Scamming Phone Scammers: A Journey

Robert McKeon Aloe
9 min readSep 6, 2019

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I’m very outgoing, so when someone calls, I can’t help but answer. Even if it is a friend or an unknown number, just in case there is an emergency. Rarely is there an emergence. Usually, it is a scammer trying to steal from me (or rather anyone on the end of the phone line; it isn’t personal). My response to them has evolved similarly to the tactics they use, and I would like to share those with you in the hope that maybe they won’t call you as much.

Changing Tactics

Remember the “Do Not Call” List? It seemed to stop working a few years ago. The scammers figured out that they should just hang up on you immediately; then you couldn’t tell them to put you on the list. It was quite the frustration, and in one case, I called the company directly and had them strike my number due to the volume of calls I had been receiving.

Then, the calls went automated. “Press 9 to be awarded the royal money from the dead African king” or something like that. Some times, there was a number to press to be added to the “Do not call” list, but I don’t think it did anything.

Modern technology really caught up, and they used voice recognition to make it sound like you were talking to a real person. It would ask you your age or location or if you were interested in donating. If you say yes, they patch you through to the next level.

Hacking has taken this game to a whole new level where the scammer could know just enough information for you to think they know more. I’m sure some people are specifically targeted, but I suspect they are trying to get a certain volume of victims under the assumption it is easier to get a small amount of money from many people than a lot of money from a few.

How Scammers Work

It’s just like sales: they start with leads. Some times this is more general like I get calls because they assume from my area code that I live in Detroit. So the scam is trying to deal with credit card debt or mortgage debt or foreclosure. The victims are usually poor or old or both.

If something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

The first round is trying to sort out the potential victims from everyone else. This was done with people, but now the first level is done with automation (even some that sound and respond like humans). Then you get passed on to the next person.

The next level person is reading a script. Everyone is reading a script, and they don’t care for your answers. They don’t deviate from the script. If you agree, they send you to a closer. It is possible to have a call center of people who think this is just another job, and only the few closers know it is a scam, but you can never tell. I often assume these people are just going to work and getting a check, and they don’t know any better.

Fighting Back

I read about someone scamming a scammer and wasting 45 minutes of their time. I thought this was a fantastic idea. So I started practicing with each call I got. At first, this was easy because I often got a call about the same car under a different name, and they were telling me this is the last opportunity to get an extended warranty. It was never the last chance.

If something seems like the very last chance to do something, it probably isn’t.

One time, I went through 4 people for 30 minutes, and they hung up on me when I asked about the privacy policy. They were still a scam, but they didn’t want to send me the privacy policy before I agreed to the thing. Of course, they had the wrong person the whole time, but that was what made it so fun for me. I finally called their helpline, twice, and I was able to get my number removed after explaining the situation (that I wasn’t that person nor owned that car).

Credit Card with 0% APR!

I started getting these offers for a credit card with 0% APR, and they would do balance transfers. Of course, they wanted me to just give them my credit card information, and they made it sound like they had a lot of information about me.

I would make up a credit card number, and I would write it down as I told them. The first few times, the scammer would spend 5 to 10 frustrating minutes going back and forth with me about the number, what kind of card, did I get the expiration date right. I would be very insistent.

After a few of these calls, they would hang up on me, tell me the fuck off, or call me some name. Let’s just say, they were usually not well versed in American English insults; I was disappointed in their English teacher. Their insults never made me upset, but I did laugh a few times.

Don’t Waste Your Time

My wife said, just hang up even if you insist on answering it. I tried that for a few weeks, but it seemed the volume of calls would go up to multiple times a day if I didn’t answer. So I had to cuss them out once a day to keep them at bay.

This tactic was also frustrating for two reasons:

  1. I felt like it was not effective and a waste of my time.
  2. I couldn’t really tell them off the way I wanted to because usually I was at work.
https://www.ebth.com/items/8350075-antique-style-wood-bar-with-saloon-sign

Free Lunch

One time at the office, I got a call, and the guy was trying the credit card thing. Instead of giving him a bad number, I asked him how it was free. I told him “Nothing in America is free. There is no free lunch.” He didn’t know what that meant, so I explained it. He didn’t ask me to, I just talked over him.

Remember: they will talk over you, so don’t give them the opportunity.

I went on about everything costs money in America, and he is scamming old people. He got all mad at me, and I persisted, lecturing him about America, freedom, and morality. I asked him to stop calling me, and he said he would call me everyday. Finally after 3 tense minutes, this call ended. 10 of my office mates heard this call and laughed.

I felt a rush! I felt the justified resentment, the satisfaction at feeling like the victor, but something was missing. I still felt a bit hollow inside. I had gone to town on this guy, and maybe he was just trying to feed his family and didn’t know any better. Even though I was mad at him for calling me, does that give me the right to mess up his day? I had to find a better way.

Nothing is free in America, absolutely nothing.

How are you?

A week later, I had just taken my oldest son to school in the morning. I had gotten in an argument with my wife, and I hadn’t gotten much sleep. I was not feeling so great. As I got to my car, I got a call. I knew it was a scammer. I didn’t know what I would say.

The scammer asked me “Hi, how are you today?”

In America, salutations are important but short. Usually, you don’t say anything in response to “How are you?” Other than “Good, and you?” Unless you’re good friends, you don’t actually tell them how you are feeling.

I decided to tell his guy how I was feeling, but I would exaggerate everything. The beginning of the miracle happened 30 seconds later. I had made the mistake of asking how they were doing which allowed them to start their script, but they soon hung up on me. However, I stopped getting calls to that phone.

I noticed after a few days because I had been getting quite a few on a daily basis at that point. I found the key!

Advanced Salutations

I still had more opportunities to practice because of my work number. I got a call while I was at my in-laws house the day after the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral burned down. I had lived in Paris for two years, so I was a little emotional. I just exaggerated these feelings and went to work. I told the scammer how my house had burned down and I didn’t know what to do. I was so happy someone finally asked me how I was doing because nobody had asked me since the fire. That scammer lasted 90 seconds.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/notre-dame-fire-what-was-damaged-n995371

The next to call got a sob story about the house burning down and losing my family. I had to hang up after a minute because I started to laugh.

The key was to not let them talk.

So you have to plan for a monologue. They have a script and you should too. Keep going until they hang up!

Some of these scams are quite cruel. After the fires in California in 2018, I got a few calls from the robot voice trying to get me to donate to some fund for firemen and rescue workers. I thought that was a bit sick, a bit more than trying to scam retired people.

https://psmag.com/environment/the-five-largest-wildfires-burning-in-california-right-now

The last two calls came from back to back calls on the same day. The first was trying to scam old people with a retirement scam. I played the part of a 70 year old man. I said my kids had recently stolen my retirement, I was homeless, and my phone was about to be cut off. I even got some fake crying in my voice.

Some of my friends overheard the call and were laughing. Then, I got another call, the same old credit card one. This time I told them I was so glad they called because I had just filed for bankruptcy and could use the credit. I went on about this being a great time for new credit because I needed a clean slate. I had gambled my money away and my wife left me. That call lasted 1 minute. Oh the joys!

Lessons learned

Scammers:

  • have a script
  • are searching for victims
  • may not know they are part of the scam (i.e. they might be low level in the organization doing the scamming)

You:

  • Make up a script, something believable
  • Use the salutation to your advantage
  • Don’t stop talking until they hang up
  • Every minute you waste of theirs is one less minute they have to find a victim

I really do enjoy talking to people, and I hope their tactics don’t catch up to mine. I nowlook forward to their calls so I can work on my story telling, acting, and emotional expression. I also like letting a little crazy out; it’s refreshing.

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Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.