Don’t Do Me Like That by
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(142 Stories)

Prompted By Hacks and Scams

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The scamming emails seem to come in constantly. Fortunately, they generally go into my spam folder and I never even see them. Here’s one of the most recent ones:

Greetings,
I was searching through a local business directory when I found your profile. I am Soliciting On-Behalf of my private client who is interested in having a serious business investment in your country. If you have a valid business, investment or project he can invest get back to me for more details, Your swift response is highly needed.
Sincerely
Mr.Mathew yon

That is so obviously phony that I didn’t need to be warned about it. But in fact it came with this warning attached, in a bright red box:

This message seems dangerous

Similar messages were used to steal people’s personal information. Avoid clicking links, downloading attachments, or replying with personal information.

Another one in my spam folder, that came with the same red-boxed warning, was all in French, a language I do not speak, although I could understand the first sentence: “Je suis Mme Nicole Benoite Marois et je souffre d’un cancer de l’ovaire.” When I clicked on the helpful English translation, I learned that she had only a few days to live, and wanted to give me 4.5 million dollars, of which I should keep half and give half to orphanages in my country. What a sweet woman! Surprisingly, I was not tempted to respond to her.

On the other hand, here’s one that got past my spam filter, and seemed more believable: “Confirm your unsubscribe request from our dating mailing list.” Luckily I didn’t fall for it, because I know I have never been on any dating mailing lists. But I do unsubscribe from lots of lists all the time, so if they had picked a more plausible topic for the mailing list instead of “dating,” I might have fallen for it.

Of course the most upsetting scam was the email sent to many (if not all) Retrospect members this past July, which had the Retrospect logo at the top and appeared to have been sent by the Retrospect team.

“Hello Dear
i saw your profile and became interested in you, my name is Marian i am working with united nation, i will like to have a friend like you,
i have something to share with you, please email me through [a hotmail address] for more information about me, i will check my mail to know if you have contacted me because i am working at the moment”

Those are not my quotation marks, they were in the original email. Why someone would put quotation marks around an entire email is a mystery to me, but no more so than the lower-case i or the misspelling of United Nations. The morning that email came in, before I even got to it, I saw several emails from Retrospecters on the East Coast who had read the message before I woke up, and were writing to tell me about it. Our team acted quickly to get rid of this Marian, who was NOT our Marian, and to disable the private messaging function that had been used to send out these messages. We also sent out a midweek email to everyone, with the subject line Breaking News from Retrospect 😳 and a big red SORRY at the top.

As if all these annoying emails weren’t enough, there are scam telephone calls too. The most common one that I get is from someone with an Indian accent saying he is calling from Windows and wants to help with my computer problem. It’s the Indian accent that’s a dead giveaway, I’m sorry if that’s racist, but anyone with an Indian accent who is working for a legit computer company had better lose the accent in a hurry if he wants to be taken seriously. The first few times I got these calls, I would start discussing it with the guy (and it’s always a guy), saying I don’t remember asking for help with a problem and what did he think the problem was. These conversations never got anywhere. Finally I just started saying all our computers are Macs, we don’t have Windows, and hanging up on him. This is totally not true, I hate Macs and all our computers do have Windows, but I’m hopeful that it means at least one person will cross my number off his sucker list.

Here’s another one. Just yesterday my husband got a phone call, which I happened to hear because it was on speakerphone in the car. I wrote down the message verbatim for this story. It was a recording, which said: “This is to inform you that your social security number has been suspended and an arrest warrant has been issued in your name.” My husband disconnected the call before I could hear what they wanted him to do. Press this number or that number and give us your bank account information? How were they going to profit from this scam? I don’t know, maybe they’ll call back and I can find out. It’s patently absurd, because (a) we know the Social Security Administration never calls anyone, and (b) what does it even mean to “suspend” a social security number? It’s impossible. Yet I imagine that to hear someone say that an arrest warrant has been issued in your name could be pretty scary. My husband and I are both lawyers, and he used to be a public defender, so we laugh at the notion of arrest warrants. Sure, try to serve us with that warrant and we’ll see how far you get! But I’m sure many people freak out.

Way back in the pre-internet days, I did totally fall for a scam. It was the Mark Eden Bust Developer. It was advertised in magazines and newspapers, showing pictures of buxom women who claimed that they increased their bust size several inches using this gizmo. There was never a picture of the device, only of these scantily clad, voluptuous women. For only $9.95 you could look like that too. This was around 1975, while I was in law school, and I had come to the sad conclusion that my breasts were not going to grow anymore by themselves, even though both of my sisters were much better endowed than I was. So I ordered it, and it came in the mail, and I used it for several weeks but nothing happened. They did offer a money-back guarantee, but I never went to the trouble of wrapping it up and sending it back to them, since it seemed like too much trouble, and I was skeptical about whether they would actually refund my money anyway. Looking online now, I find that the product was withdrawn from the market in 1983, after the owners were indicted for mail fraud. Mail fraud! Because they were lying about this product and shipping it through the mail! I was happy to discover that Nora Ephron fell for it too, which she admitted in an essay in her book Crazy Salad. That makes me feel a little less foolish, to be in such good company!

You will not be surprised to find out that people are selling these Mark Edens on eBay now, for more than they cost originally, generally with the adjective “vintage,” and always with the adjective “fabulous.” Maybe the latter is ironic – fabulous meaning it was only a fable.

From one of the eBay offerings currently available

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Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Ah, Suzy, these all sound way too familiar. We get that Social Security call regularly, and way too many other suspicious calls. I forward my Newton landline to my cell phone when we are on the Vineyard and it seems that we only get junk calls these days. Sad.

    I was a recipient of the Retrospect scam email (I got a second one too). Glad those have gone away. Technology has certainly been a blessing/curse scenario.

    • Suzy says:

      I think yours was the first email I read alerting me to the Retrospect scam email, before I even saw the one that had been sent to me. Glad that our team was able to take care of it quickly.

      I never answer my cell phone any more, because people who know me use my landline or else text me, so all the calls are junk – a few that I did answer were in Chinese!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Just a great litany of spams and scams, Suzy — including, of course, the notorious Retro scam – which you responded to immediately and perfectly.

    I had heard of the Social Security scam recently from one of my FB friends — a classmate of yours who happens to be a Constitutional law professor. He, of course, also knew it was garbage and posted a few good, snarky lines about it, But it is scary to know that many people are probably freaking out about it, as absurd as it is.

    As to the Mark Eden Bust Developer, may I simply say that I am in awe of your bravery (and good humor) in admitting to it out here on Retro. But, to be sure, Nora is very good company to be in.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. It’s funny, I had long since forgotten about Mark Eden (it was almost 45 years ago), but the memory suddenly came to me as I was in the middle of writing about all the email and phone scams. So I knew I had to add it. And Retro seemed like a pretty safe place to do it. If this story somehow goes viral, I might be a little embarrassed, but hey, if Nora could admit it, why shouldn’t I?

  3. Brava Suzy, how lovely to hear that you and Nora Ephron were bosom buddies!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I have had all of these calls from India about Windows, pleas for money from Nigerian princes and folks stranded in foreign countries, threats to take away my social security number,. etc. We get constant calls about getting free braces (for our legs?) from Medicare. I do remember the Mark Eden thing. When I was a kid, I entered a “contest” to count the number of sewing needles in a picture to win a sewing machine. I won, but the machine never arrived. Made me a cynic from a young age.

    • Suzy says:

      How sad about that sewing machine contest! What do you suppose the sponsor of the contest had to gain from it? Maybe just publicity for their product? But then why not award the prize to the winner? Unless they told everyone that they had won, not just you.

  5. Marian says:

    Ha, I hadn’t thought about the Mark Eden thing for years. Both Dick and I get the Social Security calls all the time, along with Windows and Mac messages. The worst we’ve had is a recording purporting to be from Apple. If you don’t pick up, the call repeats about every 15 minutes for a period of time. The worst was when I was at home trying to work, and Dick’s line got it 14 times. Alas, I don’t know any way to stop it.

    • Suzy says:

      OMG, I hadn’t heard about a call that repeats multiple times if you don’t pick up. That is a very special form of torture! I guess you could unplug the phone if it’s a landline, or turn it off if it’s a cell phone. But I suppose they would get you eventually.

  6. Suzy, I’ve received versions of all of those as well, plus the new “sextortion” spam. (See my comment on Betsy’s story.) I worry for those innocents who don’t see thru them, especially “the elderly”! (Sorry…more on that, too, on Betsy’s story as well. Lots of overlap here.)

    I remember the Mark Eden thing…it reminds me of the exercise I was “taught” where you stand, raise your arms to shoulder level, elbows bent, fingertips touching, then repeatedly push your elbows back while chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” It didn’t work either.

    • Suzy says:

      Yes, I remember that exercise. I should have realized that if that didn’t work, the Mark Eden gizmo wouldn’t either. Probably could have used that ten dollars I sent them for a nice dinner out in those days!

      And as to sextortion, we actually received an email at the Retrospect Admin account saying we have a video of you masturbating and will release if you don’t pay up. What??? How is that even possible? Apparently some people masturbate in front of their computers while looking at porn sites. Of course we ignored it, but I was puzzled about how anyone could fall for that until it was explained to me.

  7. Thanks for this, Suzy. Yes, I have gotten the Social Security call and others of its ilk. One of my favorite local scam attempts uses our land line number: the caller ID is something indecipherable, just random numbers following the letter V. I never pick up the land line or my cell if I don’t know the caller (I discovered the SS scam because the caller left a message). But the local scammer thought he/she/it would pull a fast one: instead of the V1234etc caller ID it read “NEIGHBOR”. Yeah, right. That said, there are two kinds of people: those who have fallen for at least one scam and those who deny it.

    • Suzy says:

      Apparently it is not that hard to manipulate the caller ID. I know when I was making Get Out the Vote phone calls to people in Texas (for Beto O’Rourke), the caller ID showed a Texas phone number instead of one from California, because otherwise people wouldn’t pick up.

  8. A wonderful catalog of woeful tales, Suzy, and you’ve made even the most familiar of cyber scams seem strange and foreboding! Scams from ‘A’to Su’Z’y! I confess I felt a little squeamish looking at that breast-development contraption. I mean, if it hadn’t been made of pink plastic, I would have thought it had been invented during the Inquisition(s)! I mean, which part fits where? Yikes!

    • Suzy says:

      Ha ha ha. No part fits anywhere, you hold it in your palms and press it together multiple times. You can sort of see the sexy blonde doing that in the picture to the right of the device. But you may have been distracted by her (ahem) attributes.

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