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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

The Windows scam doesn’t appear to be the work of a single group. Toward the end of the observation period, callers were exclusively women, some with strong Eastern European accents and others with strong Indian accents. Earlier calls, in contrast, had been exclusively from males with Indian accents, except for “Steve,” who sounded American. Possibly Pennsylvania or Maryland. Not the Northeast, the South, or the Midwest. Definitely not Texas.

I am almost certain that I spoke with “Jake” at least seven times, but he was “Mike” and “William” at least once during those calls. It would have been smart for “Jake” and his team to take notes when victims didn’t pay, so they could spare themselves the effort of repeatedly calling to try to hook me. It’s pretty clear these folks aren’t using CRM software to track interactions with their “customers.” This wasn’t a highly professional criminal organization.

Despite these hints of amateurism, they were still getting the handful of victims necessary each day to make the operation worthwhile.

A few times throughout my experience with my various Windows scammers the thought crossed my mind that the callers themselves may be unwitting dupes for the actual criminals. Perhaps, like call center workers in the movie "Outsourced," these folks know nothing about the “company” they work for and are simply doing their jobs following the script. Perhaps they themselves are convinced they are actually being helpful.

I told “Frank” I had a really poor connection and I kept hanging up the phone. But he called back each time and remained very polite and eager to help. The dropped calls had to be tremendously annoying for him, but he never broke character. Maybe it wasn’t an act for him, and he genuinely believed in his purpose, unaware that the script was a scam. I finally disconnected the phone for the day to get him to go away.

When I asked “Jake” why he scammed people, he got angry and denied it, but “Mary” tried to convince me I was mistaken. She didn’t break character and assured me she’d helped many people in the time she’d been working there. She made me hesitate, and I am still not sure if she was simply skillful, or if she was the victim in this situation, manipulated by a criminal syndicate.

“Mary” was also the only one who remained polite when I accused her of taking part in the scam. All the others issued threats before hanging up, although “Nancy” did say, “Thank you,” before disconnecting.

Ask a lot of questions

The devil is in the details, and the more you ask questions instead of swallowing whatever the callers say, the more likely you will uncover inconsistencies or problems. The moment you suspect a scam, hang up.


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