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What I learned playing prey to Windows scammers

Fahmida Y. Rashid | July 8, 2016
Three months of phone calls prove Windows scammers are more skilled at social engineering than you think

To avail myself of their help, I would have to hand over my credit card number and pay anywhere from $49 to $500. I never got past this step, though.

It doesn’t matter who the victim is

Scammers get phone numbers from myriad places: marketing lists sold between telemarketers, the phone book, personal records of criminal forums from data breaches. Some scammers used my married name, which isn’t listed anywhere. Because our phone is listed in my husband’s name, scammers working off public phone records probably switched to Mrs. when I answered the phone instead.

Most of the time, scammers don’t bother with names. They start off with a polite, “Good afternoon, ma’am.” I infuriated “Greg” by claiming he must be talking about someone else’s computer as it couldn’t be my computer that was infected. When “Greg” retorted that he knew everything about me and rattled off my name and the city I lived in, it made me think he was working off a list obtained from a data breach dump. That scared me a bit, knowing that these callers could possibly know where I lived, so I ended that call in a hurry.

It doesn’t matter in the end because the scammers will talk to anyone. My child answered the phone once, and instead of asking to speak with an adult in the house like any proper (and scrupulous) telemarketer would, the caller went through the explanation of how the computer was infected and needed to be dealt with immediately. My child, wanting to be helpful, scrambled to follow the instructions. Luckily, my child stopped to ask me which computer to turn on, at which point I took away the phone.

Considering kids don’t often have a credit card for the final payoff, it’s perplexing what scammers hope to gain by proceeding with calls involving minors. When asked, “Jake” huffed a bit, then ignored the question.

That was an eye-opening moment, and we immediately had a family meeting to explain these calls and emphasizing that no one should be calling and asking us to do anything on the computer. We had the same conversation with the grandparents.

On another call, I tried convincing “William” that I didn’t have a credit card, at which point he suggested I borrow a card from someone else. The implication was that if I really wanted to stop the hackers, borrowing a card wasn’t a big deal.

They will stick to the script, no matter what

Callers stick to a script, rarely veering off what they are supposed to say, even to the point of repeating the same keywords over and over. Take the exchange I had with “Nancy.”

 

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