Friday, February 1, 2019

What’s next? ‘Hi, this is a scam! Grab your wallet so we can cheat you!’

"First Scene of Thieves," by Gror (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     My iPhone rings. An 800 number, calling me. Which might as well flash a red “SCAM!”
     But I am a curious sort.
     “Dear citizen …” an ominous robotic voice begins. “Due to a certain suspicious activity, we are forced to suspend your Social Security number to immediate effect. Due to this your benefits will be cancelled …”
     I’ve received this call 14 times over the last two weeks of January.
     “In order to connect with a Social Security administration officer, press '1' now,” it continues. “In case we do not hear from you, your Social will be blocked permanently. Press '1' now, and you will automatically be connected with a concerned department official.”
     I admire that “concerned” — a nice touch. Who doesn’t want to believe there is a soul in the government who cares? Once I broke down and pressed “1,” though the person I then connected with sounded, to me, not so much concerned as confused. A harried drone in a Third World basement boiler room. They immediately asked for my Social Security number. “You’re the one who called me,” I said, hanging up.
     “Social Security numbers do not get suspended,” the Federal Trade Commission points out on its web page devoted to this scam. “Ever.”
     Are there people who don’t know this? Apparently so. Which raises the question: Why base your scam on something a halfway savvy person knows to be false?  
"Second Scene of Thieves," by Gror (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     For exactly that reason. Because scammers want to weed out those with discernment. Fraud isn’t about duping everybody. It’s about identifying the most credulous, the choicest marks, and going after them. It’s a manpower issue. What scamster wants to laboriously lead a would-be mark along, only to have him balk at buying $3,000 in Apple gift cards to pay off a delinquent tax bill? Falling for the obvious initial gambit means you are more likely to keep giving, information and even cash.
     Scams fall into two categories: fear and greed. The Social Security number is a fear scam. The terrifying and mysterious government is about to drop kick you into oblivion. There are similar scams involving the IRS, which will never call you demanding payment. Or Com-Ed, calling to say your power is about to be cut.

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  1. The worst scam I ever saw was an email purporting to be from Citibank or some such place, except that in the "From" line, it had the sender's real name. In Russian. The name probably wasn't "Boris Badanov," but that's how I remember it.

  2. Last year I got an email announcing that we had won a free laser tag birthday party for my son and I assumed it was a scam and didn't open it. After a while curiosity got the best of me and I opened it and called their number. My first question was "Is this real?" Even after a real-sounding person answered that it was real I was getting ready to hang up if she asked for a credit card to hold the reservation. I was certain that would be the next thing she'd say.

    Turns out it was real and pretty wonderful. And inexpensive beyond belief. Kids loved it. Dad loved it. I highly recommend laser tag birthday parties. (The kids all wanted the chocolate chip cookie cake and nobody wanted cupcakes!)

  3. I love screwing with the scammers!
    When they call from India with the bullshit claim there's a problem with my Windows computer, I just say that they're going to be reincarnated as a dung beetle hundreds of trillions of times for all eternity for lying.
    That really pisses them off.
    Others I just speak gibberish to.
    For the grandpa scam, where the supposed grandson claims to be in jail, I say, you rotten bastard, you've never once thanked me for all the checks I sent on your birthday, so maybe some time locked up will teach you a lesson!
    I've gotten phony IRS demands for money or I'll go to jail, so I tell them, that's fine, I won't have to spend money on food, housing or anything, the government will supply it!

    1. I love screwing with scammers, too! Sounds like we have something in common besides our histories in...Rogers Park. I consider my phone to be "personal space", so I get as mad as hell when these clowns invade it. For quite a while now, I've been "blowing the whistle on scammers" I keep a referee's whistle by the phone. Mine is metal, and not plastic, and it's made in England. It is called the ACME THUNDERER. Finest and loudest whistle on the planet.

      It's the same type used by NFL refs. This whistle can be heard in a stadium that's filled with 70,000 fans. If you blow it indoors, your ears will ring like someone fired a handgun into the ceiling. I hope I have put a few scammers out of business. Can't hear, you can't work the phones, and they'll fire you and you'll starve on the streets of Manila or Bombay. If that sounds just a bit harsh, tough toenails for them. They deserve it!

      One thing most overseas boiler-room denizens have in common is a poor command of English grammar, speech patterns, and sentence structure, which is usually a dead giveaway, both online or on the phone. “Dear citizen …”--who says that?. “Due to a certain suspicious activity" and "to immediate effect" and. "Due to this..." are additional clues.

      And what Social Security administrator would ever use the colloquial shorthand of "your Social", for Pete's sake? A "concerned department official” perhaps? Anybody whose first language is English would not be speaking or writing in such a fashion, and they "blow the whistle" on themselves. But I still use my referee's whistle in their ear anyway.

      A harried drone in a Third World basement, however low in the evil cabal's pecking order, is still trying to steal your money--just like any street thug or pickpocket or holdup man in your own home town. Sure, I know damn well they are just trying to make a living and survive, but a criminal is a criminal, and I give them no quarter and show them no mercy. It won't stop the scams, but it sure as hell makes me feel better.

    2. Somewhere in Ars Technica's archives is a story of one guy who was prepared and quick enough to spin up a Windows XP VM, and played along with the 'Veendows' folks just to see what they were doing.

      Heck I've gotten them at my work number, which is typically answered like "College of [redacted] IT department, this is Bruce." Took 'em a moment to catch on....

    3. I too have whistles so loud, that I must put in earplugs or put on hearing protectors to use them or I get a headache from them. I have an American made metal Thunder Whistle that was sold by a local community group decades ago as a rape whistle I've used them several times now when a scammer makes repeat calls. I also have a really loud London Bobby's whistle. Great fun to use on the scammers!

    4. I just ask for their employers name and address. If they don’t hang up then, and ask why, “so I can bill your boss for not honoring the fed’s do not call list”

      The irs scammers leave callback numbers. Someone with access to the same sort of auto calling equipment, set it to bombard the places, with 48 simultaneous calls, and a message questioning their parentage, etc.

      As for “Rachel in card services”, apparently there is a step in their process, where they ask for the banks number, and call it for verification. One wag pretended to incompetently take the bait. After acting like he was hard of hearing, and possibly suffering a touch of short term memory deficit, (“sorry could you explain that again” was the go to phrase.) he managed to drag it out for 20 minutes, when they got to the “call the bank” step. He gave them an 800 number, and the rep called it. “You have reached the FBI, this call is being recorded.” The rep got a few choice words out, before he managed to break the connection.

  4. I'm tempted to say that the prevalence of these scams indicates that we're well on our way to hell in a hand basket, but I'm reminded that scams and cons are no new thing. They were old when Jacob conned his brother out of his inheritance and then his father-in-law out of his sheep. Of course, the father-in-law was no babe in the woods himself, dumping his homely daughter off on Jacob, so that he had to work extra years for the damsel he yearned for.


    1. The fabled "Nigerian Prince/Oil Executive/We found this unclaimed money help us steal it" email scam has existed for over a century. It's a variation of the 'Spanish Prisoner' con and accounts of that date back to the 19th century...and I remember reading an account of a similar scm being pulled long long before that.

      Somewhere in my collected ephemera is a hand typed letter version of that scam, postmarked Lagos from about 1993 or so.

  5. I feel sorry for the people who are stuck in these jobs. They're certainly not the "masterminds" behind the scams. I generally don't pick up unless I know who's calling, but otherwise I hang up long before they get their pitch across.

  6. Scams and scammers are probably the second-oldest profession. They pass around "sucker lists" that target specific demographic groups. I call them the PETA crowd: Poor, Easily-Tricked, Antiquated. The gullible, trusting, easily-confused elderly. The greedheads looking for a quick buck or an easy score. Those who are so easily frightened that they can be bamboozled into thinking a Federal agent or a local sheriff's deputy will clap them in irons for some financial oversight or some forgotten legal transgression.

    The charlatans know all too well what cons work, and who is the the best and the easiest mark, based on what has paid off countless times before. These "chumps" are their primary targets of opportunity, over and over and over. I receive far too many scam calls, so I am well aware that my advanced age has made me king of the list, top of the heap.

    When I hear a rare IRS threat, or a demand to pay a fine with a RETAIL gift card (yeah, right) in order to avoid arrest, I ask these imposters to hand-deliver their warrant or their court order, so that I can put their steenkeeng bahd-jes where the light of day will never shine on them. That request usually achieves the desired result.

  7. I started reading today's column thinking "another interesting, well researched and cleverly written piece by my favorite writer of all time", and them BAM. Classic bait and switch. Just another rant about Trump or his supporters.

  8. Speaking of suckers/dupes: You can’t eradicate cannibalism by eating the cannibals; there is no better analog for what voting is.
    The voting booth should reconfigure the ballot lever to a dildo and require the Helots to use their mouths to make the selection of their next master, it also provides a keen preview of things to come for the voter.
    “A ballot is just a substitute for a bullet. If your vote isn’t backed by a bullet, it is meaningless. Without the bullet, people could ignore the election outcome. Voting would be pointless. Democracy has violence at its very core!” ~Muir Matteson, “The Nonviolent Zone”
    "An election is a moral horror, as bad as a battle except for blood; a mud bath for every soul concerned in it." ~ George Bernard Shaw
    "Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves." Herbert Marcuse
    "Working within the system means to become a part of the system. When you go into the voting booth, the only meaningful significance that your action will have is to show that one more person supports the state". ~Mark Davis
    "Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other." ~ Oscar Ameringer
    "If the right to vote were expanded to seven year olds ... its policies would most definitely reflect the ‘legitimate concerns’ of children to have ‘adequate’ and ‘equal’ access to ‘free’ french fries, lemonade and videos." ~ Hans-Hermann Hoppe

  9. "This way to the egress.", is the classic of this genre.

    PT Barnum had a raree show, a pseudo-educational pseudo-museum collection of oddities (sort of like a Believe It or Not! museum) that was starting to have a problem with people hanging around enthralled too long. The place would get too crowded to admit fresh marks within an hour or two of opening. So to induce the less perspicuous of his attendees to leave and thus lessen the crowding, he set up an exit through a hallway to reach the outside, with a big sign next to its entrance that had the picture of a large heron or egret appearing bird and the words "This Way to the Egress!". Customers eager to see this exotic bird would enter the hallway, the door would lock behind them, and their only recourse at that point was to continue down the hallway to exit the building. Once out of the exhibit, of course no one would complain of being tricked, because everyone knows that an egress is an exit, so of course they meant to leave when they did.

  10. "scammers want to weed out those with discernment. "

    I don't think so. If you actually argue with them, they will defend their bogus proposition to the nth degree. They won't think "this person won't be fooled" and end it, they'll keep pushing and pushing.


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