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Corona Diaries: beware of geeks bearing gifts

April 29, 2020

Yesterday was notable for a flurry of excitement in our household. Normally, or at least new normally, there are few things that cause our hearts to miss a beat or two. Relentless daily sessions on the cross-trainer or other instruments of torture is one of them. The intensifying battle against the squirrels that have infiltrated our loft and wake us early in the morning with their demented scratching is another.

And then there are the deliveries. For me, the pleasure in receiving a parcel, even if you know what’s in it, is undiminished since childhood. At the moment most of them are related to insurgent squirrels or COVID. The latest squirrel-related delivery is an infrared camera that will help us carry out covert surveillance on the little bastards as they make merry in the rafters. We shall soon discover their purpose. Procreation? Drawing on a nut stockpile? Or perhaps just fun.

The latest COVID delivery, which is scheduled for the next day or so, is an oximeter. We already have face masks, a blood pressure monitor, antiseptic gel and a couple of rocket-propelled grenade launchers to repel starving intruders. But apparently some people are being diagnosed with critically low blood oxygen levels without even realising that they have a problem.

I should have thought that gasping for air after ten minutes on the cross-trainer would also provide some indication that there’s a problem, but we’re taking no chances, especially as the media medics are telling us that an oximeter is a useful piece of kit. Apparently it’s possible to go from feeling OK to being very dead in a matter of hours if the lungs decide to collapse. So an early warning is no bad thing.

I’ve no idea how an oximeter works. Google tells you that you can measure your blood oxygen by putting your finger on the camera of a mobile phone, provided you have the app and the right phone. It seems that some Samsung phones can do this for you. Sounds great, but I wouldn’t switch over to Android even if the phone offered me a full body scan. I’m afraid I’m set in my Apple ways.

Which brings me to the cause of yesterday’s excitement.

At around midday, there was a knock on the door, which was a sure indication that there was a courier waiting to deliver good things. We thought that Amazon was exceeding our expectations and delivering the oximeter three days early. But no, it was a DHL courier with a chunky package.

We opened it to discover that it was an unexpected gift. Or so it seemed. Inside the bag was a big, sexy, top-of the-range Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, with a SIM card from one of the UK’s leading mobile phone companies. On the delivery note my name was listed as the intended recipient.

At first we thought that my beloved, who occasionally responds to surveys which offer such devices in prize draws, had hit the jackpot. But there were no emails to tell us we’d won a new iPhone. And anyway, you would have expected her to be the recipient, not me.

Then we thought it might be a mistake. Some weird computer glitch. We did a Google search on “I’ve received a mobile phone I didn’t order”. Answers to similar queries suggested that one option was to say nothing and hang on to the phone. I can’t say that a little inner devil didn’t try and tempt me, but such “gifts” rarely come without consequences, as recipients of large sums of money arriving accidentally in their bank accounts often discover. And this was no cheapo phone. It retails on Amazon for £1,400, three times as much as my laptop.

More searching revealed that apparently there’s a scam going round. Cyber-criminals order the phone using stolen bank account details. Once it’s delivered to the named recipient, they contact them posing as the phone company, telling them there was a mistake, and could they send the phone back to a given address, which, of course, isn’t that of the phone company.

We decided to check with the provider. Perhaps these scamsters are relying on the fact that the mobile phone companies make it very difficult for you to contact them by phone, or, at the moment, even by chatline. However, we did manage to get through to a human by saying fraud often enough to the answering system.

It turned out that whoever ordered the phone had set up an account in my name, using my bank details and my address. Though we’d checked our account before the call, the reason why there had been no fishy transactions was because the phone company wasn’t due to take a payment for another two weeks. So if all had gone according to plan, the scamster would have been away with a brand new phone, and we would have been left with the bill. Nice huh?

I have no idea where our bank details came from, but probably from one of those well-publicised mega-hacks that have taken place in recent years. Or possibly through one that hasn’t yet been uncovered – or disclosed.

So if one of you hopeful dunderheads is reading this, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the phone is already on its way back to the phone company, and our bank has cancelled the relevant cards. Not that an all-singing-all-dancing phone would have been of much interest to me. A phone should be a phone, not a bloody supercomputer.

You often read of these data hacks, and rarely expect that you will be affected. We’re pretty familiar with scams and how to deal with them. How many other people, especially in our generation (over-60s), are falling victim to them, especially at a time when it can take ages to speak to a human who can help you?

Such excitement reminds me of another aspect of lockdown. Somewhere in my house there’s something called a wallet. In it you would find a couple of pieces of paper with the Queen’s head on them. Elsewhere we have a few bits of metal that we normally use for parking charges. They sit, untouched for weeks, reminders of simpler times.

How long before they suddenly become relevant again?

From → Business, Social, UK

2 Comments
  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    A true Sherlock moment, well done on spotting the scam and using the “safe word” with the robot operator!

    Whilst Euro(s) and cent(ime)s rarely dirty our wallet and purse nowadays, one piece of kit which has lately been propelled into use is our French national ID card. The CNI is fully analogue – neither a bell nor a whistle – and has the holder’s home address on the back, which has snagged many-a-second-homeowner in the past weeks of road blocks and beachcombing policemen of the gendarme, national and municipal variety.

    The all-purpose Danish version of the CNI – “yellow card” – is fully chip-and-pin, and NOTHING is possible without it, not a bank account nor a roof. Our daughter’s ERASMUS sejourn proved this to be so.

    How long until JRM, the ERG and their SPG are checking BRINICs on the rues and straats of blighty? Does BoJo, inspite of his state-of-the-art education, know his geeks from his trojans?

    • Very good question Andrew. I imagine he’ll get round to it, along with nobbling the BBC and other enlightened measures. S

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