July 23, 2024

Column: “That Got Me to Thinkin’…?” Fraud Squad


“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Fraud Squad” Chapter 44
By Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams

A while back I was anticipating a call from my mechanic when I received an incoming ring from what appeared to be the right area code.  The caller, whose heavy accent made him sound like one of the pirates from Captain Phillips, began his tale of a FedEx package that had been intercepted by the FBI with my name on it, and had contained in it a felonious amount of narcotics.  Now, in lieu of my imminent arrest, I was being required to wire them some money to quash this warrant.  On and on he prattled about what big trouble I was now in, and what would happen to me should I choose not to comply.  When there was finally a break in his spiel I simply stated, “Don’t call here again with that nonsense,” (there had been several similar messages previously left on our home voicemail).  He paused a beat, and then unleashed one of the filthiest streams of threatening abuse I’d ever heard—enough to make a biker or sailor blush—truly inventive in its crassness.  “Wow!” I exclaimed, “Are you sure you’re with the FBI…?”  He spat another staccato expletive and then hung up.

Regularly throughout my workday I’ll receive a call expecting a client, only to be ear-assaulted by a loud recording indicating that I’ve won another luxury cruise or Hyatt hotel stay.  I never get too far into these calls because I recognize immediately the same blaring, sterilized, computer-generated woman’s voice on each of these interruptions.  “God dammit…” I’ll mutter, like a touristy rube sucked in again by yet another round of Three-card Monte.  Much the same, my email inbox is filled with all my gift card “winnings”—$50 at Home Depot (but with Depot spelled having an umlaut over the “o”), another $50 at Target, this one with a smeary-looking logo.  My wife was complaining that she can’t get rid of some of these constant, repetitive annoyances—even though she followed the processes to unsubscribe.  When I informed her that by “unsubscribing” you are actually just verifying the legitimacy of your email address to the spammers, her shoulders sunk and she shook her head and scoffed, “Gawd…”

Almost daily on Facebook I’ll see that someone’s declaring that they’ve been hacked and to not accept any new friend requests from them.  The handful of people that’ve already accepted these duplicitous requests can expect some of their own headaches in the very near future.  Similarly, I often receive alerts on Messenger stapled with links with enticing come-ons like “Check this out…” or “Is this you?!” from existing friends (though oftentimes ones I don’t have a lot of one-on-one communications with) that have been compromised and are just lying in wait for you and your curious click.

The IRS calls a lot, too.  Apparently my identity is being used for criminal activity and the Federal Reserve has issued a warrant for my arrest (I didn’t realize they did that!), and if I just follow the prompts and get my credit card ready, I’ll be able to straighten this all out in short order.  My non-existent student loan debts have been red-flagged as well, but the situation can be easily rectified over the line with their (is it Mumbai?) offices.  Perhaps simple blackmail works best for you, based on your embarrassing search history (they’re casting a wide, hopeful net on that one)?  Anyway you slice it, you’re in hot water, mister.

Maybe the federal government will address this problem at some point.  Think of all the productivity that’s being wasted hovering over these idle threats and bogus offers while you think through the likelihood of their veracity…all the interruptions to real life by these digital buccaneers in their dank, Bratislavian call centers.  All the actual fake news that’s perpetually streamed to hoodwink the most gullible amongst us—often our oldest or most vulnerable citizens.  Those ads for Silver Singles and miracle tinnitus cures seem clumsily targeted at someone my age, and blocking phone numbers and emails just doesn’t seem to do any good since the senders are just bot-created in a barely heated warehouse somewhere in the vast expanse of the Siberian tundra.  I think I might’ve earned a lifetime supply of credit monitoring due to all the breaches at legitimate places with which I’ve done business (Equifax, and fraud darlings—the aforementioned Home Depot and Target).  

But what can be done?  As we become more and more dependent on our handheld devices our susceptibility to these determined phishermen goes relatively unabated.  But something should be done, no?  I have to go now, though—my Barclay’s account (I didn’t know I had one) has suffered some suspicious activity and I need to go verify my address, phone, social security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and blood type.