From the Actrix Online Informer September 2011

A scam attempt at last!

by Rob Zorn

For the last few months we've been talking about a common scam in New Zealand where people are called on the phone and encouraged to download some malicious software. I had been disappointed for a long time in that I'd been saying it has happened to so many New Zealanders, but it had not actually happened to me. A few days ago I received a call from what sounded like a very young woman somewhere in Asia, and the conversation went something like this.

Scammer: Hello, I'm from 'Mumble Mumble Company' and we're receiving reports that your computer has downloaded some malicious software.

Me: What company did you say you were from?

Scammer: 'Mumble Mumble Company'

Me: Oh yeah, I've heard of you. You guys are awesome!

Scammer: Sir, I said we're receiving reports that your computer has downloaded some malicious software.

Me: Oh, that's all right. I did that on purpose. I collect malicious software.

Scammer: Well, unfortunately we're receiving malicious files and viruses being sent from your computer.

Me: Yeah I know. I did that on purpose too, but don't worry. They're harmless. I was just having a laugh!

Scammer: (becoming agitated): Could you please go to your computer and turn it on right now?

Me: I'd love to, but there was an unfortunate accident this morning while I was cleaning my guns. A hand grenade accidently went off and blew my computer to smithereens.

Scammer: Oh, your computer blew up? <click>.

It was at that point I realised I had made a fatal error and that my plans to completely waste this person's time (and cost them a heap in toll charges) for as long as possible had self-destructed. And perhaps I had gotten too ridiculous too quickly. It was only afterwards that I thought of all sorts of ways I could have spun things out much more slowly and subtly.

When I talk to others who have received this sort of call, most say they just hang up. Some yell abuse at the scammers or try to talk to them about why they are being so evil. I'm fine with all of those approaches, but I also think there's no harm in giving these people a little taste of their own medicine – if you're up for it.

Why not agree to turn on your computer, but say it's locked somewhere in the cupboard. It will take you ages to find it, then just leave them hanging there while you go watch TV.

You could pretend to follow their instructions and once your computer is all powered up it could turn out you've made a terrible mistake and you've actually booted up the microwave. Is that big glass thing spinning inside the hard drive? If I set it on high for 10 minutes will that be enough to kill the viruses?

Perhaps you'll have trouble turning it on. What big button on the front? Oh that big button. Yeah, I pushed it but nothing happened. Turn my screen on? You mean I need a screen too? What does that look like?

Or Yeah, I've pushed the on button but nothing happened. Oh, wait, I think I hear a whirring sound and it's starting up. Oh, no sorry, that was a motorbike driving past. Wait a minute, yep, it's powering up. Oops, no sorry. Oh, maybe. Hang on, which button should I have pushed again?

What about, Yep, my computer's coming on now but there's a warning on my screen saying I can't log in because malicious software has been detected on it and its sending viruses to a company in Asia. What do I do now?

Endless hours of fun for all the family. I can only hope they, or one of their competitors, will try me again and this time they will not grasp so easily through my slip.

I don't think there's any great danger in doing this. These scammers are lying when they say they know about your computer and whatever state it might be in. They have no idea who you are and are just working their way through the phonebook hoping to suck you in. Once they realise you're onto them they will hang up and move on to their next victim. I understand they can get pretty stroppy (the stress of being not very nice, I guess) but you have the power to hang up at any time and I doubt they'll bother calling you back.

But perhaps the more people that waste their time, the less they'll be inclined to do it. And the more time they spend with you, the less time they have for some other unfortunate soul who doesn't get to read the Actrix Online Informer.


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