call to see if they'll report it to the police or not. I will also settle for them having terrible nightmares filled with agonized self-loathing for the rest of their lives.
posted by elizardbits at 4:19 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq: "Scammer calls you, you press star-whatever to block the number and flag it in a central database, an accumulation of flags beyond a given threshold blocks the number service-wide. You know, just like we've been doing with email for ages and ages now."

Sadly, it's not that easy. Unlike on the internet, spoofing one's ANI is trivial if you have anything other than POTS lines at your disposal. Caller ID is even easier to spoof..many if not most VoIP providers let you set the number they send to anything you please. I find this quite useful since I have a legitimate need to do so.

Sometimes that makes it over into the ANI field, while sometimes the ANI comes out with what I assume is a trunk identifier of some sort.
posted by wierdo at 5:52 PM on October 26, 2012


I get one of these calls a couple times a year and every time I manage to draw the conversation out while the support technician attempts to connect to my, wholly imaginary, IBM AIX "Window" machine. First I try to convince the guy that I don't own a Windows ® machine. Then I let him get me to conceed that I have a machine that displays "windows" (x-windows). Then he tries to connect. Then his "supervisor" tries. Then the supervisor's supervisor who usually speaks good English with minimal accent. Usually the call only lasts a minute or so then.

EmpressCallipygos writes "How does your system differentiate between putting the block on the fake number that shows up on the caller ID and the real number they're actually calling from?"

CallerID is a side channel information source basically designed to be spoofed (Really!) as it is settable by anyone with enough lines to have their of PBX. This is so that all out going calls from any local at the PBX can be identified with a number that corresponds to the incoming switch board or customer service number. However there is also back channel number identification called ANI which shouldn't be able to be spoofed. Telcos care about ANI because it is what allows them to charge for calls. In theory the *whatever thing should work because the Telco can trace the ANI and get the customer shut down.

Telcos want us to believe that their are rogue operators out there who are injecting corrupted ANI information. Even if that's true it's willful failure IMHO that the Telcos can't root these people out. Telephone service isn't like power; you can just string a wire up a pole and start stealing telephone service. You need to be recognized by the network and that means that the major Telcos are making money off these scammers and are therefor disinclined to expend the resources to track them down.

Fairly humourous considering how they went to town on Prophet and Knight Lightning for "stealing" and distributing a document anyone could purchase legally for the cost of a couple happy meals.

If they black holed everyone abusing ANI this problem would end quickly.

Cosine writes "Who in the hell still answers their phone? People without caller ID? No voicemail?"

Yes. Also people looking for work, people with children, and people whose job in whole or part is answering phones.
posted by Mitheral at 6:01 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, these creeps have made me realize that about 80% of our landline calls are from telemarketers, opinion surveys, and automated dialers checking to see if we will pick up. The other 20% of calls are from my parents, and occasionally other parents who want to connect about something or other.

So we're getting rid of our landline and switching to cell phones.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:17 PM on October 26, 2012


Kokuryu, I get the "Heather from cardmember services" calls on my cell all the time. That may not help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:18 PM on October 26, 2012


Mitheral: "If they black holed everyone abusing ANI this problem would end quickly."

You speak as if there isn't still plenty of equipment out there (especially when you consider other countries) that can't pass ANI.
posted by wierdo at 6:24 PM on October 26, 2012


> "The caller is insistent because he or she is paid based on successful calls completed. This means they either get you to finish the survey, or buy whatever they're selling.

ALL of them are scammy."

actually, malice, i work in a call center right now. neither of these things are true.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:29 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a huge difference between telemarketing (which is annoying but legal) and these outright scams that are just trying to steal money.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:46 PM on October 26, 2012


Kevin Street: There's a huge difference between telemarketing (which is annoying but legal) and these outright scams that are just trying to steal money.

There is, but it's a difference in degree, not type. Telemarketers use your attention and give you nothing in return; they steal your time.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:07 PM on October 26, 2012


When I was a much younger Ivo my Dad used to really enjoy taking "sales" calls, basically anything unsolicited. He'd probably have 6 to 8 Busch beers in him and about 6 pm the phone would inevitably ring. Some poor sap selling some unsellable scam. My Dad would listen to their spiel and smile and "uh-huh" at the right intervals. And then they'd ask for a credit card. Dad's smile would grow wide. "Sure, I'll give you my credit card number, but I don't have the card with me. I'm getting ready to go to prison for three years tomrrow. Could I call you when I get out?" They almost always hung up.

Nice post, made me laugh out loud at work earlier.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:00 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This was my story (originally posted here):

I got 'the call' after reading about this particular scam in the news, so I was prepared and willing to waste their time.

I'm an all Mac house. I didn't say that, instead I feigned appreciation that -- at last -- someone could fix my machine. I went on and on about problems I was having and how glad I was that they could help. I hardly let him get in a word edgewise.

Once the first dude established I was a rube he passed me on to 'the closer'. This is the dude that would attempt to get access to the computer/install malware/get my credit card number. He asked me to do some Windows-specific things so it was hard to give convincing answers to string him along (again, we're an all Mac house). He'd ask to type some things in and I'd clack away at the keyboard. When he asked what some certain messages were I indicated the message didn't make sense to me and if I could spell it. Which I did:

F - U - C - K    O - F - F   A - S - S - H - O - L - E

I did it again in case he didn't quite get it.

There was an awkward silence and, when it registered I wasn't really a rube, he told me to stick it up my ass. I'm not sure what he wanted me to stick up my ass, but there you are.

I asked him if anybody actually ever falls for this. His response: 'Idiots like you!' (touché, but strictly speaking I didn't actually fall for it). I asked him how he could sleep at night knowing he was scamming people. He told me once again to stick it up my ass.

I said I was going to report him. Caller ID, of course, had no listing. I threatened that I was going to call the cops and keep him connected on the line in a three way call.

I may have even meant it. I think I have this feature on my phone but I have no absolutely no idea about how to actually do it.

He was completely unmoved by this. I repeated my empty threats of connecting to the cops and he continued to command me to stick things up my ass.

Having no other recourse, I just lay the phone beside me and continued on doing other things. At some point he hung up.

True story.
posted by mazola at 9:29 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a huge difference between telemarketing (which is annoying but legal) and these outright scams that are just trying to steal money.

There's a big difference between shit and uranium, but that doesn't mean one of them is fit for human consumption.

Even when cold calls are completely legitimate, nobody wants them. Besides the fact that outgoing call centres employ fucktons of unskilled workers, there is no reason at all for them to exist.

Telemarketing is the only thing giving phone scams an air of legitimacy. Illegalize telemarketing altogether, and I'll bet phone scams will drop off too.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 PM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


wierdo writes "
You speak as if there isn't still plenty of equipment out there (especially when you consider other countries) that can't pass ANI.
"

I have an unrealistic view of these sort of issues. ANI enabled switch gear has been around for a few decades now. If your network can't manage it yet then I don't want your network calling me.

However instead of a complete ban maybe an opt in system. Basic phone service doesn't route these broken calls to end users. But if John Smith wants to receive calls from what ever poor country that is still using manual switching or something he can subscribe to receive service from that country or even all black listed countries. Obviously this wouldn't be a solution for all end users but the vast majority of phone lines here in Canada and the US never need to receive calls from outside Canada/US/Mexico. Even fewer would need to receive calls from locations with broken switch gear.
posted by Mitheral at 1:18 AM on October 27, 2012


Meanwhile, in the UK: "one man has successfully claimed back the cost of his time from a firm which called him when he had specifically asked them not to. "
posted by marienbad at 1:23 AM on October 27, 2012


I've always wanted to really graphically fake the sound of someone being brutally murdered in the background of a telemarketing call to see if they'll report it to the police or not.
posted by elizardbits


Years ago, my ex was threatening to stab me when the phone rang and and an ATT telemarketer started her script. As my ex edged closer with his weapon, I said, "Please don't stab me, I'll just put the phone down." Within minutes, the police arrived and promptly arrested my ex since I was bleeding from him busting my lip as he grabbed the phone away from me. I am less testy with telemarketers ever since. With scammers, however, I show no constraint.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:12 AM on October 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


when it registered I wasn't really a rube, he told me to stick it up my ass.

They can be quite touchy, it seems. The one time I got one of these calls I didn't even troll the guy, I just told him that I didn't have a Windows PC in my house and he was wasting his time. Rather than hang up and move on, he unleashed a torrent of curses at me that took me by surprise. "Fuck you and fuck your mother and your mother is a whore" and so on. I'd never been cussed out in a thick Indian accent before, so that was fun at first, but he sounded like he could go on all day, so after a bit I politely said "nice talking to you too, goodbye" and hung up. I figured I'd get crank calls afterwards, but that was months ago and I haven't gotten another call since.
posted by homunculus at 3:28 PM on October 27, 2012


I just got one of these calls today. He had my name and everything. I'm on a Mac, but I used the resources here to mentally emulate a PC. Pro tip: he wants you to type "eventvwr" and click on the "OK" button, not "eventvwrok". I got passed on to his superior, but I think she hung up on me.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:47 PM on November 19, 2012


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