When India Comes Calling: Fun as a Scambaiter

For the past couple of weeks, I have had unexpected free time since my son is away at our other residence.

What started as feeling bored one morning, has turned into almost a new hobby for me: talking to scammers on the phone.
At first I was nervous to engage; I was afraid that somehow they'd be able to get my personal information through osmosis and I'd find my bank account emptied after I got off the phone. But I quickly realized that they are targeting the vulnerable so they go for what is easy. And I am definitely not an easy mark.

I Never Pay My Bills

"You pay about $100 a month on your electric bill?"
Me: "That sounds good."
"And you have a good credit score?"
Me: "Thank you for saying that, you are so kind."
"We looked at your house on Google maps and can see that your roof is exposed. We are going to have someone call you to give you completely free solar panels, you just have to have your electric bills in your hands when they call."
Me: "But I can't have my electric bills in my hands."
"That's okay, just have an idea of what your bills are."
Me: "But I have no idea what my monthly bills are."
"But you said they were $100 a month."
Me: "No YOU said they were $100 a month. I thought that sounded like a good price."
Now he's getting really frustrated and starts yelling me. I let him rant and rave and don't say anything.
"Look I'm going to get to the point. Do you want a solar panel on your house or not?"
Me: "I don't know. How much do you think I pay each month for electricity based on the size of my house?"
"(Expletive) Ma'am. I'm just trying to qualify you for this program!"
Me: "So do I qualify for the program?"
"I don't know until you can tell me how much you pay in your electric bills. Don't you pay your bills?"
Me: "I never pay my electric bills."
"Thank you for your time, ma'am." Click.
I never got to tell him we are on autopay.

My $3000 a Year Bills

"Do I have the pleasure of speaking to Mr. or Mrs. Pack?" It's a young sounding woman.

Me: "Yes." (I'm either Mr. or Mrs. Pack and it is a pleasure to speak to me.)

She gives me the whole spiel about the auto warranty that is about expire on my car and asks if I want to learn more about the cost to renew it.

Me: "I don't know how interested I am in a warranty since I don't drive it."

"You don't drive it? Don't you own the car anymore?"

Me: "Yes, I still own it, but I don't drive it."

"How is it that you still own your car but you don't drive it?"

Me: "Well I live in New York City and..."

"Oh I see, so you are paying $1000 a month to keep it in a garage and you don't even bother to drive it?"

Me: "No, it stays at my home in Utah where I...."

"Enjoy your day ma'am. And enjoy those $3000 a year bills!"


How to Give a Child Highlights

"I understand that you are receiving Highlights at your home?"

Me: "No, I'm not getting any highlights at home."

"Oh, maybe you are having Highlights sent as a gift to a child?"

Me: "No, I am not giving any children highlights." Do you see where I'm going with this?

"Do you live at ______?"

Me: "No, that is not my address."

"I am so sorry ma'am, we need to update our records."

Me: "So there is a way that I can give children highlights?"

"Yes, it is a magazine."

Me: "It's a magazine that teaches me how to give children highlights?"

"No, ma'am. It's an education magazine for children."

Me: "So the magazine teaches the children how to do their own highlights?"

"No, you probably have seen them at a doctor's office."

Me: "Children have to go to the doctor to get highlights?"

"No, it's an educational magazine to help them at school."

Me: "Oh, so like a magazine that teaches them how to put highlights in their own hair?"

"No, it's doesn't teach them about hair."

Me: "Then how do they learn how to do highlights if it doesn't teach about hair?"

"Ma'am, it is an educational magazine that teaches them letters, numbers and how to do mazes. It does not have anything to do with hair or beauty school. I'm going to update my records now."


To be fair, I don't think this was a scam, I truly think she had the wrong number.
I ran out of buttons

"Please be handy with a pen and paper and please be in front of a computer."

Me: "Okay."

"How old are you?"

Me: "I'm 47."

"Who pays the bills?"

Me: "I pay the bills."

"What it is wrong with the computer?"

Me: "You called me."

"Look at your keyboard, what do you see next to the Crtl button?"

Me: "I see a button that says Fn"

"And what do you see next to that?"

Me: "Nothing, I ran out of buttons."

"You are out of buttons?"

Me: "Yep, no more buttons."

"All your keyboard has is Fn and Ctrl?"

Me: "Yep, those are my only keys going right."

(Sigh) "Go to the left what do you see?"

Me: "I see a button that is a square and on top of it is four white squares."

"Press that button and tell me what you see."

I start describing in DETAIL what I see starting in the upper right hand corner for about 3 minutes.

Me: "...then I see another trapezoid with an "x" and inside is an orange box with a white B inside it and the words blogger, then the next trapezoid also has an "x" but this has a picture of a tree and the words "FamilySearch..." I keep describing all of my tabs...

"Ma'am. When I tell you to stop talking, you need to STOP TALKING!"

Me: "You never told me to stop talking."

"Press the windows button and the letter R. What do you see?"

Me: "I see the word "run." Do I need to go run?"

"No, you don't need to run. But click on the..."

I won't bother you with the rest, but I made him wait will I put a bunch of food in the freezer, I told him that I didn't have any mice in my house (he wanted me to left click on the mouse) I described what was on my screen except the very command he wanted me to see, over and over again. He finally had enough.

"Ma'am, do you want me to help you fix your computer or do you just want to buy a new computer?"

Me: "I'd like to buy a new computer please."

"Okay, I'm going to shut this computer down so you can't use it anymore and then you can go out and buy yourself a new computer."

Me: "Okay, great, thanks so much!"

(Click) He hung up, not me.

My Relative Marshall

Me: "Who did you say you worked for again?"

"I work for Microsoft"

Me: "What is your employee number?"


Me: "And what is your name again?"

"Marshall Smith"

I google Microsoft Marshall Smith and a guy from Seattle pops up who works for Tesla.

Me: "So how do you like living in Seatlle?"

"I don't live in Seattle. I live in Portland, Oregon."

I google Marshall Smith Portland Oregon, a different guy pops up.

Me: "Wow! You've had quite the career."


Me: "You've had some pretty cool jobs in the basketball industry, what made you decide to switch over to Microsoft?"

"I don't have to give you any personal information."

Me: "You say you want to access my computer so that you can look at all of my personal information to diagnose what is wrong, and I don't get to verify that you are who you say you are?"

"I verified it when I gave you the unique ID off of your computer."

Me: "But I googled that ID and everyone has that ID on their computer."

He then started talking really fast with some weird answer as to why the Internet told me this.

Me: "The article says that people call from India, tell me that there is something wrong with my computer, and that they are from Microsoft."

"I am not calling from India. I am calling from Portland, Oregon. I am not Indian."

Me: "Then why is our connection so bad? I have talked to people from Portland Oregon before and it is much easier to hear them."

"I am a _____ person." (I think he said honorable, but I'm not sure.)

Me: "What did you say? You are what?"

"I am ______ I am relative..." (I still couldn't make out what he was saying.)

"Did you just say you are my relative?"


While talking to "Marshall Smith" about his basketball career is funny, the reality that people fall for these scams isn't. They are targeting the elderly and the uneducated. But we can help.

The FTC keeps a running list of known scams.
Click here to read the FTC's list of known scams. If you know anyone who might be particularly vulnerable to these scams, you might want to encourage them to sign up for email alerts since they change rapidly.

Click here to join the email list.
We can help FTC with this list by reporting a scam using their complaint assistant.
Click here to file a complaint. It's not hard to find lots of tips and suggestions on the internet for recognizing that something is a scam.

Your phone call might be a scam if....

  • When you answer the phone, there is silence and then a click. That means your number was autodialed. Typically you have to say "hello" twice to get a human.
  • The connection is poor and you can hear other people talking in the background.
  • The caller wants to help you even though you didn't solicit their help.  
  • The caller tries to make you think they have specific information about you; e.g, roof exposure of your home, personal computer ID number, your credit score, your electric bill, your make and model of your car, etc.
  • The caller creates a sense of urgency. They want you to feel panicked and that time is of the essence.
  • The caller seems to be able to "know" what is uniquely on your computer.  It's actually the same on all computers.
  • They will tell you that they are a legit company, that they are honorable, or that this is not a scam.
  • Their name and their accent don't match.
  • When you ask for verification or a website, they get frustrated. 

And remember don't download anything from any website they send you to, like ammyy.  Don't let anyone access your computer.  Don't give out any personal information.  Don't ever give out any financial information.

 Gotta go, India is calling!  

To see a heartbreaking video of a scammer opening up about what is really like for those in India, watch this 16 minute video. This is why I never try to be mean to whomever I'm talking to, but keep them on the phone as long as I can.