On Phone Scams, Cannibalism and the AT&T CL4939

Written by Lamont Wood

Gotten a call from a fake Microsoft tech support guy lately? Here’s our Lamont Wood on phone scams, cannibalism and the AT&T CL4939 have to do with it.

phone-scamsaNewDomain  — Gotten a call from a phone scammer claiming to be tech support at Microsoft? Join the club. Our Lamont Wood did, too. And here’s his sordid story around one particular phone scam — and scammer.

“This is Richard Parker,” said the Indian accented voice via thousands of miles of phone and Internet connectivity. “I’m calling from the technical department at Microsoft.

It was too much.

Scammers pretending to be from Microsoft have become a public annoyance, calling people to say there was something wrong with their PC, having them open screens in the control panel, pretending that whatever those screens showed was alarming, and offering to “fix'”the “problem” for money.

But Richard Parker? That was the name of the tiger with whom the narrator was forced to share a lifeboat in the popular India-themed Canadian action-adventure cannibalism-denial novel (later movie) Life of Pi. After the exposition of the colorful tiger-friendship story, the reader/viewer sees that the narrator likely concocted it rather than remember what actually happened on that lifeboat. Reportedly, the Canadian author, Yann Martel, chose to use the name “Richard Parker” because it keeps showing up in 19th Century accounts of castaways forced into cannibalism.

So with a caller on the line with an Indian accent claiming to be Richard Parker, perhaps I should have been alarmed. I wasn’t. After all, I had my trusty AT&T CL4939, reviewed below.

The thing is, calls like this had been coming in for more than a year, as many as five a day, albeit with people who gave names without India-themed cannibalism-denial associations. If they weren’t pretending to be from Microsoft they were pretending to be from some big-box retailer (also calling about “problems” my PC), or some online drug store (offering cut-rate Viagra), or someplace offering security monitoring, or to announce I had won a contest I didn’t remember entering, etc. At no point did they get a penny out of me, but endless failure didn’t seem to deter them.

There was often a hubbub of voices in the background, as if they were calling from a bus station. When I asked about that, they would claim to hear nothing.

Often the Caller ID was obviously spoofed, sometimes saying UNKNOWN NAME with no number, or just the number 1, or NAME NOT FOUND, or sometimes displaying an obviously invented number like 123-456-7890. Other times it said TOLL FREE CALL with a superficially realistic phone number, except it often used the 999 area code, which (in North America) is bogus outside Yucatán.

I’ve tried various responses: I would not answer. I would answer and hang up immediately. I would answer and leave the phone off the hook until they hung up. I would engage them in conversation and explain that I saw through them, that I knew in detail how the Microsoft scam worked. I would play hard-of-hearing-old-person and pretend to understand they were calling from jail. I would pretend to understand they were calling about Viagra because they were stricken with an overdose, assuring them that amputation was the only first-aid measure. Some of it, if recorded, would have made for great comedy sketches.

Nothing mattered. They kept calling back.

Did they not remember me? Didn’t they care that they were wasting their time?

Each time the caller sounded the same, a dry, matter-of-fact clone of Suraj Sharma (teenage star of the movie version of “Life of Pi”). But surely there was more than one person. Surely, their cheap equipment made them all sound alike.

Or maybe there really was only one caller, who was unflappable because he believed what he said (or was so overworked he was beyond caring.) If there was some connection with the book, even better—the book was about the relative nature of truth, after all. How better to express the meme than to call random people across the globe and try to milk their ignorance for money, oblivious (in my case) to the certainty of failure?

Well, probably a lot of ways, but right then I didn’t care.

“Listen carefully,” I said, firmly.

And here’s where we get to the product review of the AT&T CL4939, my personal choice for an office desk phone.

The AT&T CL4939 has big buttons and a large display, great for someone who has to fumble for his glasses. It has a speaker phone that I know better than use, a built-in answering machine whose control button apparently needs oiling (can you do that?) and a 70-page booklet of features that I can’t be bothered with.

But mostly, it’s a POTS (plain old telephone system) device offering the kind of sound fidelity that a generation of cell phone users has apparently forgotten, driving them to texting. And like all POTS devices, it’s an end-product of a (now largely abandoned) economic model based on devices sturdy enough to be left in people’s home and offices for decades while the phone company collected its monthly subscription fee.

Sound fidelity. Sturdy construction.

So I slammed the bottom of the handset (i.e., the end with the microphone in it) down on the desk as hard as I dared (and considering I have a spare in the closet, that was pretty hard), and then hung up.

Try that with your Samsung Galaxy S5. And good luck with that.

“Richard Parker” has not called back.

Yes, I do feel cut off from one of the more colorful memes of our times, and that the whole India-themed Canadian action-adventure cannibalism-denial genre will have to get by without me, somehow.

But it sure has been quieter around here.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m .

Based in San Antonio, Texas, Lamont Wood is a senior editor at aNewDomain.net. He’s been covering tech trade and mainstream publications for almost three decades now, and he’s a household name in Hong Kong and China. His tech reporting has appeared in innumerable tech journals, including the original BYTE (est. 1975). Follow href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/104014947624231478700?rel=author”>Lamont’s posts on Google here — email him at Lamont@anewdomain.net and follow him @LAMONTwood .

Image of Suraj Sharma 2012: Straighten Crop by Bollywood Hungama, uploaded by MyCanonSuraj Sharma. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Cropped Image from the official Life of Pi 2012 Poster: By May via IMP Awards. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.


1 Comment

  • While I have only heard about these types of calls and have never gotten one, the sadistic side of me enjoyed this story… the same side that thinks it would be fun to keep one of those aerosol air horns next to the phone for similar annoying callers. I’m too nice of a guy to actually use it, but the concept amuses me.