That time I told a tech support scammer my name was Naim

The other night my phone rang. The caller ID said some state I don’t ever get calls from, so I knew what was going to happen when I picked up the phone. I didn’t have much time, but I answered anyway.

“Hello, I am calling from Windows Technical Support. My name is Daniel,” the caller said with a very slight Indian accent.

“Oh, hi, Daniel.” I said, pausing for a second to think of a name. The last project manager I worked with was a nice guy named Naim, who had emigrated from India to Minnesota. So I stole his name. “My name is Naim.”

Long awkward pause. I grinned. Too bad “Daniel” couldn’t see me.

“Your name is Naim,” he said. His sarcasm and disbelief was so thick it was bulletproof.

“Yes Daniel, my name is Naim,” I said pleasantly, making no effort whatsoever to disguise my midwestern accent. I’ve lived my whole life in Missouri and Ohio. Read more

“Windows Technical Support” ups its game–and so do I

It was bedtime and the phone rang. “Unknown name,” my Caller ID said, and the phone number was “1.” Sounds legit, right? No? I picked it up anyway. There was an audible delay after I said, “Hello.”

“Hello?” a distant voice said. “Hello?”

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello. My name is ‘Daniel,’ and I’m calling from ‘Windows Technical Support.’ How are you this evening?”

I really wanted to tell him my name was something obviously non-American, but I couldn’t think of anything so I told him I was fine. Next time I’m going to tell him my name is “Dhanesh.” After an introductory ramble, “Daniel” said my computer was sending alerts because it had lots of errors, and it was impossible for me to see them.

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Mr. Genius Man from “Windows Technical Support” gets nasty

I got another “Windows Technical Support” call on Friday evening. My caller ID said Minneapolis, and since I have coworkers in Minneapolis, I answered. But the guy on the other end was a long way from Minneapolis and probably doesn’t know diddly about ice hockey.

I’m pretty sure it was the same criminal as last time, but over a better VOIP connection. I remember the voice pretty well, because his parting lines from last time, “Enjoy your broken computer, Mr. Genius Man!” struck me as funny. And he started the conversation with, “I’m calling you again about your Windows 7 computer.”

My conversation with him revealed a few things about why this scam is likely to be profitable.

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How I turned a junker PC into a trap for scammers

As my regulars will be aware, for the past few weeks I’ve been getting lots of phone calls from “Peggy” from “Computer Maintenance Department.” What I’ve found during these phone calls is that debating with them does no good, and saying that your computer is crazy fast gets them to hang up on you, but they’ll call back again in a few days anyway.

Last week, I had lunch with a group of future coworkers–I’ll be joining them once my background check results come in–and I mentioned these phone calls. The guy sitting across the table from me said he wants their malware, so he can reverse-engineer it. So I said I would cooperate the next time I got a phone call. Read more

This “Computer Maintenance Department” sure doesn’t know much about computer maintenance

“Peggy” from “Computer Maintenance Department” (1-645-781-2458 on my caller ID) called again. Lots of people are aware of these phone calls. They call, make vague claims about receiving a report that your computer is running slow and giving you errors, and are very careful not to say who they are or who they work for. Usually I just do whatever I can to get them off the phone.

But after having lunch with some other computer security professionals last week, a couple of them talked me into finding out how these guys operate. So I fired up a PC that turned out to have a real, legitimate issue. After resolving that issue myself, I turned the caller loose on my semi-functional PC so I could see what these scammers actually do. He had me connect to Teamviewer.com and run their remote access software. I followed his instructions, watched him connect, then slyly unplugged my network cable.

When my network connection dropped, “Peggy” quickly transferred me to a “senior technician” who used the name “Roy.” Read more

“Computer Maintenance Department” called me again from India

So, “Peggy” from “Computer Maintenance Department” called me again last night. This time I decided to mess with him a bit more. This is the second time.

(No, “Peggy” wasn’t his real name, nor did he identify himself as “Peggy,” but that’s the name I’ll use, thanks to that old Discover commercial.)

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Somebody just tried to hack me

Caller: “I calling from technical support. We found issue with your PC.”
Me: “What company are you with?”
Caller: “CSA is the name of my company.”
Me: “What’s our business relationship?”
Caller: “We found issue with your PC. Our technicians found your PC is running slow.”
Me: “Do you realize I wrote the book about PC performance? No, really, I wrote a book about it. I guarantee my computer is faster than yours. I also possess multiple security certifications.”
Caller: “Go on.”
Me: “You need to find someone else to social engineer.”

The caller stammered a little bit, tried to assure me it wasn’t a scam and wasn’t going to cost me money, then hung up.
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Things I wish I’d known about AT&T U-Verse before I signed up

Things I wish I’d known about AT&T U-Verse before I signed up

As I wrote earlier this week, I’m a new AT&T U-Verse customer. Prior to that, I was using old-school POTS with a DSL connection. Between the phone service, DSL, and long-distance calls, I was spending around $75 a month. So it looked like I could switch to U-Verse with the 250-minute voice plan and 3-megabit Internet, save some money, and get a bit of an upgrade in connection speed.

I was mostly correct.

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Being more interested in growth than being Lutheran? Hardly.

On Monday, a group of protesters gathered outside the Vatican, er, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road.

Their complaint: Issues, Etc., a popular radio show on the LCMS’s unpopular talk radio station, got cancelled without warning, and the host and producer were fired.

I know from personal experience that this is how the LCMS does things. About this time of year, people come into work like any other day, and they lose their jobs. The next day, everyone else comes in and finds out a bunch of people are gone. Sometimes there’s an announcement, and if everyone takes it like a man there might even be a little fare-thee-well with cake and punch and a picture for the internal newsletter, but it’s just as likely there’ll be nothing but a few whispers.

Several years ago it happened to me. It still bugs me a lot, since I moved 120 miles, made a less-than-lateral move, and worked for far less than fair market value for those people.

So I feel for The Rev. Wilken and Jeff Schwarz. I’ve been there. And I really hope they find stable employment very soon.

I happen to know David Strand, the LCMS employee quoted in the article. In fact, if my phone rang and I saw it was him on my caller ID, I’d probably pick up. There are maybe a dozen people who work at The Vatican that I can say that for. I spent a fair amount of time with him and I trust him. I also know in the past that his department has been ravaged with cuts. It seems like pretty much every time the LCMS loses money (which they’re very good at doing), his department takes the bullet. So when he throws the monetary figures out there, my inclination is to believe him.

So while I sympathize with those who lost their jobs, and while I’m very disappointed in how it was handled (but not surprised), I very much take issue with what one of the protesters said: “They’d [the LCMS leadership in Kirkwood] like to be more in the mainstream of American evangelicalism as opposed to distinctly Lutheran.”

I’m not sure what Bible the so-called confessional Lutherans read, but my Bible doesn’t say, “Wait, therefore, for 15th-century Germans to come to you, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It says to go–don’t wait, GO!–to all people, all nations, and baptize them.

The church I attend takes that seriously. And we attract an interesting mix of people. A lot of people are lapsed Lutherans, like I was. But we also attract a very large number of lapsed Catholics. We also have a small but vocal group who have, shall I say, some Calvinistic sympathies.

Our church looks more like a library or a community center than a German cathedral, and we don’t have a pipe organ and we put–gasp!–Bibles where other Lutheran churches put those horrible blue hymnals. I’ve had people tell me it doesn’t look or feel like a Lutheran church. But the theology that our pastor preaches is extremely Lutheran. The confession and absolution of sins is as Lutheran as it comes–the difference slaps me in the face any time I go to a non-Lutheran church–and in fact, if anything I hear more references to things like sola scriptura, grace alone and faith alone than I did in more mainline Lutheran churches.

And that’s good, because that’s what the people God brings us need to hear more than anything else. Isn’t that what God wants us to do? Heal the hurting? What could be more healing than the message of God’s grace?

We Lutherans have a near monopoly on perhaps the most potent force in the entire universe. I don’t think anybody understands grace as much as we do, and certainly nobody else has studied it like we have, because perhaps nobody in history needed it more than Martin Luther did. But all too often, we just sit on it. Or we bury it in tradition that people don’t understand.

The church I attend does a few things that draw people in, the upbeat, modern music being the most noticeable thing. But I don’t think that’s what keeps people there. Lots of churches have good praise bands. Lots of churches have eloquent pastors. But not a lot of churches have that plus the Lutheran doctrine.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. My church is one of the few Lutheran churches that’s growing, but that’s not necessarily a comfortable place. Growing is painful, and it’s expensive. It’s been a while since I was the one counting attendance, but I believe we can fit about 700 people in our sanctuary comfortably, and sometimes we have to squeeze a lot more than that in there. On Christmas and Easter we have to go to extreme measures to fit everyone in. Some people end up watching the service on closed-circuit TV in another room. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than turning people away.

Our life really would be a lot easier if more churches would make their services a bit more friendly for people who didn’t necessarily grow up in the old German Lutheran tradition. Play a new song occasionally. Preach practical sermons that people can use to apply to their lives, rather than sermons that sound like seminary lectures. Look at the problems we face in life every day and tell people what the Bible has to say about that, and make sure there’s a good helping of grace in the middle and at the end. The word will get out, and people will come. And then maybe my church’s buildings will last 10 or even 15 years before we outgrow them, instead of seven.

I think my church goes beyond what most of the current administration finds comfortable. I occasionally spot some higher-ups in attendance. I don’t know if that’s a sign of approval or if they’re keeping an eye on us. I do know they wish more churches would try an approach like ours, however.

I got a good healthy dose of decision-based evangelical theology this weekend, and it reminded me of how I ended up at this church. CBS News did a special called God’s Boot Camp. That movement is real, and in college it found me. It finally caught me a few months after I graduated. At least it got me in church when I hadn’t been going at all, which I think pretty much everyone would agree is a good thing. But the gospel they preached was very works-based. For a time it was really nice, because I’d never seen a church like this one before, but eventually I realized the burden was literally destroying me.

I found an evangelical-minded Lutheran church that knew what a guitar was, had a pastor who knew how to apply the Bible to daily life and preach a sermon about it, but most importantly, that pastor and his church knew what grace was, and all of a sudden, it was like all was right with the world.

I have a question for the Lutherans who are reading (both of you). Those people are out there. They will find your children. Given a choice between guitars and pipe organ on Sunday morning, your children probably will pick the guitars, unless you’ve somehow managed to spawn a teenager who prefers Lawrence Welk to MTV. So which gospel do you want them to hear? Works, or grace?

I want my son to hear about grace every Sunday. And I couldn’t care less what the rest of the church service looks like as long as the pastor’s definition of grace is something along the lines of “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”

Speaking of expense, I also have one more request, although I’m pretty sure it will fall on deaf ears. I worked nearly seven years at 1333 and other LCMS office buildings, and I saw a lot of waste–waste that wouldn’t be tolerated in the corporate world (I know, because I’ve worked in the private sector too). By and large, the money that flows to 1333 flows there via the offering plate every Sunday morning. Please remember that it’s offering money that funds everything there, and in some cases it comes from people who really don’t have a lot to give. With that in mind, please use it wisely, carefully, and honestly.

The waste I saw wouldn’t have been enough to make a difference in Issues, Etc. being on the air. But it’s a symptom of a large but solvable problem. If the LCMS had addressed this problem seven years ago when layoffs and huge cuts became an annual event, then it’s entirely possible that Issues, Etc. would be on the air, I would be working at 1333, I wouldn’t be writing my offering check in such a way as to minimize the amount of money going to 1333 to be wasted, and none of this talk would be happening.

Good night.

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