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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.

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Why Computers Suck

Computers are a big part of my life, and I have a lot of gadgets. But at the heart of it I like to think that my needs are fairly simple. Phones, tablets, and laptops aside, when it comes to desktop computers, I use:

  • A Mac on which to keep my iTunes music library, the photos from my iPhone, and any other various files I need to keep around. I’ve bought in to the Apple ecosystem, and it’s handy to have a central place to keep all my data. Makes backing it up easier, too.
  • A Windows PC for gaming. I don’t trust Windows 10 with my important data, but it makes a great gaming platform, especially since I can get really good games for cheap from Steam sales and Humble Bundles.

For the past decade, these two needs have been served by a single computer: a PC that I built from parts and Hackintoshed so that it can dual-boot into macOS or Windows 10. I won’t go into the details, but the short of it is that Apple simply didn’t make a desktop computer that I wanted to buy. And I like to tinker, so getting macOS running on a PC was a fun challenge.

But I’m getting tired of that challenge. A small system update can wreak havoc with a Hackintosh, making it fail to boot and throw enigmatic error messages that would require me to pore over the tonymacx86.com forums until I could figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. I haven’t been able to upgrade my computer to macOS Mojave because it has an Nvidia Geforce 970 graphics card in it, and Nvidia hasn’t yet released drivers that work with Mojave (and there’s skepticism whether they ever will, as Apple has moved to ATI). And, really, I was getting tired of always having to reboot to switch between macOS and Windows whenever I wanted to play a game, or copy photos off my iPhone, or play a different game, or sync my music…

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I get exactly the same three scam phonecalls every afternoon, with the same exact scripts and even the same hold music.

They don’t honor my do-not-call requests and they have a different caller ID number each time so I can’t block them. So if I’m bored, I screw with ’em. I waste their time so they can’t call other people. I practice faking sincerity.

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I check my Hackintosh computer’s disk with Disk Utility every now and then to make sure there are no problems. Usually it says the disk is okay. This time it said “error: drec_val object (oid 0x8f62a): invalid type (0). fsroot tree is invalid.” Disk Utility also told me that it couldn’t repair it. I found some discussion boards online which say the only solution is to reformat the disk and restore from backup.

This is a problem.

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Jon Stewart addressing Donald Trump, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (June 28, 2018):

There’s one hallmark to your presidency that I think we’re finding the most difficult, is that no matter what you do, it always comes with an extra layer of gleeful cruelty and dickishness.

It’s not just that you don’t want people taking a knee; it’s that they’re ‘sons of bitches’ if they do. It’s not just denying women who have accused you of sexual assault; it’s saying, ‘They were too ugly, anyway.’ You can’t just be against the media; they’re enemies of the people. … Anyone in the Republican Party dares speak against you, they also must be humiliated — even if they have a terminal disease.

… What Donald Trump wants is for us to stop calling his cruelty and fear and divisiveness wrong, but to join him in calling it right. And this we cannot do.

More adventures in virtual reality

Last month I wrote about my initial foray into virtual reality … but I got distracted. Instead it turned into a crash course on hacking Android phones, and I learned more than I set out to learn about how Android and Android-based devices work. But finally I decided to get back to why I was doing all this in the first place.

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