On a semi-regular basis, around about dinner time I get phone calls from the Indian scammers – you know the ones that ring up with a bogus story about how they’re from Microsoft or Microsoft partner and they’ve detected a large number of errors emanating from your PC and they can help you fix the problem – the reality being that they want to either trick you into paying for some ‘fix’ that you don’t need and/or take control of your PC.
I can usually predict a scam call when I answer the phone, because there is a slight delay in the person at the other end starting to talk, an artifact of their auto-calling phone system and the fact that the call is from overseas.
When they ring I take the view that, as long as I’m not super busy on some other task, I’ll try to talk to them as long as possible – every minute they’re talking to me is a minute they’re not taking advantage of some other poor soul who is not wise to their tricks.
To keep them talking as long as possible I have to play the conversation as straight as possible, playing the part of a worried but slightly incompetent computer user. Doing this I can easily keep them on the line for 15 to 20 minutes at least. But that gets a bit boring, so taking inspiration from Troy Hunt who is a master at this game, I’ve been trying to mix it up a bit to add some self-amusement. Of course, the wackier I get the more quickly the scammers hang up, so its a delicate balancing act.
Some approaches I’ve tried out so far are:
- Every time they ask me a question, I ask a question back at them. (That was much harder to do than I anticipated. Quite a challenge.)
- Play dumb at first, to get them going, and then increasingly ramp up the technical level of questions back to them.
- Play the conversation straight at first, and then suddenly challenge the person on the ethics of what they are doing. The person at the other end vigorously protested their innocence, but not very convincingly.
- Every time time they ask me to press a particular key (e.g. Ctrl key, Window key) pretend to not be able to find it, then explain to them, that I have an Australian keyboard, and that in this country the X key is called the <australian animal> key. That was a fun call – I managed to get through the ‘kangaroo’ key, ‘platypus’ key, and ‘echidna’ key before the scammer hung up on me.
I’ve got a few more ideas in reserve for future calls – stay tuned.