Cambrian: Slice of Life

Amusing and ingenious ways to turn the tables on scammers

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

So many things are making us cranky these days, from rumblestrips and wildfire fears to rampaging road rage and a political season so bizarre that if a writer put it in a novel, no publisher would accept it and no rational reader would believe it.

Quite frankly, the last thing we need now is some yahoo trying to pull another scam.

For instance, I wasn’t thinking “rip-off” when an SUV was parked for a long time near the edge of our property (mind you, this was before Pokemon Go).

People park there a lot, especially when our neighbors have visitors.

But this time, someone was inside the car for the entire time it was parked there. From a distance (our driveway), the woman seemed to be fiddling with something in her lap. A smartphone, maybe? Or a laptop or iPad?

I might not have noticed, except for a warning I’d gotten from a friend — who doesn’t want to be identified, in case she has to notify deputies about someone who’s a park-and-lurk problem.

What’s it all about? Internet access, apparently.

That friend said some nefarious folks drive around until their computers latch onto someone else’s Wi-Fi network. The driver then parks and does their online whatevers on someone else’s dime.

Not cool, but is it dangerous?

I’m told it’s a potential problem for your internet protection, because a skilled park-and-lurk hacker could break into your system and make off with your personal information, especially if your network and computer data aren’t protected.

Think Social Security, driver’s license and bank account numbers. Passwords. Birth date. Mother’s maiden name. Any information on your computer that could help someone steal your identity and money.

All of a sudden, the woman in the SUV took on a potentially sinister aura.

Then a man walked up and put his dog in the car’s back seat. Legitimate? Probably. Or a good cover story.

“Gonna have me some fun,” she e-drawled, adding that she might pose as a crazy religious lady who quotes Biblical texts about the tax collector.

The couple drove off too soon for me to snap a cellphone photo of them and their license plate, as officials had recommended.

Yeah, I’d feel really sleazy doing that, like a shady PI in a grade-F mystery novel. But still, with so many sleazy scams by scuzzy folks …

And how many calls have you gotten lately from scammers claiming to represent the IRS, saying they’ll sue you for back taxes or jail you unless you pay up immediately?

Or this rip-off: “Grandma, I’m in jail in Bogota, and I need $650 wired to me now so I can get out”?

The irritating, time-wasting scam calls make me jaw-clenchingly furious on behalf of any sweet, gullible souls who fell for the con artists’ spiels — even if all the victims lost was the cost of a latte. It was their money, and they don’t deserve to have it ripped off by some lowlife.

Some funny Facebook friends recently suggested ingenious ways to turn the tables on scammers.

One Facebook pal was fuming about fake IRS calls, then wrote how he’d repeatedly called scammers back about 30 times, alternately cussing them out, asking what country they were in or telling them they were going to prison for impersonating a federal employee.

Earlier, Charmaine Coimbra asked her Facebook friends which alternate persona she should adopt when she got the next inevitable call from the faux IRS agent.

“Gonna have me some fun,” she e-drawled, adding that she might pose as a crazy religious lady who quotes Biblical texts about the tax collector, or a horny old lady looking for action or the “I hate the gubmint lady” who spits when she talks.

Facebook buddies suggested that Coimbra “ask them what they’re wearing,” or use her “undercover-agent persona and ask them more questions than they ask you.” When the scammer wants to end the call, “beg them to stay a bit longer, because ‘my colleague has not finished tracing the call.’ 

One buddy said he kept a faux Windows tech on the phone for a half hour, then “finally told him I was just playing with him. He called back 10 minutes later and said he was going to sue me.”

In a pinch, just blow hard on a loud whistle.

So, please don’t fall for those scam calls. And please, please, don’t park in our neighborhood and then just sit there fiddling with your electronic device. Your photo just might wind up on the internet.

Find out more about phone scams

For details on the latest phone scams, go to www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts. To file an official complaint about an IRS scam call, go to www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml. And keep that whistle handy.

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