PNG literature – the olden days
News that might not otherwise make it - 2

The cyber crooks who fill my day


TUMBY BAY – Every day I receive up to a dozen spam telephone calls, text messages and emails.

My son and daughter, who spend more time online as part of their work, score double that number.

It seems that the criminals have moved out of the dark alleys, backstreets and the corporate towers and onto the internet.

The amazing thing is that there are so many of them. The web is literally teeming with thieves and confidence tricksters.

It makes you wonder about humanity and why stealing is such a part of its makeup.

Maybe it harks back to our basic survival-of-the-fittest instinct.

And what about that post-expulsion injunction delivered to Moses about not coveting thy neighbour’s goods? That hasn’t worked out well.

A minority of the desperate poor still maintain traditional criminal activities like stealing from each other, fighting among themselves, setting fire to each other’s houses and stealing cars.

And the wealthy, of course, keep their nefarious wheeling and dealing close to their chests with the help of expensive lawyers.

But it’s not these people who have taken over the internet; rather people who have chosen crime as a career. What might be called the professional criminal class.

Computer literacy and a talent for digital forgery has now become an essential part of their skill set.

The stuff I receive from them on my phone and computer ranges from outright scams through to the marginally criminal and then what I consider the legally criminal.

The outright scams involve elaborate attempts to elicit my bank details or to get me to download software that will do the same thing.

A favourite is to advise me that my internet connection will be terminated if I don’t update my details by clicking on the link provided.

Another is to advise me that my credit card couldn’t be debited for a periodical payment and I need to provide the account details again.

The marginal stuff takes a different form and often involves convincing me to buy something so I can enter a lottery that may or may not be fictitious but is also probably rigged.

The legally criminal involves things like junk insurance for me, my funeral costs and even my dog, plus fabulous investment opportunities and dodgy Ponzi schemes.

These marginal and legal scams are also flogged on commercial television, along with expensive tubs of differently coloured petrochemical by-products that promise to make me look 20 years younger.

While a lot of the scams on the internet predate the digital revolution, these days they have one distinct advantage - the ability to finely target their victims.

This is enabled by data collecting and scraping. There’s a brisk trade in personal data harvested by big companies like Google and Facebook but also data assembled by hackers.

Some hackers even manage to crack government data collections and sell the information to buyers blithely unconcerned about their motives or means.

Data collection is a grey legal area and seems to be beyond the ability of regulatory authorities to police. This makes the internet not dissimilar to the Wild West.

If you are a regular internet user you can be sure that somewhere out there in cyber space you have one or more personal profiles that get traded around.

The more you use the internet the more detail gets recorded about you. Search the internet for a product and wait for the almost instantaneous inundation of advertisements and emails.

I buy quite a few books from Amazon and other online booksellers who I reckon have got a fair handle on my reading tastes by now.

They seem to think this gives them my permission to bombard me with what they refer to as ‘specially selected recommendations’.

I gather some solace in the wild inaccuracy of most of these recommendations.

I used to get regular emails from gorgeous women who were dying to meet me for all sorts of bizarre mind boggling reasons, including marriage.

I don’t get these very often anymore because I never responded but also probably because my profile eventually came to reflect both my advanced age and my happy marital status.

Some day they’ll work out I’m not rich and won’t buy into their scams or purchase the stuff they want to sell me.

Maybe they’ll even feel sorry for me and offer me a free stake in a Nigerian gold mine.


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Bernard Corden

When I receive a call I no longer provide my name and wait for a response from the caller. Within seconds it is easy to establish whether it is a telemarketing scam.

I never hang up and just go and boil the kettle or engage in some alternative displacement activity until the caller realises no one is on the other end of the phone and hangs up.

Phones are now more about collecting data than communication.

Philip Fitzpatrick

So you guys have various innovative ways to discourage scam telephone calls (although I suspect you'll eventually be outnumbered) but what do you do about the scam emails and the targeted ads when you surf the web?

I discovered that simply unsubscribing from annoying emails can be a trap in itself. Some of the clever bastards have worked out that getting you to hit their 'unsubscribe button' is a perfect way to trap you. Thank goodness for Norton.

Nowadays I just simply hang up on the telephone calls without saying a thing and I immediately consign the emails to the trash can, which I empty two or three times a day.

As far as the ads go its a matter of ignoring them until they eventually go away and are replaced by new ones. I figure the ads are the price you have to pay for the internet.

Jim Moore

I have seriously thought of investing in a football umpire's whistle, having it handy when I answer the phone, and let the caller cop a blast when they ring to say my life/bank account/whatever is in peril.

Then I think, poor bastards, they are working for some master crook, for peanuts in terrible circumstances in some hellhole in God knows where, who am I to physically hurt their hearing, when all they have done its hurt my feelings.

But, given half a chance they would steal the shirt off my back ,so do I have responsibility for their welfare?

Just shows the measures people are being driven to, doesn't it?

Ross Wilkinson

This afternoon I terminated an incoming call without answering. I then received a message that I should call voicemail as there was one new message.

This was a recorded message in an Australian female voice that advised I had committed a crime and that if I believed I had not committed this to press 1 to speak to a technician.

This latter instruction was repeated and the message was terminated. Naturally I did not press 1.

This type of scam is relying on the fear factor.

William Dunlop

Seldom receive scam calls these days; unknown or no numbers I say hello in Chinese, 'Wye, Wye'.

The ones who qualify ask for William Dunlop. Says I, 'Who is calling?' And ask them before I transfer you if they have a hanky or tissue.

I then tell them to blow their nose, Before sticking their head up their arse.

KJ - likewise utilising Pidgin in Bali and Manila are good examples.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Yesterday I was working on my latest book and needed to know the best and cheapest way to repair, rather than replace, a cracked cylinder head on an old vehicle. So I did a quick search on the internet.

When I turned on my computer this morning guess what confronted me?

Yep, half a dozen adverts for cylinder heads and two emails from a Chinese company that fabricates them to order.

(Apparently 'pinning' the crack is the way to go, beats welding every time.)

Chips Mackellar

We've all had these scam emails and phone calls, Phil. But I have found an easy way to discourage them. Unless I know the sender, I always delete every email without opening it.

Most scam phone calls I receive usually come with a Chinese or Indian accent. As soon as I detect this accent, my remedy for these is to reply politely in Indonesian. You'd be surprised how the frequency of these calls diminish.

I guess the callers wipe me off the scam list they have as "uncontactable" or "bad connection" or whatever. The point is, as a deterrent, it works. Why don't you try answering in Pidgin or Motu?

My technique precisely when hassled by boulevarde bandits in tourist traps. An expression of utter confusion and an outpouring of Tok Pisin accompanies by arm waving and chest poking. Never been known to fail - KJ

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