Not many people take full advantage of the fun side of internet phishing scams, and I must say, they are missing out on some truly satisfying entertainment.
Back when Al Gore had just invented the internet, the first professional phishermen were the Nigerians. They were pioneers in the art of internet skullduggery, so much so that their name is forever associated with the “deposed king of (insert African country name here), let me share my millions with you, just give me your banking information” email scam.
Many, many years ago I worked for a company that – and millennials, you will not believe this, but I swear it’s the truth – had one email address for the whole company. As the junior engineer, I was the most tech-savvy (meaning I knew how to spell “tech”), so I was in charge of the account. Every morning I would fire up the modem (a device that served mainly to make your internet connection slower than you ever thought imaginable) and log in to our account, print out the emails (on paper!), and disperse them to my coworkers. This was back in 1826.
One morning, much to my delight, we received an email from the son of the (recently murdered in a coup) Crown Prince of Nigeria. He was anxious to wire me ten million dollars because he would be tragically killed just like his dad if he was caught with the money. I would hold onto the cash while he snuck out of his war-ravaged kingdom, then we’d meet here in the U.S., split the windfall, and then, presumably, party like rock stars and become BFF’s.
There was just one catch. He had no access to any money, so it was up to me to front him a little dough to, as he so eloquently put it, “greeze the palms” of the local banking officials.
I then spent two weeks looking forward to each morning when I would respond to his emails pretending to be a doddering old fool who was super-excited about the opportunity but not really sure how to carry out all his complicated banking instructions.
At some point, right around the time I was asking if I could come to Nigeria to help with the greezing, and asking him if I could stay at his house while I was there since I didn’t know if any of the hotels were up to my standards, I was passed off to the Nigeria Scamming Department Manager. Sadly, as with most American middle managers, he had less finesse than the low-level scam starter guy that had initiated contact, and over the next few days the manager guy became increasingly less patient with me.
He finally ended our budding financial relationship in an all-caps email demanding to know what the hell was wrong with me and why I couldn’t follow simple instructions. (Perhaps because I never could quite figure out what he meant by my “bank account number,” and gave him several different options, including the bank’s phone number, their address number on the outside of the building, and also the exact number of accounts the bank had, after I called the bank manager to inquire.)
I could almost see him banging away on the keyboard in a spitting rage. It was one of the most delightfully entertaining two weeks of my life.
I had a few fleeting moments of that same joy yesterday and today, when I was contacted via phone - from a number in Florida - by the “Google Gmail Security Team.” A nice gentleman named Dave, with a heavy Indian accent, explained that my Gmail account had apparently been hijacked by spammers, and it would be shut down and locked within twenty-four hours if we didn’t fix it right away.
Oh, my! What a predicament we have found ourselves in! Especially since Google doesn’t call people. Whatever shall we do?
I kept him on the phone as long as I could, but I was driving, so I couldn’t take the necessary steps at my computer terminal to secure my account from the insidious hackers. It turned out he was located in Wilmington, Delaware, and not Florida, and he seemed to think the weather in Wilmington was “pretty mild,” that early December day. I guess Dave doesn’t really understand where Delaware is located.
Sadly, I had an appointment to get to, so I had to ask Dave for a callback number. He gave me an 800 number that, upon later Googling, could either have been associated with an opportunity to buy an apartment in Delhi, or a web design and internet marketing firm in Pasadena. Hmm…
I thought my fun was over, but in a wonderful turn of events, Dave called back this morning. Great news, Dave! I’m home and can get to my computer terminal. Let’s fix this vexing issue!
All I had to do was log out of my Gmail, get to my home screen, hit the Windows key and the letter R simultaneously to bring up the run command prompt, and simply type in “iexplore 22.214.171.124/505877301”. Once I did that, we could get this problem solved. He had to get off the line briefly to get the last string of digits. I guess they don’t always get that far, and he needed to ask his manager what the code was today.
I told Dave that I typed it all in just like he said, and I could almost hear him salivating in “Delaware.” He asked what I was seeing, hoping that I was looking at their screen cloning site located at the 216 IP address. I told him my screen had gone blank.
Dave, ever the Gmail security professional, had to come up with a series of blank screen troubleshooting tips while I quizzed him on why the Google logo was all gray today instead of colored, and how the Wilmington weather was this morning, and if he was calling me on his old Florida cell phone, or if their office had been blown down the coast in the last hurricane, and if he’d ever been out to Topeka, Kansas where the main Google campus is located, and if so, while he was there, had he tried the world-famous “Google Burger,” which I had been told was a tofu burger stamped in the letter G, with red ketchup, yellow mustard, blue lettuce, and green tomatoes, on a gluten-free ciabatta roll.
After powering down my device didn’t work, an increasingly frustrated Dave finally accused me of wasting my own time. I assured him that this was not at all a waste of my time, but he apparently had better things to do with his day, so he wished me - what I’m pretty sure was sarcastic - good luck with my soon-to-be frozen Gmail account.
I thought for sure my fun was over, but lo and behold, ten minutes later, Steve from Gmail Support called me from the exact same number.
I asked how Dave was doing, but it turned out that Steve was really in Florida, and didn’t know Dave, or anything about a recent call. I told Steve he needed to contact the folks at Guinness after our call, because he just set a land speed record, but he had no idea what I was talking about.
It seems Steve was calling because Google noticed that my Gmail account had apparently been hijacked by spammers, and it would be shut down and locked within twenty-four hours if we didn’t fix it right away.
Oh, my! What a conundrum, Steve!
I asked if I should get to my run command and type in “iexplore 126.96.36.199/505877301”, but Steve hung up on me before I could finish reading the number string.
I am currently sitting at my desk praying that I get a call from Mike who works at Gmail Google Security Support in the greater Florida-Delaware region.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen
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