I'm not exactly sure when it started, but it has been going on for quite some time. I'm talking about those mysterious calls from a man or woman with a vaguely-familiar, yet unidentifiable, foreign accent originating from a number blocked by your caller ID. The caller, speaking in a staccato, obviously scripted, delivery, officially informs you that they are calling on behalf of Microsoft Technical Support. They continue with bad news. It seems that your Windows computer has been sending them messages that it has been infected with a dangerous virus (sometimes more than one dangerous virus! Eeek!) The alleged technician says he has called to help remove the virus from your Windows computer. Usually for a price.
These calls are infuriating... for a few reasons. First, I imagine my poor in-laws receiving one of these calls and being thrown into a panic. While they have accomplished a lot and have improved on their computer skills, my wife's parents are not exactly what you would call "techies." Anything more advanced than sending an email would be like asking them to plan the next mission to the International Space Station. Not to knock their ability — after all they just turned 80 and computers were unheard of in their day — but they are not really interested in furthering their computer knowledge. They know enough to perform the few necessary tasks they need and that's sufficient. So, if one of these so-called "Microsoft Technical Support" calls are convincing enough, there could be some real trouble — both technical and financial.
The second reason I hate these calls is my contempt for anything deceitful. Obviously, these calls are Trojan horses preying upon the fears of the uninformed. They know they're lying. They know they are not calling from Microsoft. I could never understand how some people can tell lies and feel fully justified in their actions. Why don't they get a job where lying is not a requirement? It's maddening.
My wife, however, has turned the whole thing around and made these unsolicited and unwanted calls into a game. The object of the game is to get the caller to hang up first. Mrs. P usually goes the "I'm an Idiot" route, pretending that she is not familiar with anything the caller says.
"Microsoft?," she'll ask in faux surprise,"What's that?"
Sometimes the caller will hang up immediately. Other times, she'll get someone with infinite patience who will explain everything.
"It's the company that made your computer.," they'll offer.
"Someone made my computer?," she'll reply... and that usually does the trick.
I play this game by different rules. I try to catch the caller in their own trap. I have told these people that, indeed, my computer is sending messages. Messages from Satan! *click!* My usual line of attack is to tell these callers that I don't own a computer. This has elicited varied reactions — from an immediate disconnection to an incredulous "are you sure you don't?"
Two nights ago, our daily viewing of Jeopardy! was interrupted by one of these calls. A very well-spoken, articulate woman, again claiming to be from Microsoft, informed me that she was receiving messages from my Windows computer. I cut her scripted spiel off mid-sentence.
"What kind of computer do I have?," I asked.
She paused and remained quiet for a few seconds. Then, she answered, "We have been getting messages from your Windows computer."
"What version of Windows am I running?," I pressed.
She paused again, gathered her thoughts (possibly to scan her script for the proper reply) and took another approach. "We are getting messages from your server." She carefully emphasized the word "server" to let me know that she, indeed, had technical know-how.
I quickly countered. "What kind of server am I running?"
I guess I won that round.