December 30, 2017

A Tale Told By an Idiot


Has a Windows Help Desk notification ever interrupted your computer work and/or game of Solitaire? It descends like the Second Coming with beeps and sirens and flashes. It tells you your identity has been stolen and your bank account is in the process of being emptied. It’s alarming and to one whose mind has been numbed by political news and compulsive games of Mahjongg, it’s seductive.

Why am I using second person present? I should be using first person past because I got thoroughly snookered the other night. I will now lead you into the virtual darkness and tell you what happened.

First there were the bells and whistles, the dire notification and the directive to call an 800 number. I know this is not how Microsoft operates but maybe it was a little too subtle for me at that hour of the evening. I called the number.

I got a voice with a thick middle-eastern accent that said he was Joel Lambert. He gave me an address in Virginia and an employee number. I wrote it all down. “Joel” told me that he could correct the damage that had been done to my computer and my identity. I was hyperventilating at the point I went with “Joel” to a conferencing website where I summarily handed him my computer hard drive.

I watched my computer flash before me while we proceeded to the next phase of the scam: the payment. It was going to cost me $500 for him to get my identity back not to mention all the money that was even now being drained from my bank accounts. I balked at this. Why was Microsoft charging me? After all it was their firewall that was breached. He answered with a flurry of obfuscation and repetitions of the words Windows and Help Desk.

Then he wanted my bank information. I said I wasn’t comfortable with that and furthermore I wasn’t sure about him. (All this while my files were being rifled.) He put an elaborate directory of Help Desk employees on the screen and found his listing. I wouldn’t give him my bank information but I said I would send a check the next day to the address in Virginia. Finally he said to leave the computer on for the next few hours and to not do any on-line banking or pay any bills for the next 24 hours.

As I write this I see about ten markers that should have tipped me off. I have to say it looked very Micro-softy. That’s probably all I have to say in my defense except that in the spirit of the current political climate of irresponsibility, it’s the fault of the Cheeto in the White House.

I left my computer wide open and running and went over to talk to Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything. By the time I finished, she was curled up in fetal position in a corner of the sofa in her plaid room. She came out of her swoon, walked me back to my house and turned off the computer. Fifteen minutes later my phone rang. A number in Virginia. “Joel.” I put the phone on speaker.

“You turned off your computer.”

“Yes, you’re not legitimate.”

“But you turned off your computer.”

“You’re a scam.”

“Did you notice that I gave you a Virginia address and I am calling you from Virginia?”

Gwen and I looked at each other and burst out laughing at the same time. I don’t think Joel was amused. I wished I had thought to tell him that Virginia was in Tampa.

“You turned off your computer. There’s a problem.”

I hung up.

The next day I took my computer to my guys at Seattle Laptop and let them open it. When I told them I felt like idiot, they said this happens all the time.

Dan, the reigning angel at Seattle Laptop, told me that his wife once got a call from someone who told her that her computer was infected. She handed the phone to Dan who responded with vexation.

“Oh no. You’re probably right, tho. I haven’t been paying enough attention. I’ve been spending all my time at your house doing your wife!”

Another story involved a response to a scammer who called with an alert about Microsoft Windows.

“Your windows have a virus.” (Or some such garbled syntax)

“I don’t think so. I just got new windows. You’re too late”

Long pause. “This is about Windows.” (That’s always the way. When stumped, consult the checklist and start over.)

“Maybe you’d be willing to come out and clean my new windows.”

“Your computer! Your computer Windows!”

It would be a kind of fun party game to take turns being the frustrated scammer and the obtuse customer.

The end of the story is that I got my computer all scrubbed and re-set to factory conditions and that was a month ago and I am still unpacking and putting things away. And if you are ever such an idiot as I was, Seattle Laptop is the place to go.


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