For a time in the late 1990s, I was getting flooded with phone calls from telemarketers. The calls were unrelenting. At its peak, I was getting multiple calls per hour. Most of those calls were annoying but relatively harmless. Even so, I decided that I had to do something, so I came up with an awesome way of putting a stop to the calls.
Back then, I used something called the Microsoft Cordless Phone System. I’m not talking about Windows Phone, I’m talking about an old school, 900MHz cordless phone that was controlled by a PC.
Many of this phone’s capabilities were almost unheard of at the time. For example, the phone could compile a call log on your PC, and you could create custom greetings depending on who was calling. With a few tweaks to the software, I was able to create a “telemarketers group.” Any time I received a call from a telemarketer, I added the caller ID information to the group. Any time that a call came in from any of the numbers in the group, the system was programmed not to ring (so that I would not be disturbed), and to play a special message to the telemarketer. I’ll leave the message contents to your imagination, but let’s just say that my technique was very effective in putting a stop to the relentless telemarketing calls.
Today, a lot has changed. For one thing, my method of dealing with unwanted callers would never work now. The Microsoft Cordless Phone System is extinct. Besides, it is way too easy to spoof caller ID information. More importantly, the calls themselves have changed. Most of the calls that I seem to get these days are from scammers, many claiming to be from “the tech support department.” While I haven’t yet found a way of putting a stop to these calls, I have found that messing with tech support scammers can be a source of endless amusement.
How the scam works
So before I tell you how you can royally screw with tech support scammers, it’s important that you know how the scam works. There are a number of variations of the scam, but the basic idea is that a scammer calls and tells the person who answers the phone that their computer is infected with a virus.
My experience has been that the scammers like to show the intended victim error messages within the Windows Event Viewer logs. Even though these errors are normal, and most are completely benign, the scammer claims that the errors are evidence of a viral infection. The scammer will then ask for money to fix the problem. Or, the scammer will ask to take control of your computer, cause severe damage, and then demand money to fix the problem that they caused. If you would like to see exactly how the scam plays out, go to YouTube and search on the phrase “telephone tech support scam.”
Become an idiot
OK, so now that you know how the scam works, it’s time to have some fun. One of the ways that I have messed with “tech support” scammers in the past is to pretend to be completely computer illiterate (or maybe even a little bit worse than that). One of the first questions that the scammers usually ask is if you have a PC or a Mac. I like to pretend that I don’t know the difference between the two. The scammer asks lots of questions to determine what I have, and I intentionally make the scammer struggle to decipher my answer, eventually giving them just enough information to let them think that I am using a Mac.
Once the “troubleshooting” portion of the call begins, I pretend not to be able to find anything that they are asking me to click on. Eventually, I ask them if I should press the Windows key. When they start giving me directions for a Windows system, I still act like I don’t know what I am doing, but once again drop subtle hints that I am using a Mac. I had one scammer get so mad at my antics that he gave me a tongue lashing and hung up on me.
Another way to have some fun is to be a schizophrenic. This method works similarly to the method that I just described, but with one twist. Once the scammer is convinced that I am completely clueless, I suddenly turn into a computer expert and make it obvious to the scammer that I have not only been onto the scam from the beginning, but that I know more about computers than he or she does.
In case you are wondering, I did this the first time that I received a tech support scam call, because I was curious as to what the scammer would ask me to do. I stopped playing dumb as soon as the scammer asked me to download a file.
Adopt a friend
During a recent visit, a relative received a call from their doctor’s office (this was a seemingly legitimate call). The person from the doctor’s office was asking a lot of questions in an effort to gather information for an upcoming appointment. Every time that my relative was asked a question about his insurance, he would shout the question to his wife, who was in the next room.
After the fact, I kept thinking that it would be a lot of fun to do the same thing to a tech support scammer. I could play the clueless user who has to shout every single one of the scammer’s questions to someone else. So what if I happen to be the only one who is home at the time. I can still pretend to be talking to someone who is more knowledgeable than myself.
Have telephone problems
I haven’t gotten to try this one out on a scammer yet, but I once used this technique on a particularly obnoxious coworker at a place where I used to work. I answered the phone with a simple hello. When I heard the voice on the line and realized who I was talking to, I said hello a couple more times, pretending not to be able to hear the person. Then I decided to kick things up a notch. I shouted HELLO! into the phone one more time, and then banged the receiver on my desk a few times (as loudly as I could). I shouted HELLO! into the phone one more time before swearing at the “broken” phone and then hanging up (loudly). I’m pretty sure that the unwanted caller’s ears were left ringing after that one.
Be a time traveler
I love this one, but sadly I can’t take credit for it. It was actually my wife who came up with this little gem, although I really wish I had been the one who thought of it.
Remember that in order for the scam to work, the scammers have to gain access to your computer. So, when the scammer told my wife that she needed to be online, she told him that she would need to hang up the phone because she had dial-up Internet and couldn’t go online and talk on the phone at the same time. It was hilarious to watch her in action. I was just waiting for her to bring up the old AOL CDs from the 1990s.
One of the ways that I have screwed with tech support scammers in the past has been to point out some of the really obvious flaws in their story. Think about this one for a second. The scammer claims that tech support has remotely detected a virus on your computer, but can’t fix the problem unless you grant them remote access. The premise seems a bit illogical, but I’ll accept it anyway. After all, there are monitoring tools that push information from a user’s computer to a remote server, without providing full-blown remote access. But if the “tech support department” legitimately detected an infection on your computer, shouldn’t they at least be able to tell whether you are using a PC or a Mac? With some exceptions, malware tends not to be multiplatform.
As an alternative, you can always press the scammer for more information. I tried this one once. A scammer claimed to be with tech support, and I asked which company’s technical support he was from. The scammer just kept repeating that he was from technical support. I pressed further by asking how he had gotten my number, and was told that I received a tech support contract when I bought my computer. At that point, I told the scammer that the story seemed a little fishy because I built my computer rather than buying it from a store.
Be like my mom
My mother recently told me that she had received a call from a scammer who told her that they had detected a viral infection on her computer. She asked how that was even possible since she does not have Internet connectivity (she really doesn’t). The scammer just could not seem to grasp the idea that there are still people in this world who do not have Internet access.
After hearing of this particular incident, I thought that it might be fun to play a future incident in exactly the opposite way. (I have not yet had the chance.) The next time that someone tells me that my computer has a virus, I want to ask them which computer. I think that if someone is going to call me and tell me that my computer is having problems, then it is reasonable to expect them to be able to identify the problematic system among the many computers on my network. Maybe I will ask them for the MAC address IP address, or NetBIOS name of the system that is allegedly having the problem.
Method to my madness
As much fun as it is to mess with tech support scammers, I do it for more than just the sheer entertainment value. Tech support scammers are out to rip off innocent people. Sadly, I know several people who have fallen for tech support scams and have been coned out of hundreds of dollars. My philosophy is that if I can keep a scammer on the phone dealing with whatever twisted little game I decide to play with them, then that is time that the scammer is not on the phone with another potential victim. If I play my role well enough, then I can cause the scammer to have a frustrating day, while also potentially reducing the number of people that the scammer can call that day.
Photo credit: Pixabay
42 thoughts on “Seriously fun ways to screw with ‘tech support’ scammers”
Thanks for the ideas Brian. I’ll be passing this link on.
It is certainly worth investing a little of our time to waste some of the scammers time, exactly for the reason you gave. And, it can be fun!
A while back I read about a guy who created a simple AI that provided the dumb answers.
Long ago my mom was getting “deep breather” annoying phone calls. Her solution was to keep a whistle next to the phone. A couple of !LOUD! tweets cured that problem.
I will have to remember the whistle idea . Love it!
I have used several of these techniques in the past as well as another. I have provided answers to their questions from memory with out actually doing any of the steps. Occasionally providing conflicting responses, it is interesting to hear them try to confirm the conflicting information. I have had similar responses from the spammers when I tell them I am an IT professional. I feel the same way if I waste their time they are not scamming someone who could be less informed.
As well I remember the Microsoft cordless phone well. I used it for many years.
I too have answered their questions from memory. The funny thing about actually following along and performing their instructions one click at a time, is that it feels like the process is just painfully slow.
Incidentally, I loved the Microsoft Phone, for many reasons other than just avoiding telemarketers. The only reason why I gave it up was because the required PC serial port eventually went extinct.
Another highly useful approach, that also frees you up to do other things while wasting their time is as follows “Oh, I’m really concerned about that virus. Yes, yes, please fix it for me. But can you just hang on one minute, one of my kids needs help pulling up his pants / blowing his nose / cleaning up a spill”.
Ignore their attempts to keep you on the line, or to call you back later. Just act as though you didn’t hear them.
And just put the phone down on the bench, and go about your business for about 5 minutes.
Come back to the phone and see if they are still there. If so, great! String them along for another minute, then repeat step 1 above with a new minor emergency while sounding like you sincerely appreciate the help.
Remember – The more time of theirs you can waste, the worse their business model, and you are saving someone else from getting their call.
And it feels so good to be evil to these leeches.
I’ve got to remember that one. I love that it allows you to waste their time, without wasting your own time in the process.
I used to work in a retail computer store. Because of our time zone we used to get telemarketing calls from India from about 3PM onwards – usually when things have quietened down for the day. They always asked for the business owner and it was always to save money on the phone bill. Occasionally we’d get the “virus” calls – which was doubly funny for a computer store.
We used to play a “fishing” game – how long could we keep them on the line before they just got sick of it an hung up. Some were wise to us after few minutes but some stayed on for hours.
Smart people with time on their hands can be very vindictive.
Your post had me cracking up laughing. I can only imagine how competitive the “fishing game” must have gotten, and some of the outrageous things that were no doubt attempted in an effort to claim the record. I’m sure that those were some good times. You’re right, smart people with time on their hands can be very vindictive. LOL.
I would not recommend anyone to talk to those guys. The best answer is to tell them that you do not have computer anymore, and so they should not bother, be sincere and polite. There is a hope that they remove your phone from their list, otherwise they will keep selling it to other scammers and spammers.
I kind of like the Whistle idea, that would be a god way to punish their human callers.
There is a hope for us too:
I lately signed up to the “nomorobo.com” service – the number of telemarketing calls is down to a 1-2 a week, instead of half a dozen a day.
I had never heard of nomorobo.com. I’m glad to hear that it is working for you. The company’s Web site indicates that “legal robocalls, like school closings and prescription reminders, are allowed through”. My concern with using that sort of service is that there are plenty of nuisance calls that are technically legal. The National Do Not Call Registry for example, blocks sales calls, but permits “political calls, charitable calls, debt collection calls, informational calls, and telephone survey calls” (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0108-national-do-not-call-registry). My concern would be that a service like nomorobo.com would allow those types of calls too. Like I said though, I am really glad that it is working so well for you.
I know this is an older article, but I just have to add my two cents here.
I got one of these calls once and I strung him along for about 15 minutes. He wanted me to connect to a web site. I used the excuse that I was on dial up and he was calling on the line I use. He asked for another line that he could call me on… so I gave him the local non-emergency police number.
He actually called me back pretty mad. It really made me laugh.
Gordon, that is AWESOME! I wish I had thought of that one.
I’ve had a couple of these. Usually the family gets to the phone first, dresses them down for being vile scammers, and hangs up. But the couple of times I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve had some fun. For one of the “Microsoft Support” scammers, I told them we only run Linux boxes (insert my derisive laughter here). For another, when they asked for my IP address, I answered, “127.0.0.1”. I don’t know if he was dumb enough to attack that address, but I surely do hope so.
127.0.0.1… That’s great! I have to remember that one, LOL.
I had a call today from a heavily accented man and he said he was from microsoft.. and said my computer was being hacked and I needed to plug in certain codes so he could fix it… I didn’t do it of course and when he asked what I saw on the screen I said a picture of Donald Trump. He said to plug in the numbers and so forth again and he asked what I saw.. I said Donald Trump but this time he has no clothes on. I said I wasn’t the type of person to want to look at these pictures. So again he asked me and he asked me what I saw on the screen and I said I broke my glasses that morning and I couldn’t read it. He said if I didn’t do what he told me to he would shut down my computer forever and it would never work again. I then said someone was coming to our door and I had to answer it and he asked if this person was there to %$%&*&^ us? I said no, he was there to screw him over and then laughed and laughed and hung up… He was so foul and perverted I almost threw up… What creeps they are to pull this filthy language out of their ugly mouths.. Think in the future I will not answer.
I’ve told them several things. Once they told me I had been hacked and I had a virus that they had to fix. I told them I worked in IT and my boss could fix it easily. They told me he wouldn’t be able to do it right and it would crash in about 2 days. I told them to go f$^% themselves and hung up. Another time they called and I asked them which computer was infected. He was flabbergasted that it was possible to have more than one computer. I told him the 80’s are over, it’s 2017 now. He told me to hang on while he went to talk to his supervisor. I hung up when he put me on hold
Got my tech call from apparently newbie. Told him I couldn’t talk because I had my own quota of calls to make and rattled somepaper near the phone. He asked what was I selling. Told him chocolate and gotta go or get fired and hung up. He called me back and wanted to buy my chocolate and sadly I told him I
sold out already and would not get more.
I bought a couple of whistles and when the scammers ring up, I blow the whistle down the phone. Strangely, they put the phone down!
@Pauline… Good one!
i have a second pc which i connect to the router and let them prod about in that for a while, with folder names like ‘all my bank details in here’ or ‘credit card details in here’. then all you do is make folders inside folders with text like ‘great! keep going’ nearly there’ etc. had a couple routing around in that. they just left after they found the insults.
@Kevin, Bravo! That’s awesome!
Got a call this morning from an Asian sounding woman named ‘Jenny’ claiming to be from VT Support. She asked me to turn on my computer because they had detected some problems. Something about my computer ID license. I asked for the actual number. I asked where she was calling from – Michigan. What town? Hard to understand. Asked her to spell it – something like Bloom…….. Asked her for zip code – 20512. I just looked up zip codes and this one is in Sri Lanka. Then I talked to her about some people trying to scam people over 55 as maybe they think they are easier to scam. I told her I never scammed people in all my years as a Registered Nurse or as a Human Resources professional. I told her I had a company I worked with if I had any computer problems and she tried to question how I knew if they were any good. Yes, they are. How do I know that is true as they called me. No, they never called me. I called them. She got angry about me calling her a scammer! I told her I had not called her a scammer because I had not. Then she began a long angry tirade speaking very fast and I finally hung up. I could have stayed on the call longer, but I was tired of it. Maybe kept her going for 10 minutes while I had a 2nd cup of coffee. Usually I do not answer when my caller ID shows a number or name I do not recognize.
@Barbara, I have been on the receiving end of the angry tirade and hang up many times 😉
I’m a tad ashamed but I put on my special person voice and pretend to be trying hard to accomplish what they want done. My skills are so poor though they get extremely frustrated with me and end up hanging up.
I have never used a special person voice, but I have played the chronically computer illiterate role many times.
I like to tell them “Is is a computer live, we don’t talk voice calls here!” Another is “FBI Secure Line, state your business?” My next plan is
“FCC do not call enforcement line, State you name and company?”
I once put my two year old on the phone. Another time I used a blow horn on the caller, and yet another time I acted like he had reached a pizza joint, and kept asking him what his order was until he hung up.
My wife used a different approach to one of those credit card interest scams. When asked if she had a card she replied yes. When asked for the number she said, oh, I don’t have the card with me, my husband just gives it to me when I go shopping. Caller hung up.
As like “Smart Dame”, the tech told me he was going to shut down my computer forever and guess what? He did!! The only thing was that I was stupid enough to let him into my computer and while talking he kept talking about scammers and he couldn’t understand how people could do that to others. When he didn’t get what he wanted is when he said he was going to shut down my computer. I could turn it on but that was it. It did have a thing that would pop up to say to get access to it I would have to put the password in to unlock it, (his password he put in). I just started putting things in and then I remembered how he kept talking about scammers so I started putting in all words made from scam….It was SCAMMED!! LOL. I had my computer back!!
Never let these scammers connect to your computer.
But do keep them on the line.
The conventional advice to ignore and block scam calls has made things worse. Now most people are aware of these scams and don’t engage, so only the most susceptible and vulnerable people talk to the scammers and fall for the ruse. This has made scamming more lucrative!
Time to try something else.
Keep them on the line. Scambaiting the scammers works. Don’t give them any real information or let them connect to your computer. The more people scambait, the less profitable the scam is. The more people do this the more we dilute the pool of lucrative marks to the point where it is becomes more costly to find and exploit a target than it’s worth.
Plus scambaiting is fun, I livestream it and record it. But don’t take my word for it, join me in the fight against scams and watch the next call live:
I have had several tech support scammers calling me and one recently from Amazon Prime (who I don’t have an account with.) I’m also not online at home and just use my work computer for online stuff. I do have a laptop at home, but pretend that I have a desktop, which is upstairs, whilst my landline phone is downstairs and could they phone me on my mobile (hopefully hitting them a bit more in their pocket doing so.) I pretend to take a long time turning on the computer (because it has been acting funny and I had to switch it off last time without logging off, so it must be full of viruses. In reality I go and make a cup of coffee, go to the toilet or whatever). I come back eventually and then try and keep them going for as long as possible. I get up the error messages and pretending to be worried about them and then try and log onto the site they tell me, which of course fails, seemingly because I keep getting the address wrong Often there is a fictional parcel delivered to my house halfway through the conversation with them, in order to waste a few more minutes, although the last time I tried that the guy cottoned on and went ballistic, making wordless sounds of rage and fury through the phone! Still kept the idiot going for 16.40 on the mobile and about 5 minutes previous to that on the landline. I still remember one idiot asked me what was on my desktop and I said “Pens, paper, books _ _ ” He said “No, on your’ computer!”
I am of Indian descent and majority of these calls come from India because I can recognize the fake American accent immediately. I was stuck in a traffic jam today when I received one today claiming to be from the social security administration. I put in the act of being a frightened old man and kept asking every 30 seconds of he was from the FBI/CIA/KGB/Mossad, etc. he still didn’t catch on. He gave me a bunch of info and I wrote all of it down because he made me repeat some of it to him later. 30 mins in he connected me to someone else who was probably going to get me to pay up. This person turned out to be smarter and figured it out and hung up on me. 10 mins later he called me back and stared to curse me in his language (which I understand) so I dropped the act and matched every curse with one of my own! Mission accomplished! I wasted his time and killed time at my end waiting for the jam to clear up. The cursing at the end was cathartic.
I too have occasionally been on the receiving end of a long string of swearing. It is just amazing how much the scammers seem to scream and swear when they get frustrated.
I received a survey scam call a few years ago. I called her out and she got pissed. not only did I call out the scam, I laughed after she hung up.
I have a couple of tricks that I use to waste their time or to annoy them.
I pretend I’m a teenage kid. I tell them in a quite voice I’ll get my mom or dad. Sometimes very quietly they ask me to repeat myself. Then I wait a few seconds and scream “DAD!!! PHONE CALL!!!”. I’ll then ask them some questions very quietly where they need to respond and intermittently scream “DAD!!! PHONE CALL!!!”. They usually get mad at me for screaming because it hurts their ears.
Another, (I’ll keep this PG rated) is I’ll say embarrassing sexual things. For the IRS guy, eventually I’ll ask if bad things would happen in jail. Then I’ll ask if he or she will be involved and I’d like that. All the while, I’m trying to act like I believe him to keep him on the line for a long time. I take these guys to dark places.
Then of course for the tech guy, I play computer illiterate and waste as much time as possible. I’ll ask them if I should click on “restart PC” and then say, “oh I already clicked on it” it’s re-started.
I get almost always hear this guys get mad at me.
One time I played the computer illiterate. During the conversation, I decided to tell them my wife just collapsed (a lie from me) and maybe I should see if she’s okay. He told me to take care of the computer first and I asked what if she’s really sick and needs medical attention? Believe it or not, he wanted me to continue with the computer virus. I have no sympathy for these people and that is one more reason to waste their time.
I absolutely love playing the complete idiot to these guys. My record until they started shouting and abusing me is about one minute — when they wanted me to “open the computer” I said I would get a screwdriver, because the machine was “screwed” (I am not a native english speaker and gave them the most ludicrous accent I could come up with). Not being able to tell them the OS or browser used entertains them for longer. They usually then turn to the keyboard searching for the “Windows” key. Asking me for what keys I have starting from bottom left I tell them there is “CTRL”, “ALT” and a very long key with no writing on it…
“with a screwdriver”? Love it!
It absolutely amazes me how abusive they become and how many swear words they let fly when they realize that I am messing with them.
One of my problems is I got a call from micro soft and when it came time to put the amount for the refund and on the form for some reason the keyboard would put in an extra zero. We tried the refund the second time from one Bank to another bank and this time I pressed the keys to enter the refund slowly and it’s still entered an extra zero. So needless to say every time this happened I have wound up having to pay the money back. I agree with the idea of if you ever get a Microsoft technician telling you that you have something that you did not ask them to sign you up for just tell them you have no internet access.
Or tell them that you have a Chromebook or a Mac, or no computer at all.
When a scammer calls me from India (electric company does NOT call regarding refunds; nor does Microsoft call you), usually he says his name is something like “Mike Lewis.” Yeah, right. You can say, “No; your name is NOT Mike Lewis; it’s Bain Chowd.” That is Hindi for a man who sleeps with his sister. Just try it. Of course if an American calls you, this won’t work, but when is the last time a scammer called you with an American accent?