S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Cyber Grime,” Park shares about being targeted in a scam and how he spent his time unplugged.
Have you ever been the victim of an online scam? It happened to me last week and it was totally my fault. I hooked up with this computer service company (call them VDI) back in 2014, and though they proved to be worthless they wouldn’t cancel my subscription unless I gave them access to my Mac.
I wasn’t comfortable with that and refused them entry for six years, getting little return on the invoices they sent me.
Then last Tuesday I did something I usually try to avoid, i.e. reading and answering emails before I’m loaded. The maxim to Smoke a joint first! has served me well over the years, as I wake in a broad range of moods and none of them are good. I share this malady with my youngest brother, and like him I recognize the Grinch-of-the-Day immediately.
Tuesday’s was the worst actor of all, the defiant fuck-you-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on mode. It’s such a grim, psycho space, in fact (and has got me in so much trouble over the years), that distancing myself from it, even with pot, is made harder by the notion that—when I’m under its spell—trouble sounds good.
So that’s how I felt when I read the latest VDI fee notice. These crooks aren’t stealing another dime from me! I thought, and immediately called the “Unsubscribe” number listed.
A “tech” answered and gave me the usual response, how he’d be happy to give me a refund but I had to allow him into my desktop first. The explanation for this eluded my patience and interest (one of the reasons scammers covet old Luddites), but I was so desperate to get my money back that I finally gave in.
Hours of nonsensical wrangling followed, exacerbated by the difficulty—to hear the scammers tell it—of breaking into my Apple system. (I was passed up the line to five different Indians? Pakistanis? hucksters in the process.) Once I reached “The Closer” he showed me my (hacked) bank account, said I should carefully note the balance because they were about to wire me four hundred dollars and the number would change once they had.
Except the transfer, when it appeared on screen, totaled forty thousand bucks instead. “Whoops!” said The Closer (doing his best Andy Griffith), it seemed he’d pushed the wrong button and I now owed him thirty-nine thousand six hundred, which I should please quick wire to the Hong Kong bank account churning out of my printer.
The forty grand wasn’t really there, of course, he was simply juggling the account numbers remotely. (Or so I kept telling myself, anyway.) Much yelling and cursing ensued, with each of us threatening mayhem on a character an ocean away.
In the end he pretended he’d cleaned out my account, then, laughing maniacally, declared: “I OWN you, you rotten American thief! I’m inside your computer AND your life and I’ll torment and torture you all day every day until you return my money!”
“Enjoy the porn, loser,” I scoffed and hung up.
That relief didn’t last long, of course, as the threatening calls only picked up steam. I have no “number blocking” feature on my phone but, even if I did, they had fifteen to twenty numbers they used, anyway, so over the next couple days I unplugged from the outside world. When I finally started this desktop up again, discovered VDI was still in control, I took it to a local computer store, paid to have their applications removed.
In the meanwhile I was without a phone or Internet for a week. This was often the case pre-COVID, when I’d drive up and down the West Coast for weeks at a time, and (to the extent I thought about it at all) welcomed the respite.
Here at home, though, it was a bit unsettling, as the scammer intent on tormenting me couldn’t know he already had, that he’d cut off access to my favorite time of year in the NFL (the week known as “free agent frenzy”) when hundreds of players migrate to new teams.
As a draftnik I wait all year for it. Fortunately I could gather most of the details from the NFL Network, and I’m trying to lessen my addiction to the sport, anyway.
Way more problematic was no screen to write on. I’ve been typing since I was ten, so other than in-class Blue Books and essay questions I rarely wrote in cursive afterwards.
Way more problematic was no screen to write on. I’ve been typing since I was ten, so other than in-class Blue Books and essay questions I rarely wrote in cursive afterwards. Developed a manic shorthand that’s barely discernible.
My printing’s better, but only because I’m a cartoonist. I actually think in type, in fact (I’d never have managed “The World’s Fastest Typist” shtick otherwise), which means I can’t judge or “hear” my writing until I see it in print.
Last week was a constant reminder of that, as I felt helpless without a word processor. This desktop is the only computer device I own and it wasn’t like the old days when I’d have a couple typers as backup. (I gave away the last of those twenty years ago.)
The solution? To not just that but the scammers calling my landline again and again? Buy a computer tablet of course or, more particularly, a smartphone. If I’d had either of those I wouldn’t have missed a beat after the extortion attempt.
Except my instinct is always towards less connection, not more. Plus it turns out I wasn’t nearly as isolated as I thought I was, that this was a whole new level of solitude, so as the week wore on I found other ways to occupy my time.
Yesterday, for instance, I made a Dead Friends list (the ones I know about, anyway). The last time I did that, two or three years ago, the total was eighty, and now it’s up to ninety-six.
It sounds morbid but it’s a way to honor and remember old comrades. Plus there’s a dozen asterisked names on there, characters who pledged to signal me if there really is an afterlife.
No word yet.