Support the Arts

The Baseball Bloggess, an occasional commenter here, has a love/hate relationship with telephone scammers Sam and Nancy. It’s not a conventional love/hate relationship. She loves them, and wants only the best for them.* They hate her. Take a moment and read those two posts. I’ll wait.

* Jackie, I know I’m oversimplifying your side of the relationship a bit. But it makes the story better. Work with me, OK?

Hopefully you all know the scam Jackie and I are talking about, but just in case you don’t, it goes something like this:

“Hi, this is [insert a safe, generic American name here] at Microsoft Internet Security. We’ve detected that your computer is leaking dangerous information on the Internet.”

If you let SafeGenericAmericanName continue the pitch, he’ll help you install remote control software so he can show you exactly what horrible, dangerous information is leaking and then fix the problem, all for a fee, naturally.

Of course, your computer isn’t leaking anything and the “repair” doesn’t actually do anything The whole point of the call is to get you to install that remote control software and anything else the scammer bundles with it.

Once you do that, you’ve given a criminal the ability to explore your computer, steal passwords, look for nude pictures to blackmail you with, encrypt your files and hold them for ransom, or anything else he feels like doing. And the best part is that you’ve paid him to take over your machine.

It’s a nice deal for Sam and Nancy–or rather, it’s a nice deal for their boss. Nancy and Sam are most likely working in a boiler room for a flat hourly rate. Maybe they get a small bonus for each successful call, but it’s their boss who gets the big payout when he raids your bank account, sells your personal information and access to your computer, and runs up your credit card bill.

Lately there’s been a new twist in the scam. A few days ago, I got a robocall: “Your computer is generating a large number of errors and warnings. Please press one to speak to a technician.”

That’s right. The scam master has decided that Sam and Nancy are too expensive.

My optimistic side hopes that the public is becoming smarter and more scam-aware, leading Nancy and Sam to make fewer sales. Once it gets done laughing hysterically, my cynical side points out that the more likely explanation is that Sam and Nancy were wasting too much time arguing with former customers–probably of a different scammer–who thought the problem had been fixed the previous time, and didn’t see why they should pay again.

Either way, the sad truth is that we’ve reached the point where it’s not economically sound to let humans scam humans and we have to outsource our fraud to robots. Poor Sam and Nancy. Not only are they unloved by anyone but Jackie, but now they’re broke and unemployed.

Maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe my roboscammer is an isolated, local fluke, or an experiment. Jackie, please let me know if roboscamming spreads to your side of the country. If it does, we may need to set up a support fund for Nancy and Sam. Do you suppose Patreon would be interested? Telephone scamming as an artform? I don’t see why it couldn’t be one.