No, this isn’t another Dan Brown-inspired rant. (Do tune in tomorrow for my review of Secrets of Inferno which explores the facts behind Mr Brown’s latest bestseller, though.) Today I want to talk about something else.
I’m generally a nice guy (at least I think so), but I do have a nasty side and at times I can be a real bastard when I think someone is deserving. What does one need to do in order to receive this dubious honour? My dark side gets awakened when people indiscriminately forward e-mails.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m perfectly okay with the occasional collections of pictures of cute animals and I actually download those beautiful landscape photos to use as desktop backgrounds. I’m talking about the other e-mails people forward: e-mails containing security alerts, or scam alerts, or health warnings, or moving tales of kids with cancer/recovering from an accident/waiting for a transplant who needs my help, or requests to sign a petition about some or other law government is trying to force through that will change our lives/take away our basic right/cancel Christmas (that last one makes the rounds every two years or so – I’m expecting a revival any day now).
See, the majority of these e-mails are bogus. The handful that are not bogus are usually so dated that they’re not relevant any more. But people keep forwarding them, cause that’s what people do.
Just this week I received one warning of a cell phone scam. According the the e-mail (which included the logo of the South African Police Service and an apparent endorsement from the insurance division of one of our largest banks) there’s a new scam where you get a missed call from a strange number. If you call back (cause what else will you do if a stranger rings your phone once and then hangs up), your call is routed to a premium number that will instantly deduct £30-£50 from your account (because South Africa recently converted to the British Pound…oh, wait) and AT THE SAME TIME the people at the other end will steal all you contacts and personal data WITHIN THREE SECONDS!
Let’s start with the last bit: while it is possible for someone to remotely steal data from a smartphone, they won’t be able to do that via a voice-call connection, but will have to establish a data connection to gain access to your data (who knew?), and it is highly unlikely that any hacker would be able to establish a connection, hack your phone’s built-in security protocols and transfer your data in the three seconds it will take you to hang up. (By the way, in case you didn’t know, smart phones can get viruses as well, so go to Google Play store and download an antivirus for your Android (sorry, I don’t know about Apple, Windows Phone or Blackberry). I recommend Avast!, as it’s free and includes a backup and theft recovery functionality. Also, it makes me think of pirates.)
As for the rest of the message, a quick visit to Snopes.com told me that this message has been circulating the interwebs since at least 2004. So this “new scam” a prominent bank’s insurance division is warning me about has been around for at least a decade. Guess from whom I’ll never be buying insurance?
The numbers cited in this particular e-mail are in fact not premium numbers but numbers in two Eastern European countries so, while the few-second call will cost you a tad more than normal it won’t run you up to R750 (at the current exchange rate) and it’s also unlikely that anyone is making money out of it (also keep in mind that the default option on most standard SA cell phone contracts is that international calling is blocked unless requested otherwise so you won’t be able to call back that number in any case…I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why you would try in the first place).
While Snopes does admit that this scam has been done with premium numbers it is still not possible that a call to any known premium number would rack up the kinds of amounts quoted within a few seconds.
But how was I nasty? I sent a reply outlining all these facts and included links to the relevant articles on Snopes and a couple of other myth-debunking sites. I ended my message with an appeal to the person to please check their facts before they forwarded an nonsense that lands in their inbox like a brainless idiot (or some variation of that sentence). I did not only reply to the person who sent me the e-mail, though…I replied to all the recipients of the original e-mail.
That’s why I’m a bastard – with something like this I shame you publicly without a shred of guilt. I just reckon if you’re stupid enough to forward something that even just a careful reading can tell you is untrue you deserve it. And I do this to friends and relatives alike, even members of my own family. Interestingly, not a single person has responded to such a message from me yet. On Facebook I have noticed some of them quietly deleting it.
Cause I do it on Facebook as well. Know that message on how Graph Search is going to allow strangers access to your personal pictures followed by a detailed description on how you can prevent that by going through every person on your friend list and changing one or other setting? I derive actual pleasure from pointing out to those people, on their walls where all their friends can read it, that the only result to following their instructions will be that it will effectively kill their own newsfeeds while doing nothing to enhance their privacy whatsoever before urging them to visit Facebook’s help pages and familiarising themselves with how the site actually works.
Before that I got my kicks from explaining to people the difference between an account being hacked and an account being cloned. The panicked messages about hacked accounts have since stopped, so I seem to be making some headway in my campaign to correct the interwebs, and that without even one person unfriending me.
Speaking of Facebook, it’s with great trepidation that I’m currently watching two of my online acquaintances update the world on a two-hourly basis on how their vacations are going. In fact, one of them is also posting public photos of her three young daughters in swimming costumes complete with location tagging. What makes it even worse is that her husband has his own IT business, so you’d think she would know about basic online safety.
I have not pointed out this foolishness to either of them…yet. One can only do so much, after all.