Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Would you give your car keys to a stranger?

I was at a barbeque just before Christmas when the conversation got around to phone scams and how each of us manage the calls.

You know the calls I'm referring to. The phone rings and you're greeted by someone with a heavy accent, and it goes along the lines of "Are you (insert name here) of (insert phone number here)?" They may even mention your suburb.

If you've distracted and aren't really paying attention, you might thoughtlessly confirm the details.

The standard spiel continues along the following lines: "I'm calling on behalf of Microsoft to let you know there's been a serious issue reported with your windows programme.  I'm from X company and need to perform an immediate mainteance check to ensure the problem doesn't happen again."

They're full of tech talk and use words designed to bewilder and confuse the average computer user, but most of all they're working hard to make you worried that all is not well with your computer, and are insistent that this needs to be fixed NOW! The caller is insistent, persuasive and convincing.  They use phrases like "corrupt files", "viruses" and "error code".

They create a sense of panic.

Reports of this particular scam have come in from London to Brisbane, New York to Christchurch and most places in-between. Far too many people have been caught on the hop; the figures are sketchy due to many people being too embarrassed to report the theft once they realise they've been taken in by scammers.
from "The Little Black Book of Scams" - Australian Competition & Consumer Commission
They've been gullible, trusting or naive or maybe ill, elderly or confused and followed the instructions thus enabling the scammer to instal viruses and spyware on their computers. The scammers could be using payphones or disposable cell phones, so they're well nigh impossible to catch even if you get a number and report them.  The victim may have paid for 'Life Time Support' by PayPal, credit card, or given bank details, thus enabling accounts to be emptied as they sit and watch.

Each of us sitting round the table had had up to 10 calls a week over a period of a couple of weeks - the calls stop for a while, then start up again. The calls are invasive, irritating and time consuming.

They've been known to leave some people feeling that their privacy has been invaded, and if the scammer has become abusive, people can be left feeling insecure and rattled.  This is the reaction of people who haven't succumbed to the scam.  If you had lost money and thought the scammer could appear at your front door, you'd be sick with fear and apprehension.

The conversation got around to musing if there could be some sort of a link between anger towards Indian students in Melbourne and other Australian cities, and anger about the scam. Could someone with a short fuse, who has perhaps been "got" or who knows someone who has lost money and peace of mind, react physically? Might some people target an unsuspecting student who appears to be of the same ethnicity as the scammer? We have no idea, but it's possible.

We put our heads together to try and come up with some different ways to use the experience as a chance to do something worthwhile. Amongst other things, we decided we wanted to express our concern to the scammer about the possible repercussions to foreign students in Australia as a direct result of their scam.

Being rude - nope.

Appeal to the scammers better nature - no.

"I'm recording you" - a recording could be used as an instructional tape so people know what to listen for. Could be useful.

Putting the phone of speaker so your children can listen - discuss how language can be used to persuade - good!

Tell the caller you're expecting a call from their Embassy to discuss scams. Could work.

Ask them if they believe in Karma - remind them of the repercussions of their actions. Seems to work.

Most recently though, I've decided simply to say "This scam has a direct impact on students living in Australia. Your action makes them unsafe and encourages racism." This seems to work although it needs to be refined so the word scam comes later - strangely they usually hang up when they hear the word scam. I'm probably tempting fate here, but since using that one, the calls have tapered off significantly.

If you have been caught off guard and given the scammer access to your computer: Disconnect immediately, phone your bank to alert them to what's happened and cancel your credit card, and as your bank statements come in, check them carefully. Contact a reputable company, (trusted friends and neighbours are a good source of information) let them know what's happened and they'll remove any malware that's been installed.

How do you manage scammers? Do you hang up immediately, are you rude, do you play along for entertainment value or have you devised a wonderfully creative response?

More information on scams:

  • The Microsoft scam page information is here
  • Information on how to recognise different kinds of scams is here
  • An A-Z of fraud is here
  • A Police warning about the above scam is here
  • The Little Black Book of Scams can be downloaded for free from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission here
  • ... and I'm sure there are many, many more links and that this is just the tip of a massive scammy iceberg.

The title of this piece came from a forum where someone asked "Would you give your car keys to a stranger? That's the equivalent of what you're doing if you allow a stranger access to your computer."



Rosalind Adam said...

It's very sad that some people are still being duped by these oh so frequent scam calls.

My favourite response was when I said, "Gosh I haven't seen you for ages. Let's catch up over a nice cup of tea. I'm putting the kettle on now, dear. See you in a mo." And I put the phone down on a bewildered scammer who was spluttering "You've made a mistake... I'm not... *click*

I've only done that once. I usually just say, "No way! You're scamming me." and hang up.

Anonymous said...

They are trying it by email as well...I've had a couple.

Sue said...

Rosalind, I love your first answer! It's delightful, thanks for sharing.

Delores, Ages ago I decided that the next time I got one of those scam emails, I'd blog about it. Needless to say I haven't had one since! It's all good fodder don't you think!

Tina said...

Nice analogy you drew here. Keys to my car, indeed! I'm one of the most paranoid surfers out there. People scoff at my security policies. But I've never been wrong. Yet. I'm glad you're out here spreading the word, sue.
Thanks for signing up for the challenge! It will be great to have you on my team!
Tina @ Life is Good

Co-Host of the April 2012 Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Twitter: @AprilA2Z

Sue said...

Hi Tina! I'm looking forward to The Challenge! Thanks for dropping by to say hello :)

There's nothing wrong with a bit of healthy paranoia is there!