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Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Scammed

Images link to Which? and Guardian articles

I’d never get scammed. Not me: M.Sc. in computing, software writer, programming teacher, systems consultant, researcher, lecturer, forty years computer experience. I even wrote articles for so-called learned journals. Scammed? Me? Never! 

A month ago I bought something from Amazon. I know. I shouldn’t. They’re a scheming, two-faced outfit who don’t pay their fair share of tax and use too much non-recyclable packaging, but it was convenient. And before I knew, I’d signed up to a month’s free trial of Amazon Prime.

You have to credit the devious way they trick you into clicking that button while making you think you’re just selecting free delivery. There seemed to be no other way forward. It’s a masterpiece of interaction design. They hope you’ll forget you’ve signed up and that later you won’t notice the £7.99 disappearing from your bank account every month. 

I wasn’t worried. I knew all I had to do was go to my Amazon Settings –> Accounts and Lists –> Your Prime Membership and unsubscribe. I knew that because it’s the second time I’ve been caught out. It shows how ingenious they are that I should fall for it again, even when trying not to. I am not alone (see another Which? article).

You have to confirm you really do want to unsubscribe; that you don’t want the free next-day delivery, the video and music streaming, the books, the games and other supposed benefits. Well I don’t. I’m not interested. So I unsubscribed. Nevertheless, want it or not, you still get the free trial for the full duration. You can’t opt out. It’s like a stop smoking programme that supplies you with free cigarettes just in case you don’t really want to stop.

You harbour a lingering unease they are still out to get you somehow. For the rest of the month you are checking your Amazon account every few days to make sure it still says “Your free trial will expire on …” and afterwards that “You are no longer a member of Amazon Prime”. It did. All looked absolutely fine.

But then, two days after the trial ended, I received a phone call on the landline, an automated voice reminding me that my Amazon Prime subscription was about to be renewed at a cost of £39.99 to be charged to my bank account and that if I did not want to renew I should press 1 to speak to an account manager.

Did I believe it? Well yes. Given the circumstances you can see why. I was furious. Did I press 1? No, but only because the phone had not been resting properly on its stand so the battery went flat and cut me off. Would I have pressed 1 if not cut off? Probably not, but I can’t be sure. Amazon does have my landline number on the account but no mobile. I thought it might be a text-to-speech message.*

I was agitated for the rest of the day. I logged on to Amazon to check it still said: “You are no longer a member of Amazon Prime”. I checked my bank account. Only on finding the Guardian and Which? articles did I begin to relax. But in the sense that I believed it a genuine call, yes, I’ve been scammed.

Scams depend on timing and circumstance. If you email enough people to say their Wordpress account has been compromised and they should log in immediately using the link you provide, some will fall for it, especially if they do indeed have a Wordpress account and have recently experienced problems (Blogger users, of course, would instantly see straight through such a simple trick). Pressing 1 would have connected me on a premium rate line to some irresistibly persuasive person in Africa wanting me to allow them remote access to my computer, give them my bank card details or log on to a fake website. I could have been thousands of pounds out of pocket. 

Scammed? Me? Er, no way?

 

*If it had been sent as a text, then pressing ‘1’ would have had no effect because there is no direct connection to the sender while reading a text. 

 

21 comments:

  1. Sheesh! Is there no end to it? We have been bombarded with scam telephone calls recently supposedly from Amazon. I hang up before they have finished their spiel as Amazon doesn't have our landline number anyway. It would be very easy though to be tricked.

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    1. Yes, and especially when circumstances come together so that you are half expecting a call.

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  2. The devious tactics that scammers use are forever evolving. Nobody is immune from them. I just wish that the powers that be would work harder and with more determination to crush them so that law-abiding citizens like ourselves would not have to deal with these vile, greedy people who are both parasites and thieves.

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    1. Trouble is that there is always a trade-off between cracking down and allowing people to behave in unusal but harmless ways. It's a difficult balance.

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    2. If we can get men on the moon and put telecommunications satellites into orbit and invent plastic and pork scratchings we can surely crush these scammers. Where there is a will there is a way. All unsolicited communications should be banned.

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  3. Thanks for the warning. I have "accidentally" become an Amazon prime member too in the past, Very annoying how they make that the only obvious choice for delivery. Thank goodness it's £7.99 and not £39.99!

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    1. I hope you escaped before they got any money. I really can't see the benefits. I'm not so impatient as to need next-day delivery, and enhanced Alexa functionality isn't any use if you don't have and don't want an Alexa.

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  4. There is no limit to what scammers will do these days. I check and double check whenever I order anything online or even download anything. They always try to sneak something by you. And even though I am on a "no call" list I still get phone calls trying to scam me. Don't feel bad if they got you. It's next to impossible to keep up with all their new tactics!

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    1. In the article linked in the text it shows a big button which does not make it all that obvious you are signing up to Prime, and a small piece of text to continue without. It's tantamount to misrepresentation. However, I'm annoyed with myself because in one project I worked on, we designed deliberately difficult to use web sites for research purposes. I should have known better. At least they didn't get any money out of me.

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  5. Negotiating round Amazon's Prime requires decent glasses, though the best advice is not to order from the company. There is a scam going round atm, highlighted by North Yorkshire police about phone scamming. Luckily I have a rather bad phone, and always check anyway.

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    1. I like the phrase "Trust nobody, suspect everyone".

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  6. Here in Germany, I have not yet been aware of this particular scam, but I guess it will only be a matter of time until the same strategy is used here.
    What happens at least once a week here, though, is the following:
    Meike is working from home.
    Her landline phone rings.
    It could be a client (most of her clients know the days she works from home), so she always, ALWAYS picks up the phone when working from home.
    No sound at first. Then some crackling. Meike sighs inwardly, as she is pretty sure what will happen next.
    And sure enough:
    Man with Indian accent: "Hello Madam, I am calling from Windows..."
    Meike: "No, you're not!"
    The phone is put down rather harshly.
    Meike accesses her router and blocks the phone number.

    Play to repeat...

    "Calling from Windows"?! I am asking you! It used to be "...calling from Mircrosoft", which is also unbelievable, but not quite as daft as "Windows". Dear Scammers, just for your information: Windows is a type of operating system. Mircosoft is the company behind those operating systems. Do your homework, please. (But don't do it well enough for all of us to fall into your traps.)

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    1. It might have been a double glazing salesman wanting to sell you new windows. I wish I had the patience to lead these people on and get my own back, but there are many more interesting ways of wasting time.

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  7. In the 1990s when Amazon first started as a book on-line retailer I was a regular Amazon user. I had money to buy new books. I still have the same account. They used Royal Mail for delivery. Postman knew what to do if I was out. When Amazon stopped using Royal Mail and using couriers who needed a signature I stopped ordering stuff. A few years ago I wanted something that I could only find on Amazon. I got all the way to checkout and came up to Prime. I did not want Prime so declined it only to find that the final order confirmation said I had opted for Prime. I hadn't. I then spen an hour finding out via Google and other people's experiences, how to get rid of Prime and then cancelled the order. I have not used them since. I order books via Waterstones who still use Royal Mail. Other than that I never buy things anywhere.

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    1. Replacing Royal Mail with their own deliveries is another example of how greedy they are. I hope that one benefit of Brexit is that we find ways to tax them properly. And the signature requirement irritates me too - why is it necessary for a £10 book? Presumably because too many people dishonestly claim non delivery.

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  8. I have an elderly relative who is bombarded by scam calls. I set up call blocking for him, but he doesn't use it and just puts the phone down on them, which unfortunately doesn't stop them ringing again and again. We can't automatically block 'number withheld' calls as he has so many calls from doctors etc who all seem to withhold their numbers. It is a huge worry for us and we are constantly telling him about the latest scams doing the rounds. It is appalling that this can happen to people in their own homes.

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    1. It's a problem with elderly relatives who didn't grow up in the online era. Or even sharp practice by post. My mother-in-law signed up to unnecessary water pipes insurance because it looked like a water bill, and by simply renewing her home insurance each year the premium climbed to an outrageous level. Lots of companies try to get away with as much as they can. Let's hope we're more aware when we get there.

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  9. I get the Windows scammer calls, too. At the beginning they used to claim, with Indian accents, to be calling from just up the road… a small Dutch fishing town called, rather oddly, Zurich. Now they just claim to have my wellbeing at heart….

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    1. I'm sure they look after you very caringly - until they've got your money.

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  10. I had the same call. Puzzled by it as we have never had an Amazon prime account (although we do have Prime courtesy of son's account). Fortunately i assumed it was a scam but like you, still on edge for a bit.

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    1. It shows how believable these call can be that you were worried even though you don't have a Prime account.

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