Who’s to Blame when Scamming is So Easy?

Who's to Blame when Scamming is So Easy?I am really getting tired of trying to protect the senior PC users around me. At club meetings I extol the virtues of being alert and looking out for scams, but to what effect? I write a newsletter for my clients and friends which, in nearly every issue, features a horror story about malware infections or other scams and prescriptions about how to avoid having the same problem, but to what effect? Should I stand on the corner and scream? This week a very nice, but innocent, lady PC-user disclosed to the club in the open session that a foreign-sounding man called her on the telephone during the week to report that he was from Microsoft and they were getting error messages from her computer. She needed to fix the problem immediately.

We can guess what your response would be to this call. You would probably hang up or give the caller an earful. You might try to get some information to report to the authorities. She did none of those things. Being nice, but innocent, she followed his instructions and went to her computer where she entered the commands as he said to do, and eventually he reported that she had serious problems and it would cost $99 to fix them. In the meanwhile, she confirmed that nothing worked now that he had completed his analysis. He told her that he could fix everything remotely, and all she needed to do was to give him her credit card information, which she did. She gave him credit card information!

By the time she came to the club meeting, she had realized that she was the victim of a scam, but, and this truly astounds me, she asked us what she should do now. This implies that she did not take immediate action to stop further losses. The room rang with encouragements to immediately call her credit card company and then to report the scam to the authorities. After that initial outburst following her disclosure, a heated discussion ensued as other club members argued about of exactly who to report the scam to. I did not participate in any of this because I was too busy shaking my head in disbelief. When scamming people is so easy, can we really blame the bad guys for taking advantage? I cannot imagine making my career as a leech scamming off the innocent, trusting, population, but I am not everyone. Obviously a subset of humanity seems to be doing okay living off ill-gotten gains. Do they sleep easily?

Someone in the meeting quoted me as saying that neither Microsoft nor your bank calls you and asks for personal information. I have said things like that, but to what effect?

For comic relief, a friend of mine who prefers Linux for almost everything reported that his wife also received such a scam call during the same week. She turned the phone over to him, and he listened politely to the scammer’s pitch. He even asked some questions to play along. Then they got to the place where he was supposed to enter something in his machine, and he said that he could not open Windows because he used Linux. He did not have a Windows computer. This apparently did not stop the caller immediately. He tried again to get my friend to boot Windows. “I don’t have any Windows computers,” he said, “I only use Linux.” This finally got through, and surprisingly, the caller was polite, wished him a nice day, and hung up. The caller never did explain how Microsoft was receiving error messages from that household when there was no Windows machine in it. Maybe its error-detecting system needs some work.

At this juncture, someone pointed out that we now had the scam caller’s telephone number and could call back and generally play games with them. Again, I did not participate, but cooler heads suggested several reasons why that would not work.

Once again we learn that the first line of defense is you — not anti-virus software, and not the authorities. You have to be responsible for your own safety. It does not take rocket science to decide if a stranger asking for personal information is probably a scammer.

Scams seem to work best on one of two principles: (1) go for the naïve, innocent victims (as this woman happened to be), or (2) play off the greed and false sense of superiority that a potential victim has. The second scam works by presenting a scenario where the victim can score on some money by doing something quasi-legal that looks reasonably safe.

Actually I might have to terminate this piece prematurely; my email just notified me that a rewards account in someone’s name which is similar to mine has been updated with a $20 savings! The site does not look familiar, but maybe I can score on that $20 which seems to be floating around freely. I will be right back after I check th…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Lukenwoods Luke Woods

    Nice. Very Well put. I must say I totally get where you are coming from. I work at a computer repair shop and meet these people all the time and guess who makes all the money? Me, because they cant fix the problem they so easily allowed.

    • Sdeforest

       Making money that way is not my favorite pastime, but at least it is honest and potentially helpful.

  • Tinman57

    Scammers are SCUM.  Just because someone is gullible or “easy” doesn’t make a scammer any less of a SCUMBAG, especially if the one scammed is elderly or mentally impaired.
      Let’s not give a better viewpoint of these SCUMBAGS just because their prey were “easy”.  SCUM is SCUM, no matter how easily they can do it, or under what circumstances.  The only good thing about a scumbag is if they’re rotting in prison…..

    • Sdeforest

       I never meant to imply I approve of scamming.  I just think we all have a responsibility to guard ourselves.  You do not leave $100 bills on the seat of your car while you go shopping.  You have a responsibility to take better care of them than that.  The question really is: what responsibility do elderly and mentally impaired have?  Do they have any?  Where is the line?  None of this takes a scumbag off the hook.  A scumbag is guilty regardless.

      • Tinman57

          Just because I left $10,000 on the seat of my car don’t give anyone the right to bust in and steal it.  A crook is a crook, no matter how easy it was to steal.
          No one should have to have the “responsibility” to lock something up, even though I do.  It’s the citizens responsibility to refrain from being a crook, not the owner of the property.  But that is a whole nuther subject than scammers tricking people into giving information and such.
          On the subject of thieves, with your line of thought, a thug breaks into your home and steals all the silverware (or whatever).  You didn’t have a bolt lock on the door, just a regular lock, therefore it was YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to have a bolt lock so as to not make it too easy?  I think not, it was the responsibility of the thug NOT to break into your home.
          Let’s point the responsibility finger at the ones who’s true responsibility it is, the crooks…..

        • Sdeforest

           I have never defended anyone’s right to scam or steal.  That is one issue.  A separate issue is a person’s responsibility, recognized in law, to protect valuable assets.  How much protection one should use depends on many things.  But, yes, it would likely be considered an attractive nuisance to leave $10,000 on the seat of your car, but I am not a lawyer.  I just was observing the surfing habits of my clients and trying to enlist their aid in protecting themselves.

          • Tinman57

             I never insinuated that you did.  As far as responsibility and legality goes, just because you leave your car door or house unlocked and something gets stolen doesn’t mitigate (lessen) the fact.  The fact that a scumbag stole/scammed is all that counts in a court of law.  Any defense lawyer that stands in court and says “Judge, my client only stole the cash because the car door was unlocked, and therefore should be exonerated or the penalty lessened” would be laughed right out of the courtroom, as rightly so……

              And speaking of scams, had a scumbag try to scam me today through Craigslist……