Every year for Thanksgiving, whether or not we have guests, Jill and I order a ready-to-eat meal from Cracker Barrel. Their turkey, gravy, and dressing is really good, and with it we usually get ham, mac & cheese, fried apples, baby carrots, and some biscuits and sourdough bread. We preorder and set a pickup time on Thanksgiving Day, and then we just drive to the back of the restaurant, pay, and they bring the food out to our car.Continue reading
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to export my LiveJournal account to PDF files so that I have a local copy of it. But LiveJournal has no export feature. There are sites like BlogBooker, who (for a fee and my LJ login) will generate PDFs for me; there are also other sites which (if I give them my LJ login) will import my LJ posts and comments. But I don’t trust any of those services to get everything. Plus, I wanted to find a solution on my own.Continue reading
I’ve preserved unusual wording and pronunciations here as well as I could.
A woman with an Indian accent.
I am calling you from Social Security Administration. Your social security number has been used in connection with illegal activities and will be suspended. If you are not responsible for these activities, then please provide me your name, your address, and the last four digits of your social so that I can verify your information.
I identify myself as Bob Parr and give a Sunnyvale California address where I lived many years ago.
The criminal activities took place in the State of Texas. There was an abandoned black Toyota Corolla with license plate TX2440. People had called to complain about it. When the police investigated it they found blood and drugs inside. This car had been rented under your name. There are also five addresses rented in your name. One is 7609 Claremont Avenue, Rowlett, Texas, 75089. Another is [the address on public record with my current phone number]. Are you associated with any of these addresses?
The criminals wired $236,789 from banks to foreign countries for criminal activities.
You are faced with three serious charges: money laundering, theft by deception, and misleading government information. I will transfer you to U.S. Marshals and they will give to you a new social.Continue reading
I was excited to get a call from another scammer today. “Maxwell” from “Apple” told me that my Apple account had been accessed from Alabama and Texas, and that to solve the problem I needed to install TeamViewer QuickSupport on my iPhone.
If I had installed that app, he would have had me go into my bank account so he could watch and copy down details. So of course I didn’t. He quickly moved to Plan B: “We can verify you at your nearest grocery store. Buy a $100 Google Play card and we will use the 16-digit code to verify you. Don’t worry, I will immediately refund the purchase price back to your account.”
So I “drove” (sound effects: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpTDNpWkUuM) to “Target” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj7C2g3cM_8), at which point he upped the ante. “To remove the unsecure connection I need you to buy two cards for $100 each, or one reloadable card for $200.” I pretended to get into a conversation with the cashier where I explained (just speaking my side of the conversation) that I was buying these to unlock my account because I was on the phone with Apple. “This is classified and confidential!” he told me urgently. “Do not tell them what this is for! Simply tell me them that this is for your personal use. Personal use! Otherwise they will charge you a 10% tax which will not be refunded. It is very confidential, trust me.”
Back in the “parking lot” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K07R8Y_N_pY) again, he told me to scratch off the cards and read the codes to him. I gave him codes from cards I found online that people had posted online last year, and I asked what a Google Play card had to do with my Apple account. “It is going to remove the hackers, not your identity,” he said. “This card will remove the hackers. Give me five minutes.”
A few minutes later, he returned to tell me the codes don’t appear to be valid. “These two cards are not blocking the hackers.” So I told him that I just entered the codes on Google’s redeem page to add them to my Google Play account. This sent him into apoplexy. “Did I tell you to do that? Why did you do that? Now you need to go to another store and buy more cards.”
So next I went to “Walmart” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dp9yBndP-1A) and pretended to have another conversation with a cashier who was refusing to sell me the cards because this is a scam. “She is talking about something else,” my friend from “Apple” told me. “Leave the store and go somewhere else.”
The third trip was to “Walgreens” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7Yks_RIVgc). “Put your phone in your pocket so they do not see it,” he instructed me this time.
Back in the parking lot, I told him that there had been an error! They only sold me two $50 gift cards for $100 total, not two $100 cards! Could he, somehow, still use them? “Give me the codes and I will see.” A few minutes later. “These codes again do not work,” he said. I told him that’s strange because they worked just fine for me when I added them to my Google account while I was on hold. This sent him into another fit: “Why would you! What kind of an idiot are you?” And then he hung up.
Apparently I’m the kind of idiot with an hour and a half to waste on a Saturday evening, putting on a show for a scammer!
My advice for anyone who uses a computer, condensed into six specific tips.Continue reading
In Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, there’s a notice board with several messages on it, written in Aurebesh.
For fun, I translated it!Continue reading
Today I tied up a credit card scammer on the phone for more than an hour. I got further with him that I’ve ever gotten with a scammer.
I get 3-4 phonecalls every day from Indian scammers looking to help me reduce my credit card interest rate to “0% for the life of the card.” Usually I hang up on them, but for the times when I’m bored and feel like playing with them, I made a text file with fake (but consistent) card and identity info in it. First I give them a fake MasterCard, and when that doesn’t come back as valid I give them a fake Visa, and then a fake Visa debit card, and then I’ll tempt them with the promise of a Discover that I won’t give them until they answer all my questions (and, of course, I have so very many questions). I’m always unerringly polite and eager to get their help, so I give them whatever (fake) information they’d like. If I have plenty of free time, I’ll add a story about “my MasterCard had unapproved charges on it so I had them send me a new card, and I got this one on Monday, and it works because I bought coffee at Starbucks this morning, but my Visa I called in about last week and they haven’t called me back yet so I don’t know if this card is canceled or if they’re sending me a new one so maybe you can help me with that” – and that sometimes explains to their satisfaction why the cards are coming up as invalid. Every now and then I’ll also get conversational with them, asking them how their day’s been, telling them what the weather is like here, that sort of thing. They usually get impatient with that. Eventually the scammer realizes he’s not getting anywhere, and so these calls usually end with me getting hung up on, usually after the scammer has told me to stick my card up my ass.
Today, though, I got connected to someone (“James”) who’s apparently new to the game. I gave him the MasterCard and the Visa, and when both came up as invalid, I gave him my story about unapproved charges and I snowed him with lots of smalltalk whenever he wasn’t fast enough to come back at me with a request for more personal information. And eventually he got confused and decided that my info was valid.
So then he transferred me to his “project manager” (“Barry Alan”) who re-verified all the fake info with me – and then explained their program. This was the first time I’d ever reached this level!
I currently have a total (fake) balance of $8500 over two (fake) credit cards at (fake) 13.99% and 15.99% interest. He told me that I can choose either of two options:
- Put the balance onto a new card, plus $1200 in service fees ($9700 total), and on this I would have zero percent interest forever. As long as I kept making a minimum payment each month, that would go entirely towards the principal. (At one point he mentioned something about the service fees being charged at 12.99%, but I couldn’t get him to explain that.)
- Balance transfer of my existing dept to a card with an interest rate below 5% (“might be as low as 0%”).
This sounded too good to be true, and I told him so. He gave me a story about his company, CMS (Card Management Services) Corporation, being in business to help people with money.
Then he asked me for my social security number. I balked, asking him if it was safe to provide that. He insisted that it was perfectly safe because “this is a recorded line,” and because “if I was a scammer I could hang up on you right now and use your credit cards to purchase things, but because I am not a scammer, I have not hung up the line with you.” In the time it took him to explain all that, I found a social security number generator to provide a valid number that fit the birthdate I had given to him.
Then came the interesting part. We were discussing my (fake) Wells Fargo Visa, and he told me he was transferring me to someone to request my credit card statements, and I said okay, and there was a pause … then I found myself speaking with Cindy from Wells Fargo customer service. The real thing. She was confused, I was confused, I kept asking if Barry Alan was still on the line … then there was a click, and I was suddenly talking with Barry again, who apparently had been listening in – ready to take over the call as soon as I had confirmed my identity with Wells Fargo. “You are supposed to ask for your credit card statements!” he demanded. I apologized, there was another pause, and now I was speaking with Seth from Wells Fargo. “A gentleman who is helping me get zero percent on all my credit cards told me to ask you for my credit card statements!” I told him. He was confused and asked for my account number. I complained, “Barry already has that! He should have given that to you! I have given my information to three people already!” Poor Seth was an innocent casualty, but there was no way I could tip him off to what was going on without tipping off Barry.
Click. Barry was back, and he was mad, accusing me of wasting his time and trying to scam him. I got (fake) mad right back, telling him that I always have to wait on the phone for an hour and a half when I call my credit card company.
And then, yes, he hung up on me.
I feel like this is a win because I finally got them to tell me what their “offer” is. I can see why people think it’s a good offer, but I don’t entirely believe Mr. Barry Alan.
I am on the national Do Not Call list, I block every phone number that scammers use to call me, but I still get huge numbers of phonecalls from people who want to lower my credit card interest rate “to zero percent for the life of the card.” Sometimes if I’m bored, I’ll politely give them my fake AT&T Universal MasterCard and my fake Wells Fargo VISA and take up as much time as they want to spend on me.
Yesterday after I wasted a scammer’s time for twenty minutes until he tried both cards and realized that I was giving him fake data, he did something I hadn’t seen before: he told me my current balance (fake number), my most recent payment (fake number), and my next payment due (fake date and fake number), then wished me a nice day. I think it’s funny that each of us knew the other was lying, but we still carried on the conversation as if both of us were legit.
Today I got a call from another guy who wanted to lower my rate on my car insurance. He never asked if I was interested or if I wanted his help, but he immediately started asking details about my current car and insurance. I told him I drive a Honda. “What kind of Honda? Civic, Accord?” I said I drive a Honda Pilot. “… Civic, Accord?” Okay, fine, I drive an Accord.
After I had given him all the fake information he asked for, he told me that someone would be calling me back within the next 24-48 hours. And then, oddly, he verified today’s date then said, “Just to inform you, this gentleman will override your number even if it is on the DNC.” Hold on, I said, what is that, I asked? He again verified today’s date and again said “He will override your number even if it is on the DNC.” Yes, but what does that mean?
Click. I got hung up on.
I’m a little puzzled by the last statement. Was he asking me to give explicit permission to be called, even though I’m on the Do Not Call list? Or what does it mean for a caller to “override” the list? And why would the guy who called me need to bring this up when he, himself, was calling me in violation of the list – or was he technically not in violation because it’s the next guy who calls me who’s the one to try selling me something?
I blocked the number. Let’s see them try to override that.
On a balcony at a cottage on the Atlantic beach, I’m warming myself in the morning sun. The waves crash against the sand below me. Seagulls and pelicans hover above; they aim a hungry eye in my direction, decide I neither have fish nor am fish, and move on.
I’ve left the world for a little while so I can decide whether I want to rejoin it.
Beside me is my knapsack with a book inside. I haven’t written in the book in the past eight months. I tell myself that I have no intention of writing in it today either, and that I really had no purpose in even bringing it with me in the first place; but both I and the book know that’s a lie. I pull it from the knapsack and set it on the table before me. It’s hardbound in bright blue. The only marking on it is a large lower-case ‘f’ in white on the front cover. I open it.
The pages inside depict a multitude of faces of people as they go about their day. Many genders, many ages, some of the images are of couples together, a few of them are cats. They notice me and hesitate, peer at me animatedly from the pages. I flip past most of them. Finally I find the page with the image of a woman in her late twenties – it’s a drawing, a self-portrait of the artist. It’s remarkably good.
She looks surprised to see me. “Where have you been?” she asks, curious.