Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sarajoy vs. The Machine

The 2017 re-match between myself and the mad machinery of modern times is turning in to a route. Not in my favor. Obviously. The score at this, the midpoint of common-man's fiscal year, clocks in as Sarajoy -2; The Machine 435,766.

Negative Two? How is this possible? My friends, I have extraordinary, nearly-superhuman abilities to offer myself up for financial sabotage.

Six weeks ago, every thing was fine. No, that's not true really. I was still smarting from two legal/financial issues in which I did not necessarily lose, but neither did I win, and I certainly was not treated fairly. I may write about these some day, but I'm still too butt-hurt over some of the finer points. Thanks to a modicum of smarts and some measure of good fortune, our financial ship is still afloat, sitting low in the water, yes, but we live to fight another day.
The Peter Iredale shipwreck or possibly our finances

But then, Coyote ran in yelling about the family computer and some sort of virus and to come quick. This elevated my adrenaline levels and thus higher level thinking turned off and a more primitive flight/fight mode took over. Once the adrenaline is pumping, nothing smart can happen -instinctual, maybe- but not intelligent. I'm not blaming Coyote, although blaming someone other than myself sounds fun. Rather, I'm explaining the chemistry of what happened. And, especially since my head injury, adrenaline spikes can now be quite tricky: long lasting, confusing, chaotic.

Our computer had been possessed and the entire screen was screaming that we'd been infected. Not only was the screen yelling it, the speakers were too. The whole world was yelling at me to call Microsoft RIGHT NOW. It was the official Microsoft voice and the logo and there was the number conveniently flashing across my screen. Normally, I would go find a different number, through a different source, but I was all flustered and agitated and relieved to see that an easy solution was being generously offered to a problem I have zero ability to deal with. So I obeyed. I called and went through a relatively painless phone tree. It was a phone tree! I was put on hold! Perhaps the ease with which I was able to navigate the phone tree should have tipped me off.

Civil War Ruins in Oregon. Really.
The man on the line, which crackled and cut out occasionally, had a thick Indian accent. An Indian accent means "real tech support." It means you are getting The Expert. I could hear the other tech supporters in the back ground, all busily fixing the world's tech issues. I occasionally asked him, point blank (because scammers always respond honestly to direct questions), if this was just another scam. And then I apologized for insulting his integrity and possibly being racist and difficult to someone who was only trying to do his job, but a girl can't be too careful in this crazy world, ya know? And he happily took over Big Mama (our family computer). And he showed me documents of massive attacks on my computer, 4000 at least. He said the Crampi Virus had infected my router and would soon ooze it's virtual viral puss all over every device in communication with the wi-fi router.  After the "power-point of panic," he told me that I'd need to buy a $400 7-layered firewall for my router. I am apparently all kinds of gullible, but when it comes to actually putting the gullibility to the test, actually manifesting it in the physical world, I wake up pretty quickly. [EG: No, I'm not getting in the back of your van to look at your organic meat. Although I listened to your pitch with an open mind, I'm not betting my body on your story (true story!)] I'm willing to entertain wild tales about router viruses until it comes time to plunk down real dollars. So I told him that $400 was in the "need-to-discuss" range with my husband, who I'd need an hour to track down and confer with. I was 100% planning to call him back. But he told me that in that hour, I could expect to experience 1000 more attacks. I would have to replace my computer, and all devices in communication with my router, I would lose all my family photos, and then I would need to buy $700 and TEN layers of protection. Ten? Like this is a burrito from Taco Bell? Like Little Shop of Horrors but lasagna instead of a plant? Seriously?!

Huck's response was shock and awe: A router virus?! You called the number the virus gave you?!
Oregon coast swimmers, no wet suits, batshit crazy people

So I hung up on Huck because my now shattered ego was not equipped to deal anything any more and I crawled into bed and hid from the world. How could I be so stupid!? Worried I might actually call the guy back and give him $400, Huck texted me article after article about the Crampi Virus scam. Fuck. I knew all of that. I knew to Google random phone numbers before calling them.

One of the articles was about how many people were falling for it. It is the most successful scam to date. They've tested it on people who would normally know better, people both old enough and young enough to know better -my generation- and half of us fell for it. And this is why I write. Maybe I can help you from falling for it. Or if it's too late for that, then I write so that we don't feel alone in our failings, in our confusion and betrayments. And I write because this scam fascinated me as it preys on humanity's tangled mess of cynicism (of course, I've got another damn virus) and hope (Oh look at such an easy solution presented to me so clearly! How lucky!). Both of these at once! It is a clever scam, taking advantage of our complexities.

As my ego shakily glued its fragile self together shard by shard, I called my internet service service and climbed around in their extensive phone tree until I found a computer expert and she said, "Honey, there is no such thing as a router virus." She knew I was broken, and liberally applied a salve of "honeys" to our conversation. I was so broken that the computer-fixer felt compelled to fix me too. How embarrassing. And she said, "Do you know how many customers Microsoft has, honey? It's in the billions. Billions, honey. A company with BILLIONS of customers will never, ever ask you to call. Ever." She'd be happy to help, honey, with remote access to my computer. She could go through it all to make sure nothing had been left behind or stolen by this encounter, except that I wasn't signed up for the $20/month Help-Me-I'm-An-Idiot (tm) plan. And the business office was closed for the day. In the mean time, I should unplug my computer from the internet. It's shit like this, this complexity and tm-branding, that make everything sound like scams. Half of the "real" companies are just scams for shareholders anyway. I am happy to pay a fair price for goods and real services, but it's harder and harder to tell what's real and what's not.

So I left Big Mama unplugged for a month. It was all too overwhelming and difficult and humiliating. And I had my smart phone, so no biggie.

Then I got an email from Amazon. It said my order was on it's way, which seemed about right. And it said that since I was such a loyal customer, which I am, (Brick and mortar stores complain that Amazon is ruining them, but as long as they insist on being understaffed and poorly laid out, people who hate shopping will continue abandoning them, feeling justified because we were actually abandoned first) that they'd like me to take a quick survey. I kinda love surveys and am a regular Gallup Panelist. As a SAHM, it's literally the only time in my day anyone wants to know what I think.  After the survey, they offered a free gift. Gallup never does that. So I sifted through the shitty offerings, a spread of second-rate junk. I picked some facial lotion because I'd just lost mine (no idea how I did that). But then I needed to pay for shipping apparently, which seemed odd because I never pay for shipping. But, why not throw good money at wasted time? Then I had to wrestle with a series of suspicious pop-ups at the end of which I got a receipt for $20. I did not mean to do that. I did not even want this un-rated lotion. $20 is the range of perfectly acceptable "oops" expenditures, but I was sick of it all. I often feel like a cash-cow. Like our family's financial entity is only allowed to remain afloat because the system is still milking it. I feel like we're being farmed for money. We are hooked up to a machine twice a day and sucked dry. They feed us silage and grain and sometimes let us go on vacations, but it's all in the service of getting more milk. Mostly we're just here to make investors happy.

So I decided to complain. But the line was busy. Not even a phone tree. No hold. Nothing, just busy. Like it was the 1980's and the family just sat down for dinner and took the phone off the hook or because Stephanie was dishing to Jennifer all about Jason, the spiral phone cord weaving down the hall and smooshed in her closed door, and no one would be getting through until Jason's jeans and specifically the way his butt looked in them, had been sufficiently discussed. The line was BUSY. So then I clicked on the email address which led me to an announcement that they don't allow emails because "spam". The hypocrisy was mind-boggling. So I called my bank and cancelled payment, cancelled my card, cancelled my faith in humanity, cancelled my subscription to be part of this overly-complex, overly-easy-to-abuse machine. And then I re-signed myself with a new card, fool that I am.

Neah Bay Black Jacks in July
Some scam CSI revealed that the scam-clues were in the email address all along: eet_hisbab@zenithtip.com  I would have noticed the lack of "Amazon.com" immediately had I been on my computer and I'd have laughed at the lazy attempt to part me from my money. But I was on my phone, which only gave me the name the writer chose: Amazon.  Dammit, I'd been had again. And then my phone quit working and I lost all of my contacts and text conversations and had to reboot the whole thing to factory settings. Was this all part of the plot? Can you get a phone-killing virus from an email?

Holtzmann ready for duty. Ghostbusters, a business more real than most
So I plugged my computer back in. Navigated CenturyLink's Giant Sequioa of a phone tree and eventually found my way to another man with a thick Indian accent. And my heart jumped with scam PTSD. And I double checked myself: I had called, yes. I'd found the number on my bill, yes. Was I being racist? I hope not. But still, I mentioned his accent tentatively and maybe on another day I would have asked where he was in India to see if I'd ever been there. But today I told him I'd been scammed by a man with his same Indian accent. And the guy says, thickly accented, "No ma'am. I do not have an Indian accent. CenturyLink's call center is located in El Salvador and I'm born and raised in Brooklyn. The accent you are hearing is straight Brooklyn. It just sounds different to you because there is some Bronx mixed in." I'm sure he gets pissy people harassing him about his accent and outsourcing and all that, so he'd probably come up with some line to deal with it. Or, more likely, he was so impressed by my tale of gullibility that he wanted to give it a test drive himself. I would have believed Bangladesh. But El Salvador? Brooklyn? Bronx? I got the giggles.

It took 90 minutes to get where I needed to go in that phone tree. But finally, I handed my computer over to someone who ... I don't even know... maybe they were the right person for the right job? We can only hope. Literally. And after 8 hours, we were cleared of all shenanigans.

But when I checked my bank, the charges for the "free gift" had gone through, twice. My credit union took care of it promptly. But it turned out that the second set of charges (also just a long line of weird numbers with no words) was actually the charge for my CenturyLink Help-Me-I'm-An-Idiot (tm) plan. Oops. And then the lotion came in the mail. What. The. Fuck. Why would you act like a scam if you aren't one? And I'm not paying to send it back. So am I the scammer now? I feel guilty using it, so it's just sitting by my bathroom sink with the wrapper still on. It'll probably cause me to break out anyway. My god, this whole thing is too complex. No one can tell who's telling the truth. Many seem unable to even tell if they're telling truth themselves! I'm not sure anyone knows what's true or real any more. I'm not sure I could tell what a real business is; it's all so blurred. It started with cassette tape clubs that you could supposedly "cancel anytime" and has devolved from there. Even our President now just sounds like a low-budget infomercial, just another scam.



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