Doug Rutherford

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What’s in a phone call?

January 2012
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I’m beginning to enjoy the concept of call display. The phone rings, and the phone number is quickly shown on the display screen on the telephone. This presents the wonderful opportunity to talk to an old friend or family member or to allow the answering machine to deal with those moments when you’re feeling a bit on the anti-social side. And, we’ve all been there at some time or another.

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been getting a call from an odd-looking phone number, 999-910-0103. It is odd since there is no 999 area code. They only come in the daytime and I’m not home to get them. Clara has answered them a few times, but by the time she gets to the phone, she only gets a recorded woman’s voice saying “Good-bye.” As I previously mentioned, they are odd. The calls come several times a day and only in the daytime.

I finally got around to considering this problem yesterday. I ran a web search on the phone number to see if there was a name we could associate with it and found that this is a rather famous, or infamous one. This is the Microsoft remote access scam phone number. Someone phones you, claiming to be from Microsoft, reporting a problem with your computer. They, however, can fix this by you giving them remote access to your computer. Of course, this is not the greatest of ideas, since you are essentially allowing a stranger to scan through all of the data on your computer, including all of your personal information such as correspondence, banking information, etc.

Consider the following questions when you look at this situation. When you bought your computer, it probably came with the Windows program already installed. At what point did you give Microsoft your phone number? How does Microsoft actually know, of all of the copies of Windows out there in the world, which one is yours? And, how do they know that your computer is having problems?

These questions quickly jump to my mind, but I’m supposed to be an expert (although you may also want to consider the maxim that those who can’t do, teach). But, these are not the first things that may jump into the average computer user’s mind when faced with such a phone call and this is why such scams work. Also, the timing of the calls is important, since the underlying idea is that people who work, possibly even with computers, won’t be at home at that hour of the day. This is particularly heinous when you remember that the scam in question is aimed at seniors who, as a rule, are less computer literate on average than those raised when computers were more commonplace.

So, when your phone rings and you don’t recognize the caller, feel free to be skeptical. Ask them to call back with their request or offer in two days after you’ve had a chance to consider the issue. Odds are, they won’t return your call since they recognize that you aren’t an easy mark.

That being said, my father received one of these calls last month. Yes, he’s a senior and should be more susceptible to this type of fraud. But, we did raise him proper and he recognized the implications from the start of the phone call. After 21 years in the navy and another 25 in the Coast Guard, Dad’s command of certain more colloquial parts of the English language is a bit more developed than that of many other people.  In fact, it’s so well developed that I may even feel a bit of sympathy for the scammer on the other end of the conversation. Not much, but a little…


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