I recently stumbled across an article in one of my news aggregate services. It was about a guy – a phone guy – who was sick and tired of telemarketers badgering and scamming people – so he created an option that beats the hell out of just hanging up. Roger Anderson made a robot that “talks” to the telemarketer and keeps them confused but engaged, thus wasting their time and preventing them from harassing “real” people. Roger Anderson’s work even gained the attention of the New York Times. The blog post that I landed on just happens to be about something that, as a tech support engineer, I see almost daily – tech support scams.
Scammers often rely on malware to inject persistent popups in browsers or on the desktop warning the victim of an infected computer (which, technically is true) and advising them to call a toll-free support number. Many of them answer claiming to be Microsoft or Apple – which they clearly are not. Others answer as “technical support” or “customer support.” They are most often an insidious bunch who will, if the victim refuses to continue and pay for support, lock the victim out of their computer and demand payment. This is the same as ransomware, but with a belligerent jerk on the other end of a phone call.
Anderson is now taking it to the next level. He is working on a call-bot that will dial (many times simultaneously) the phone numbers listed on the scammers’ pop-ups and keep them engaged for several minutes before the beleaguered “technician” gives up. Considering the implications, this delights me to no end. Some toll-free services are relatively inexpensive, but they’re not free. Every minute of every call is charged. Anderson has been able to shut down several numbers thanks to his payback-bot.
In today’s Internet society, malware and social engineering are becoming closer linked in the effort to part innocent people from their money. It is very refreshing to see an innovative activist like Roger Anderson doing something to help combat the scourge of the scammers who prey on the fears of average computer users.
If StupidComputerTricks ever gives out awards, Roger Anderson will receive the first one – however retroactively it may be.