08 November 2018
The Tethered Goat
Hunting from the kitchen.
By Quatermain Chin
9.30 in the morning and it’s time for a little sport. No, no, don’t get me wrong. I am not about to stride manfully into the street, clad only in shorts and singlet, to do a quick five-miles in the London drizzle. My sport is quite different from that and I can participate from my own kitchen with a cup of coffee at my right hand and a rack of hot toast at my left. But it is sport nonetheless, based as it is on big game hunting. You know how that works. Tether a kid in the open. Hide yourself up a tree. Wait for the tiger to come for a goat-meat supper and then, when it does, piff-bang, there is a new rug for the drawing room floor.
My kid is my entry in the London telephone directory. Lots of my friends have gone ex-directory nowadays but my number is there, designed to attract predators, just like a tethered goat. My tree is a chair at the kitchen table and I sit there perched over my breakfast, waiting for the scammers to emerge from their lairs. I cannot shoot them, more’s the pity, but at least I can wind them up.
“Dring, dring.” Here’s the first. Ringing from somewhere abroad by his accent, but that is a stark contrast to his message. “I am ringing you from the BT internet fraud department” he begins, trying to sound official. “Your internet has been hacked and we need to run some tests to counter that. Meanwhile, don’t do any internet banking.” The final phrase is presumably intended to make it all sound a bit more alarming and at this stage the caller adds that I am welcome to verify him by calling the confidential number of the fraud department which he gives me. Not much point in that, so how to respond?
The simplest reaction is to put the telephone down or to say that I haven’t got a computer. That ends the call immediately but it also frees the scammer to have a go at someone else. Scammers are no doubt paid by the number of calls they make. So if you can keep them in play you are probably spoiling their Christmas. Well worth a try.
The best time-wasting approach is the confused pensioner gambit, pretending to be baffled by the internet and easily thrown into a panic. Just the sort of person who a scammers likes to have on the end of the line.
“Gosh, that sounds very worrying. Thank goodness you called. I am sure that the children would get very cross if they had to come and set it all up again. What should I do?”
A sort of feral panting comes out of the receiver. “Don’t worry. We’ll fix it. You just need to let us in to your screen.”
Ha, hooked the bugger. Now to play the fish. “Which screen?”
“The one on your computer.”
“Should I turn the computer on?” you ask.
“Yes, that would be the way to start.”
“Where do you think I could have put it?”
“Er, on a desk perhaps?”
“Oh no, that’s where I keep the body parts.” The name of the game may be to waste these people’s time but you might as well frighten them as well. “I’ll just go and look in the fridge.” Sit making noises as of a fridge door opening and closing.
“Ah, here it is now. Turn it on you said? Should I set it for vegetables or meat..?”
You can keep that going for quite a long time, but you’re wasting your time as well as theirs so sometimes I prefer to go for something shorter and more disturbing.
“Hello? Hacked, you say? Just hold on while I get the codebook. Be with you in a second…”
Then (turning away from the mouthpiece as if talking to someone else): “Have you got them, Jim?”
Now speaking as Jim, muffled through dishcloth so only just audible to scammer: “Yes, fixed their position. They used the same code word again so a clean contact. Cars on the way. Authorisation to terminate received.”
Back to receiver; “Thank you for waiting. Now if you could wait a second or two longer…”
There are lots of other variants too, the “you’ve called Al Qaeda” gambit, the “this is the NHS telephone voice-testing centre and you need to get to doctor quickly” gambit. I try to use a different one each time. That isn’t just to break the monotony but because great actors can switch at will from one role to another and, between you and me, I’m hoping to land a part in the Dog and Duck’s Christmas pantomime, so I need to start practising.