In the past few years I have been almost duped by two separate scams. It was only a certain caution and the years of experience of doing business with people and companies which encouraged my suspicions and so caused me to investigate further and in the end to make right decisions.
The two scams appealed to their potential victim in opposite ways; one being a fabricated cry for help from an email apparently sent by a friend of mine; the other attempted to prey upon my more selfish parts of human motivation.
If there is one thing a person soon learns in life it is to look gift horses from strangers in the mouth. Of course the Internet has made this maxim doubly relevant, since so many items are offered ‘free of charge’ or else are couched as ‘amazing offers and deals’ etc.
The present ‘get Windows 10 gratis’ offer from Microsoft does not look to be all it seems. Beware of Geeks bearing gifts. The license one is being offered for Windows 10 is non transferrable to any other piece of hardware. (I suspect also that there are other additional commercial reasons for Microsoft pitching its Windows 10 free offer, although I can’t say what they are? Corporations just don’t throw away potential commercial exploitation of new products).
And when one goes hunting on the web for a driver or an anti-virus and the attractiveness of so many free of charge items draws you to them, tempting one’s better reason and playing on ones self-concupiscence and parsimony; it is relatively easy to end up with quite a bit of junk you never wanted downloaded to your PC; or else for one to have given away so much saleable personal data about oneself in order to get the download. The lesson is, that although there is to be no ostensible money transaction taking place between yourself and the guys offering you the freebies which you are in need of; there will in fact be a transaction of monetisable items going on ‘under the counter ‘and ‘behind one’s back’.
So a tip; go for the guys who ask for ‘a small donation’ in return for them giving you the ‘freebie’. And further, give them that ‘small donation’ because they are more than likely to have been ‘up front’ with you about their terms for downloading their stuff. Also these guys are far less likely to throw in unwanted stuff (at least not without informing you beforehand) and are not usually seeking out personal data from you to sell it on for profit.
One usually doesn’t get malware in these downloads; for the wiseacres to sneak that in would be counter-productive to them in running these kind of sleights of hand; they need to keep punters ‘on-side’ so as to be able to exploit them quietly and in a small way; so that for them ‘many a mickle will eventually make for them a muckle’.
Like the guys who steal some of your virtual space on your PC; they only want enough so you won’t notice, otherwise their plans are scuppered, because otherwise you as their punters discover it and take action to erase their presence from your PCs. The art in this kind of stealing by offering free downloads is to restrain oneself from being too greedy, and to be not too hasty to grab more than is able to go unnoticed.
Of course you get hasty and greedy guys but they get thwarted in their plans all the time; and they soon either learn patience and a greater stealth or else leave the business. The smart guys restrain their appetites for others’ property and so make a fist of their operations and succeed in them, generally speaking.
But scammers like the two I began writing about are rather more manipulative and ambitious with managing human sympathies and appetites than the freebie download people generally are. For these it is not about a quick and fairly plain interaction with a punter who is out for grabbing a download; it is more about an art of pretence and mimesis; so as to arouse say decent human feeling in order to provoke an equivalent and appropriate response from a sucker. Going under guise of one of your friends they might email you saying:
‘Jonny, help! I got mugged an hour back and I’ve got no money. I’m in Dallas on business. My notebook is nearly out of power and I’m on a free wifi spot. Can you wire me $500 to get me home? To this local store on xxxxxx (the contact details follow)’
The White Knight in each of us rises to the rescue – to the bait. We feel almost blackmailed by our own sense of the wringer in appearances informing our private self that it is appropriate for our public self to respond with the money in this situation. One should not question or suspect. It is a buddy; and he needs help!
Like indoctrinated regimented recruits in Joe Soap’s Army we stand by our injured fellows on the principle of being co-opted to do so; and we pride ourselves on our fierce ethic and its noble selflessness. It’s almost like throwing money away, into the lap of crooks; and all for the sake of looking the part to one’s community, and so avoiding a dreadful stigma arising from any refusal to pay up, a stigma raised up and fully indulged in amongst one’s local crowd, who will bring down a unified humiliation upon you otherwise via an absolute communal condemnation and ostracism. To refuse to help is signing one’s own social-life’s death warrant.
‘I have heard the eternal footman hold my coat and snigger’
So the conmen are savvy and sly; they know the drill, and use the hooks and handles by which people are hung up and puppeteered upon. Even to query such an email would smack of heresy.
The other set of guys at the other scam played me from another angle; drawing upon my secretive and grasping side. I got an enquiry asking to do a website for a guy. From where the inquiry came and by whose reference the guy was led to me I was not certain. I was a little short of work and I had put as many feeler irons in the fire as I could muster; so it could have been out of one of many sources.
I wrote him a requirement document according to the information he had given me. (The guy was claiming to be deaf, and so unable easily to Skype or to Hangout etc; which of course with hindsight I saw was so as to avoid contact with me.)
The first doubts came for me when he accepted the Requirement Document and the price and hours estimate without a haggle or a blink of an eye. Then he offered payment up front; offering his credit card details for me to deduct my fee AND for me to draw extra over my fee and send it back to him. A quick Google using some of the salient parts of his initial email to me – the deaf bit and some other distinctive data from it; and hey presto! Others were reporting having had approaches from pretty much the same curious clientele, the ruse was well publicised on forums and on notice boards on the web.
So this guy was laundering stolen credit cards by way of me – if I had fallen for it. My name on the transaction; me responsible in law; and he away untraceable scot free
The lure of the fast buck; of the easy money; and the pressure of secret surges of avarice which we all have to repress so as to be able to do fair trading.
Hamlet-like, by these Guildensterns, I was being played upon:
HAMLET: [Re-enter Players with recorders] O, the recorders! let me see one. To withdraw with you: — why do you go about to recover the wind of me, as if you would drive me into a toil?
GUILDENSTERN: O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too unmannerly
HAMLET: I do not well understand that. Will you play upon this pipe?
GUILDENSTERN: My lord, I cannot.
HAMLET: I pray you.
GUILDENSTERN: Believe me, I cannot.
HAMLET: I do beseech you.
GUILDENSTERN: I know no touch of it, my lord.
HAMLET: ‘Tis as easy as lying: govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops.
GUILDENSTERN: But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony; I have not the skill.
HAMLET: Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass: and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.
The original article is located at our anomalist design blog: http://blog.anomalistdesign.com/seductive-scams/