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January 5th, 2017

Torturing Tech Support Phone Scammers With Linux

Some days it doesn’t pay to be a huckster selling phony Windows support. Not that Windows doesn’t need supporting, mind you…

Roblimo’s Hideaway

Tech Support call center

“What,” you may ask, “is Online Tek Squad?” I didn’t know, either, until a guy calling himself Paul, known to Caller I.D. as “Name Unavailable,” rang me up from what turned out to be a nonexistent phone number. Paul said he called me because my computer was infected with “over 30 viruses.” Wow. Good thing he got hold of me before the number climbed to 40 or 50, right?

He wanted to know if I was in front of my computer, which I was. Could I click on the little Windows logo in the lower left corner of my screen? “I don’t see a Windows logo,” I said.

“What web browser are you using?” he asked.

“Chromium,” I said.

“Well then, please go to www.onlineteksquad.com,” he said, except he
spelled it out, one letter at a time.

Being a nice person, I did as he asked. He sounded like a pleasant man, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

Next, he said, scroll down to the words “CONNECT TO TECHNICIAN” and click on them. See, their technician would solve my computer’s problems and fix it so that it no longer ran slow.

“But my computer is running just fine,” I said. “It has no problems at all.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, seemingly puzzled, “because we detected problems from your Internet connection.”

“What IP address did you check?” I asked.

Paul said something like, “Ummmm….”

“Is it possible that you were confused because I’m running Linux, not Windows?” And not wanting to stop there, I continued, “Guess what, pal? You sound like a nice guy. You ought to get a legit job instead of trying to pull [obscenity] scams like this [obscenity] you’re wasting your time on with me.”

Whoops! Paul hung up.

Hello, Paul, come back! I was enjoying our conversation and didn’t want it to end. I had been doing some very boring work and loved the little break you gave me — and besides, I have a little sadistic streak buried deep inside my battered psyche and it was fun to let it out to play with you.

I know. I shouldn’t do this sort of thing. When the bogus Windows tech support people call, I should curse and hang up immediately, not keep them on the line until, after 10 minutes or half an hour of playing dumb, I tell them I’m running Linux, which always causes them to hang up right away for some strange reason.

And then, when I try to call them back, their phone numbers never seem to work.

Darn Linux! I have Windows, too, but I obviously don’t use it nearly enough. When I tell people like Paul I run Linux, they can’t get away from me fast enough. Obviously, if I ran Windows more often, they’d want to keep talking with me and I wouldn’t be so lonely.

I guess that’s my 2017 New Year’s resolution: to run more Windows so I can make lots of friends who are in the business of supplying bogus computer tech support.

Or maybe I’ll just go on using Linux most of the time, and if I want to make new friends I’ll go have a drink or two at the Drift Inn, where nobody really cares what operating system I like best. One or the other, anyway.

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Robin "Roblimo" Miller

Robin "Roblimo" Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. He also publishes the blog Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller’s Personal Site. @robinAKAroblimo

20 comments to Torturing Tech Support Phone Scammers With Linux

  • Y

    To Foss or not to Foss the question is now?

    Well, you better fuss, I guess.

  • jymm

    I recieved the same kind of call. The caller insisted I had a problem with my Windows computer. Even though I insisted I don’t run Windows, only Linux, he kept asking me if I had a Windows computer. He just couldn’t comprehend his scam was not working. It was actually pretty funny.

  • Mike

    Don’t hang up on them.

    Lie to keep them going as long as possible. Every minute you slow them down might be another non-tech-savvy person saved from them. It might seem funny and harmless to us, but to many out there it’s serious and dangerous.

  • soocki

    Windows = slow
    In 9 out of 10 cases I recon
    Arch = reliability + speed

  • gnubie

    Wonder what happens if you boot into tails and follow their instructions?

  • Reid Sprague

    Had a similar experience, kept him busy as long as I could – 20 or 25 minutes. Since many users they interact with are probably pretty clueless about their systems, it was easy to act dumb and keep him “coaching” me along until he gave up.

    I guess by now you’ve all heard about the scam a Best Buy in Washington state was running. I read that a local TV station unmasked it by buying a brand-new Windows computer from the store and having it checked out by an expert as clean. Then (having never connected it to the Internet) they took it back to the store with the complaint that it “ran slow”. The Geek Squad diagnosed numerous malware and offered to “clean it up” for only $150. Nice little cash cow sideline victimizing the ignorant!

  • Robin Miller

    We get 5 – 10 scam calls/day on our home line. Many of them are robocalls, which irk me to death. So I think our venerable home phone will go away. We’ll put on a message that say, “We no longer check this number. To reach Robin, call [cell #]. To reach Debbie, call [cell #]. Leave that there for 3 or 4 months, no ringer, then close the account. We get few BS calls on our cells, and Phone Warrior (and app I heartily recommend) cuts it down further.

  • Nonya

    I used to get those scam calls all the time when I had a land-line phone. Since I got a cell phone, I have been extremely careful who I give the number to. I dropped the land-line phone several years ago. Still, it was kinda fun getting the scammers to waste their time!

  • JIC you haven’t seen this yet…

    A 10 min Ted Talk about spam email. The idea still appeals to me re these phony computer tech calls.

    This is what happens when you reply to spam email | James Veitch

  • tracyanne

    I’ve never personally had one of those calls. I have friends who have, one of whom had already been primed by me, and was a new to Linux user, she got quite excited, about actually getting on of those calls, and could barely contain herself until she had a chance to tell the caller she was using linux.

    As for scam emails, i did reply to one once, it was the Nigerian Princess scam… I used a spamgourmet account to reply from, so it wasn’t traceable back to my real email address.

    I asked how I could help, pretending initially to be an elderly lady from Missouri, and as we exchanged emails, and they began pushing me to send money, I placed stranger and stranger conditions on what the scammer must agree to before I sent the money, which they agreed to immediately. finally I told them that they had to be my Lesbian sex slave for 5 years after coming to America… which they agreed to. I then told them that since we had that agreement I would speak to my friends in the State Department to facilitate getting her (the spammer) out of danger immediately.

    I never heard from them again.

  • Tracyanne, you made my day!

    Excellent! Maybe you should contact Veitch, compare notes, and develop a “for Dummies” book. I’m sure there are lots of people who would enjoy messing with spammers.

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed it.

  • les

    I wouldn’t even tell them I was running Linux but dragged out the “playing dumb” routine for 30 mins or more, when the helpful support techo, as i recall Paul or was it really Raj or similar (based on his questionable english) just hang up, I assume giving up in despair.

  • Jeff

    I also play them along for about 10 minutes until I thank them for giving me enough time to trace their call and tell them to expect a visit from Interpol.

  • I have had a few of these calls come it too. One cal in particular was a lot of fun. My wife was working from home that day and both of us were on our computers at the kitchen table. I put the call on speaker ‘so I could type with both hands’, and so she could hear too. I managed to drag the call out about 25 minutes of so, even disconnecting while I was talking at one point. The guy called me back almost immediately and the call came in from another, different, forged caller ID. I told him I didn’t know what had happened. We were both laughing quietly as I ran this guy around in circles – which computer? hold on while I turn it on, I’m still waiting for it to start up, etc. I hope we prevented two or three calls to other people.

    I have something planned for the future, I just need to set it up on my side. Sitting in an email folder labeled MALWARE, I have a ransomware file. I plan to create a virtual linux machine and open the file. If I can modify the file I will change some of the attributes, the encryption key would be nice. If not, that is ok too. The file will be renamed to passwords.zip or something. The next step is to create another virtual machine or two and put passwords.zip on the desktop. Then wait for the call. Hopefully I can get them to grab a copy of the file and open it on their systems. If all goes well… Well, they are tech support, they should know what to do…

  • Joe P

    I kept one of these Indian tech support people, who claimed he was “from Windows” on the phone for about half an hour. When I eventually told him I was running Linux he told me that I was a very bad man for wasting his time. I asked him if it wasn’t considered bad in his religion to scam old or inexperienced people out of their hard earned money.

    The tech support guy immediately repeated back to me my phone number and then my real name. He said the compromised database had other information they could use to really mess up my life. That was 4 months ago and nothing has happened but please be careful before you decide to mess with them. Maybe just hang up.

  • Steve

    How did Paul associate the problem on your windows box with the phone number he dialed? lol I think I would have asked him that.

  • Mike

    @Joe P

    It’s not hard to associate a name to a phone number.

    He was full of crap…feel free to mess with them as much as possible.

  • Robin Miller

    He didn’t use my name. Not a sophisticated scam. You OTOH, can tell I’m listening to Haley Rhinehart & PostModern Jukebox — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6RD6mjiIZE&spfreload=1 — just by reading this comment, because you’re an AMAZING HACKER!!!

  • There will NEVER be a time when what these people do is considered “decent work”. So whenever the shoe gets put on the other foot? there’s to be no remorse or pity. I recognize that most of these people are just trying to feed their families, but when you look at who they’re doing this TO?…the elderly and those who might not the most tech-savvy, then they must accept the consequences of their actions.
    Such as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QdPW8JrYzQ&feature=youtu.be
    Guess sometimes they also run the risk of losing their jobs?..or worse, getting thrown in jail by the company for destroying their PC’s. LoL!

  • kaddy

    Haha when they called me… I tortured them for over an hour. Here’s most of the highlights