E-on, Scammers, and the guy who called back.

Eon Energy love me. They must do. they call me at least once a day. Every single day and have done for at least three years. I always know it’s them because they always start the call in a thick Indian accent and say “Hello, can I speak to Meester Dee-Urn pliz?”

In the early days I used to politely request they take me off their calling list, or make a joke of it, or enquire why they kept calling me. After a few weeks, this had progressed to pretending I was someone else, imitating them on the phone, speaking in various accents from around the world, speaking gibberish, repeating word for word what they were saying until they gave up, pretending to be a burglar who happened to answer the phone, going to get ‘Meester Dee-Urn’ and then leaving the phone on the table for twenty minutes at a time, leading them on and pretending to be really interested and then say ‘just kidding mate’ at the end, or just hanging up if I was busy. All to no avail.

I went ex-directory. I registered on TPS. It made no difference. Everyday Eon called me and everyday they still do. At times, I have been,  shall we say, less than polite. This usually happens if I’m working on some important document or designing something when I absolutely don’t want to be disturbed. Call me then, you’re going to get an earful. Literally, before they’ve even finished with poor ‘Meeester Dee-Urn’, the barrage will begin and it will not end until they put the phone done. While some people may consider this unfair on the poor call centre person who’s called me from the other side of the world and may well need the work to feed their family, I ask you to consider that I have taken at least 800 calls from this one company alone over the last few years. Even at a low average of 30 seconds a call, that’s 400 minutes, nearly seven hours, of my precious life spent explaining to people who can’t even be arsed to get my name right that I don’t fucking want any fucking electricity from fucking Eon. Not now, nor ever. If I did, I’d call you. Well, actually I wouldn’t.

But at least Eon is a real company selling a real product. My real wrath is reserved for the scam callers. I have never, ever fallen for any scam at any time, but I seem to be on some sort of list somewhere, because they also love me. Not as much as Eon you understand, because these guys only call once a month or so, and these guys are fair game for ANY sort of response.

My favourite at the moment is the computer virus scam. It’s a common one and one you’ve probably heard of or may even have experienced. Picture this: you’re sitting at the computer and the phone rings. You pick it up and voice, not always with a foreign accent this time, says “Hello Mr Derrn” (we’ll that one go for the sake of the rest of the article) “My name is Steve/John/Ravinda/Raoul/Jonathan Klunklepipe (it doesn’t matter, it’s not their real name) “and I’m calling about the virus that’s infected your computer “. It’s always a variation of the same line, that basically your computer has contracted a virus and has sent a distress message to Microsoft (incredibly some of them claim to be calling from there) or The Computer Repair Centre or Tech Resolve or some other stupid name they’ve made up, and they’ve made it their duty to call you and help you fix it, usually with some dodgy software that will actually, genuinely this time, infect your machine and will require payment to clear up. I think it’s a particularly nasty scam because most people haven’t got a clue about this stuff and think it’s entirely plausible, losing time, money and risking their precious memories on their PCs in the process. Let me just re-assure you here if you’re not sure; there are no viruses that send SOS messages to Microsoft or other agencies and they can’t get a phone number from an IP address which is another favourite claim. If you get someone trying to convince you otherwise, stick it to ’em. Stick it to ’em good.

As far as I am concerned, for these guys, there are no rules. It’s game on. You have been warned.

I have many strategies for dealing with these ‘people’, but my favourite is to keep them on the line for as long as possible and irritate them as much as possible. After all, the longer they’re with me, the less time they’ll have trying to scam some poor bugger somewhere else who may actually have fallen for it.

So, I start by feigning complete shock. “My computer? Really? Oh MY GOD!! I can’t believe it! Are you sure! OH MY GODDDDD! Which computer is it?”

They usually don’t expect this answer, but they always answer with “the one running Windows”. After all, how many times is THAT going to miss?

“Windows?” I say exasperated “which version?”

“Windows” they inevitably reply

“Yes, I know” I say again, being very careful not to put any hint of irony or sarcasm in the mix “but which version? XP? 7? 8?” At this point, they will usually pick one, and it’s usually 7.

“7?” I cry “but wait, all my systems are running windows 8. Oh hang on, my firewall is running 7 I think. What’s the IP address sending the signal?”

Incredibly, one caller actually game me an IP address (made up of course) and I played along for a while, but you can stretch this part out for whole minutes if you give them a get out at the end, such as coming up with a reason why providing the IP address won’t help, for example, you can’t access it remotely. In fact, you can make up any technical reason you like as long as it sounds plausible, these guys are NOT techies. One of my favourite techniques is to pretend that I’m having trouble accessing the firewall, put the phone on the desk and make noises like I’m moving equipment around, but usually I just carry on with whatever I was doing. Every now and again I’ll shout out “sorry about this”, “just hooking up the monitor” and “won’t be long”. I’ll drag this out as long as I can depending on my work load, but if I’m not particularly busy, he ain’t goin’ going anywhere.

When I think I’ve pushed it as far as I can, I’ll pretend I’ve got access to the PC that’s running windows 7. “Now” I’ll say “it looks like it’s ok, which version of windows 7 was it?”

“Well, it’s Windows 7”

“yes, but which version? is it Pro, Home Edition, y’know, which version?”

“What version is on your firewall?” (see what he’s doing there? Not unnoticed by me, of course, we’ll let him have that one)

“It’s Pro” I reply

“Yes, it’s Windows 7 pro” he responds.

“Oh hang on” I say “I’m really sorry I got that wrong, this one is running the Home Edition. Hmmmm. I’m so, so sorry, we’ve really got to find that error haven’t we? I know, I have another machine that runs a media server on the network, I THINK that’s running 7 Pro. Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll hook it up and have a look”

This, of course, allows you another 5 minutes moving equipment around with the appropriate comments as before. Sometimes you lose the caller here, but about half will persist. However, it’s time to change tact. It’s time for questions. Lots of them.

What was that IP address again? what is the error message? how did it get past my firewall? what was your company name again? what’s the virus called? why am I not seeing anything on my log files? what time is it? what’s the weather like there? what are you going to watch on TV tonight? where are you anyway? Is India a long way away? what was your name again? why won’t my keyboard connect to my firewall system again? and so on and so on. By now, we could have been on the phone 15-20 minutes if we’ve played it right, but most callers have long given up by now and hung up. I say most.

A few weeks ago, I had the most persistent scammer I’ve ever had on the phone. It didn’t matter what I threw at him, he wouldn’t budge. He couldn’t answer any of the questions of course, instead finding a way of sidestepping the question and leading the conversation back to the non-existent virus. But after going round and round for so long, I could tell even he was starting to get a bit, well, tetchy. I thought I may as well give him something to think about, so after sending him on another round of pointless questions, I decided to ramp it up a notch. After listening to a particularly convoluted and completely ridiculous reason why my IP address was connected with my phone number (again, this is completely impossible) I interrupted him and said “why don’t you get a proper job?”

Caught off guard but clearly still thinking he had a chance of a ‘sale’, he stammered “this IS a respectful job ….”

“what, scamming people who don’t know anything about computers? Sorry mate, I’ve been playing with you and I’m bored of you now. I’m a geek, so I already knew I didn’t have a virus and of course we both know it’s impossible to match an IP address with a phone number. You’ve been played, you prick. Now get off my phone”. In retrospect, ‘prick’ wasn’t the best word I could have chosen as it may not have crossed the language barrier that well, but it had the desired effect.

He realised the game was up and he went mental. That’s the best word for it. And I have to admit I loved hearing this barrage of abuse coming down the phone from a would be scammer who had just been played at his own game and wasted a not inconsiderable amount of time. With a sarcastic, laughing ring I said “Have a nice day” and hung up. Happy that I’d delayed his nasty little scam on other people AND managed to irritate him to the point he probably had blood veins showing in his forehead, I went back to work and thought about all the nice people in world to offset my experience of dealing with this chap’s rather significant collection of shortcomings.

Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again. I answered as normal, and, lo and behold, it was Mr Angry from India again! He suggested that I might like to go away somewhere quite rapidly, not once, but several times, and that my family consisted of people with questionable backgrounds and that I, myself, was made up of some sort of organic matter, probably with some sort of faecal basis. Or words to that effect. Momentarily caught off guard, I didn’t respond immediately and, in the end, decided this was the best policy. After a minute or so of abuse, he inevitably ran out of things to say and, as he was stammering, and clambering around in his mind for something else to throw at me, I decided to interrupt. “Look, it’s lovely to hear from you and for you to tell me all these new words you’ve learned, but I’m afraid I’m just far too busy and important to talk to you. Byeeeeeeeeeeeeee” And hung up again, in mid screaming fit from the other end of the line. He didn’t call back.

In fact, this is the longest time I’ve been without a scam call in years. Maybe it’s done the trick. And if they’ve now started calling YOU instead of me, I’m genuinely sorry about that. But at least you’ve got a strategy for dealing with them! 🙂 Is that the phone ringing? Deep breath, relax and … begin …

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