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The IT Guy vs. the Con Artist (npr.org)
536 points by danso on Aug 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 157 comments

The victims didn't come forward because they felt so ashamed about falling for the con.

This is such an interesting essential part of scams. I guess it's a part of human nature.

I remember tracking down a phone scam that caught my grandmother once (based out of Montreal) and I eventually got to a point where I discovered that my grandmother had provided a verbal consent over the phone that had kept it just this side of being outright fraud. The scam company played a recording of it for me.

I wasn't sure this wasn't fabricated, so I tried to confirm with my grandmother and she was just like, "Well, thanks for all your help, honey, but really this isn't that important. Let's just move on."

I recognized how pushing it would just cause her unnecessary pain. So I dropped it and we moved on. Good to know there are people like Felipe around helping to keep things in check.

Now when Felipe just lives his life or goes out in the world, he can't help but think everything can be a con, and everybody can be a mark.

Yeah, I guess I see the world more or less the same way. And I suppose it makes me a little unusual. Hopefully not too cynical.

> This is such an interesting essential part of scams. I guess it's a part of human nature.

Absolutely. It happened to my relatives too.

The way I found out was I was there visiting and they got a call which I picked it up. It came from what sounded like an Indian person. You see, they wanted to "refund the money" and just needed the bank account details.

Aha! I thought, I'll play dumb and pretended to mistype their remote desktop installer's web address and diverted the conversation to random stuff. Eventually they realized I was wasting their time and called me some exotic slang names, I hand't heard before. I am always up for cultural enrichment, so that was fun. Then they started playing this really high pitched sound into earpiece, I guess to "punish" me and trying to hurt my hearing.

However, it became less fun later when the relatives told me they had already lost close to $10k with them. They had contacted the bank and the police and apparently the bank refunded them some part of it. But otherwise they hadn't told anyone as they were terribly ashamed. They were professionals, already retired, with advanced degrees, and they felt like they should not have been the ones easily fooled, but they were.

So make sure you talk to your older family members, and tell them ahead of time to not be embarrassed if it already happened. Teach them how do respond and how to handle these scammers.

> Teach them how do respond and how to handle these scammers.

Concretely, the way to respond is this:

If you ever get a call that claims to be from business X, tell them "OK, I'll call you back." Then get off the phone, look up the number for X yourself, and call them. If it was really X calling you, you'll get back to where you need to be. If it was a scam, X will tell you they don't know what you're talking about.

Never trust that a cold call is from who they say they're from.

Many years ago, I had a police detective call me about an active investigation. He wanted to come over to visually verify that I had something in my possession. I was suspicious, and he totally understood. He said, "go look up the phone number for <police station in jurisdiction> and ask to speak with detective so and so, badge number ZZZ".

Here is a scam example of your anecdote that happened to a family member of mine, who was taken in for hours by "Police" in China (she speaks Mandarin).

They even spoofed the number of an actual police station and said, "Google the number on your caller ID to see we are legit". Obviously, call them back yourself.

Awesome. Always ask for a call back number. My dad was in his late 70s and fell for stuff like this. I beat the notion into his head, if in doubt ask for a call back number. If they they refuse to give it, it is a scam....period.

7 years was not enough for ruining peoples lives.

Did you actually look it up and call the number?

Yes I did. And a couple of days later, 2 detectives showed up, verified the item was in my possession and went on to the next person on their list. Incidentally they also marked the item by etching a number on it to make sure that they didn’t see it again, i.e., to rule out my cooperating with the person they were looking for.

what was it?

I would guess a firearm of some sort, as that's the only thing I can think of that would:

1.) be relevant to a police investigation 2.) be registered or associated with individuals 3.) have few enough of an exact thing in an area for the manual checking to be effective

you can also just call 911, tell them it's not an emergency, and ask them to connect you to the police station

I advise not being lazy and consuming emergency services if you can help it.

Scammers are aware of this, and will often use a tactic of gradual escalation. At first, you have no reason to hang up and call them back, because the call seems harmless.

Good example would be someone claiming to be your ISP apologizing for recent slow internet speeds (when doesn't this happen), and wanting to confirm you're now happy and not experiencing slow speeds. Why would you doubt this and go to the trouble of calling back?

The other problem is businesses being so extremely dumb. I've had and heard of man cases of Banks calling people, asking them verification questions on cold calls and offering no way to call them back. Not just stupid in that it limits your strategy, but it actually trains people to be more vulnerable to scammers.

It works in the average situation, but unfortunately there are some huge scams happening(passing unnoticed) in undeveloped countries where somehow the scammers can hijack the number for a certain time frame.

If you call the same number the next day the real institution is going to answer, but nobody knows a thing.

Apparently, in some cases, they can hijack the phone number of an institution, but only for the specific caller that they are applying the scam. If someone from another context call the same number it goes to where it's supposed to be.

It's becoming more normal than ever down here... Happened next to me.

We are entering the age of personalized crime, targeted and framed just for you, considering your personality and necessities.

One time I was having trouble with my PayPal MasterCard and called them from Mexico. I was sort of stranded because I needed the card to work to get an Uber and it was really hot so I didn't want to walk home. I don't remember if it was the 800 number or the local area code in the US. Probably 800 number. But I was in Mexico and dialed it the same way as I would in the US.

Someone from Mexico answered and initially it sounded very similar to what PayPal employees really say. It took like two minutes before I was really suspicious. I was really tired that day and didn't want to walk though so I kept trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. But a few minutes after that they actually asked me to go into 7/11 and buy a Google Play card for $150 or something. At that point it was just really obviously a scam and I decided to walk home. Called the real PayPal from my computer using the US area code.

In other cases, they might be able to take over the Google Maps listing (Google Search will show the listing from maps btw) due to it not being previously claimed/suggesting an update and can change the phone number to one they control: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18527328

Look my comment above, scammers are exploiting basic principles of landline operation. Its the victims landline that gets "hijacked", not some institutions number.

Do you know if they’re doing this to people with mobile cells as well or is it only landlines?

I can check it out, but I think they're doing this to both.

Doesnt work. Scammers already adopted this to their advantage.

Conman calls a landline, starts conversation with "please call the bank back, im putting down the phone now" and ... just plays Dial tone. The trick is call ends only when the person who started it hangs up.

Hmm... "No worries, I'll do that but it'll probably be in a few days as I'm pretty busy now."

If they want to leave their line open "for a few days"... then good luck to them. :)

A good one. Or if it’s something you really should verify right away, call your friend or relative first. If the scammer answers again, you’ll definately know.

Good tactic, that'd work. :)

Except its your 60 year old mum answering the call, and 'calling back' just made her absolutely sure she can trust the nice bank lady on the phone.

or call a friend before calling the number

This was an issue with UK BT POTS lines some years ago. The line would 'hang' for a fair while after the recipient hung up before clearing down (disconnecting both sides).

The idea was, maybe you dropped your phone and didn't mean to hang up and this gave you time to rectify your mistake without having to redial.

Scammers started exploiting this and the timeout was reduced to the order of a few seconds. Count to five after hanging up and you can just about guarantee that's a real dialtone.

If you hang up and pick back up too quickly, yeah. But the call doesn't just stay connected until the cake hangs up. Either party can end it by hanging up, right?

Landline calls, at least when I was younger, were not disconnected until the caller hung up. I assume there’s a technical reason involving channels instead of packets but I never researched it.

Landline calls were disconnected after a timeout. The receiver could hangup and pick up quickly and still be connected. We used this method to move to another phone in the house. Also if you tapped the hook a few times the line would disconnect

Technical reason was mechanical exchanges (Strowger etc) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUOh9fCSgqw

implementing logic/timers with cogs is impractical.

As an important addition to this - use a completely different line for calling the real company. If the suspicious call came from a cell, use another cell phone. If call came from landline, use a cell.

I don't think many people have more than one phone any more. e.g. I haven't had a landline in almost a decade.

Why do you say that? What difference would it make?

I suppose it's theoretically possible that a fraudulent caller had exploited your device or phone line in some way, though that's a rare and extreme case. Still, it doesn't hurt to mitigate it when you verify (of course, it's also theoretically possible the same attacker compromised your other phone, or just that of the business they are impersonating, too.)

Especially with landlines it’s possible for them to stay on the line and pretend that they have hung up, play the dial tone and ring back noises, then continue the con. This is particularly easy with elderly people who have older phones.

They played a high pitched sound into the earpiece? Wow, that's on another level.

Overall I think it's not worth being on the phone with these people. It's a no-win situation. For them it's a 'job', while you'd be investing your precious time and energy.

There is something about just watching, say, scammers doing the shell game in the streets, that is incredibly draining.

> They played a high pitched sound into the earpiece? Wow, that's on another level.

Yeah I expected the name calling but that was just something new. I guess I had really upset them. I imagine they had put my relatives on some kind of a "high value" mark list after they had gotten so much money from them, and they thought they were getting another easy $500 from them again. Instead they spent 30 of their time talking about weather, holidays, barbecue styles in US and other crap.

> There is something about just watching, say, scammers doing the shell game in the streets, that is incredibly draining.

Agree. In case of my relatives, I have to admit, I share some of the shame just because I felt I hadn't done my part to protect them earlier. There is an element of that that expand to the society. You know, watching this happen to other members of the community and thinking what can be done to stop it, why are they wasting their resources like that.

Watching a scambaiter won't help recover their loss, but it may offer some form of vicarious revenge:



I feel the same way but I encountered so many con artists.

My favorite con artists was actually a dentist and I fell for part of the "con". I guess you could argue if its a con but I feel like it was.

I went in for a simple fillings in two teeth, he starts drilling, then tells me I need inlays $800 a piece x 2. Being young and stupid I said, ok. I was so broke at the time, I needed to borrow money to pay. When I came back another customer was fighting with billing. 2nd con that dentist office did was sending bills for bs charges. I got two, but did research and asked for a detailed bill, which never came. A year or two later I start getting pain, and my new dentist is surprised I have inlays in back teeth and has to drill them out because they were done incorrectly.

So, yeah....don't pick a dentist based on google reviews and talk about treatment plan before drilling.

So how do you pick a dentist?

By word of mouth mostly.

Absolutely, real-life word of mouth trumps all the algos and search engines. About time more people realize those are business marketing tools, not tools to help you.

I see what you did there.

Nice username :)

Amazon reviews </sarcasm>

The shame part is huge for elder folks. Not only the feeling "I must be old; I wouldn't have made this mistake when I was younger" (though you might have) but the feeling that others will realize you are losing it.

It's bad enough that banks and such are starting to set up arrangements where (adult) kids can intervene to prevent their parents from losing all their savings this way.

Long time (maybe twenty years) ago I read about a fascinating scam. The scammers were announcing a totally cool sex toy (maybe early VR, don't remember), but they never intended to deliver. Through clever marketing they managed to find enough potential customers who were asked to prepay a certain amount to finance production of the product (comparable to crowdfunding). When delivery day arrived, the scammers sent out letters to the customers with an apology that something went horribly wrong and the product could not be delivered. The letters included a bank cheque with a full refund, but the cheque said: "Refund for Sex Toy XYZ". As planned from the beginning, most customers were too ashamed to cash the cheque, so the scammers kept most of the money. Legally (?).

Sounds like a bit from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels: https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=379784

I don't know if that was a real scam. It was a bit of a throw away joke from the movie, 'Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels'.

The guys need to raise money to repay a debt, and one of them presents this idea, which gets tossed out because it's gonna take too long for them to receive the checks.

It's much, much older than the movie reference. Embarrassing check scams are an old, tried and true scam. They were more popular backnin the days of physical chain letters.

I just found that this scam even has an entry on Wikipedia:


This is something which is discussed in Guy Ritchie's _Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels_ anyway.

If this actually happened, it would still be an illegal fraud. You would need to prove that was the intent all along, which would be difficult. But still illegal.

Isn't that just like an average KickStarter campaign?

Why not just deposit the check in an ATM or with an image

I think this was not possible at that time. Bank business was a lot more personal back in the old days. People knew each other and you wouldn't want to be the one in the community being know for having ordered a sex toy.


My dad got taken by the "Hello this is Microsoft Support calling" scammers. They quickly got him to approve a remote connection to his machine and then they showed him a random registry entry as "proof" that his machine was infected with a virus. Which they just so happened to have the anti-virus for, for $300.

Dad was computer savvy, but by this point he was 80 years old and they flat-out took advantage of him. He had to mail me the machine so I could reload it.

Please - teach your parents to just hang up on these clowns. And to kill the browser process when they get popups trying to cause fear & doubt.

My great aunt was taken by the same scam twice. The second time even after I told her it was a scam. After the second time I locked her account down on her PC to not have install or remote desktop permissions and I had the only admin access. She only read email and chatted on skype with her grandkids. So she never felt the restrictions but it eliminated the problem of her giving access to these scammers.

> Please - teach your parents to just hang up on these clowns.

That was the other thing. It was impossible to get my grandparents to do this. I think I eventually got them to let the answering machine answer and not return calls for messages from anyone they didn't recognize.

What would be nice is a service that just forwards unknown calls to someone competent.

Or just blocks them?

Because I'd like to think I'm 'someone competent', and on my own phone I only accept (non-personal) calls that I'm expecting, or can see a reason for.

Maybe this is a new angle for Google Voice or similar services. Protect vulnerable members of your family with a fail-safe auto-attendant system with approval rules.

It's not fully automatic and I'm sure scammers will come up with new scripts to still trick people into answering.

Over time it should allow Google to flag numbers as potentially being a scam, marketing, etc based on other users flagging a caller. Saves Googling for that information which is what I currently do with an unknown number. The only risk is spoofing/false positives putting your number on some blacklist.


Or live monitoring -- mention money or bank accounts and Google Voice contacts a family member, or cuts off the call, or ..?

Troy Hunt took on one of these groups years ago and let them loose in a VM to see what they did.

Their initial contact


When he called them back


They are apparently onto the VM trick now. I've heard of them checking the running processes for the virtualized network connection, etc.

There's a twitch streamer called Kitboga that messes with these types of scammers in VMs. It's pretty entertaining. He uses a voice changer and has a timer in the corner on how long he manages to keep a scammer occupied.

My mom only ever uses Thunderbird and Firefox, I've been considering converting her to Linux, which would make all of this impossible. She already knows the IRS isn't going to call her on the phone, much less arrest her.

Or, get her an ipad.

Been there, touch screens are too weird. Many older folks have been able to pick up internetting and sliding your finger on your pocket TV Library, but it's not 100%. Heck, I don't even know that I'll never lose the plot of the details and someday just have "a computer, the second least expensive one."

I found it so interesting to hear that finding victims was the top impediment to prosecution. The amount of pain and anguish these scammers inflict upon some of our most vulnerable citizens is almost unbearable to think about.

I couldn’t help but wonder why the FCC hasn’t required CallerID Verification years ago.

Especially in this age where we are all being forced to get RealID cards so that our every move can be monitored...

>I couldn’t help but wonder why the FCC hasn’t required CallerID Verification

Because corruption?

Because carriers (and thus the FCC since it's in bed with them) profit from delivering these spam calls and authenticated Caller ID would significantly decrease the amount of these calls.

In college I worked at a computer repair center for students. When I was new, and before I knew how to talk around this, some people would describe to me what they were doing when they contracted the malware they were there about - at times being perfectly explicit and specific about what videos, exactly to the title, they were watching when they got malware.

I think the layman expected there was some character of a pathologist to my job. Like I would understand or diagnose that they had porno ransomware X on their system and the only solution was to do computer thing Y.

In reality, of course, regardless of the malware, I would just help the person back up all the data and configurations we could. Use a virus scanner on the backups, and reinstall their OS. How they got the malware was completely irrelevant, and I actually preferred not knowing. With a bit of experience I learned to preempt any detailed explanations by just stating my plan early and being clear that it didn't matter how they found the malware.

I would find it fascinating honestly. Maybe I'd throw in some tips on how to avoid reinfection.

I guess it's a part of human nature.

I don't think this is true. I have read that most parents use either a shame model or a guilt model to try to keep the kids in line. So most people are brainwashed from an extremely early age to either feel shame or guilt, hide things from authority figures for fear of getting in trouble, etc.

That's not actually necessary.

Being careful isn’t a bad thing. Whenever sensitive information is involved I google the company to make sure the phone number is actually correct and if it’s a proper employee of the company I will find their listing. If their voice sounds like it doesn’t match their photo to a large degree or I can’t find the employee I will be very apprehensive about giving information and will ask them some questions. If it’s a con they usually give up quick and move onto the next one.

> my grandmother had provided a verbal consent over the phone that had kept it just this side of being outright fraud.

If it was intentionally deceptive or coercive, it was probably outright fraud.

You would hope, right? It's actually a lot of shades of gray.

The most astounding part about it was once the scammers had this verbal consent, they check could print a check themselves against my grandmother's account and cash it.

We started with my grandmother's bank, WAMU, thinking surely they would cancel or reverse the withdrawal. Nope, they had their fraud department "investigate" and concluded that the withdrawal was legitimate. Blew my fucking mind.

I started documenting my efforts to do something about this on a blog and eventually ended up getting contacted by email by a NY Times reporter who was investigating the subject. Well, if you're not ticked off enough by this story, read on:


My grandmother was lucky in that she was only taken for a couple thousand dollars. But even that could have been extremely tough on her if she hadn't had family around to pitch in to make up the loss.

> had entered a few sweepstakes that caused his name to appear in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information

> InfoUSA advertised lists of “Elderly Opportunity Seekers,” 3.3 million older people “looking for ways to make money,” and “Suffering Seniors,” 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. “Oldies but Goodies” contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: “These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change.”

> Vast databases of names and personal information, sold to thieves by large publicly traded companies, have put almost anyone within reach of fraudulent telemarketers

> Mr. Guthrie’s name first appeared on a list used by scam artists around 2002, after he filled out a few contest entries that asked about his buying habits and other personal information.

This is a good argument against the cancer that is advertising, marketing, etc. Even if you truly have nothing to hide, are happy to receive targeted ads and offers, it's just a matter of time before the information falls into the wrong hands and gets used against you.

you should read Iceberg slim's books. he cites a stronger requirement: the victim should be enticed to do/attempt something illegal so if they ever come forward they will incriminate themselves

One of the things I like about Plant money is that they have transcripts for all their podcasts. I used to listen when I was a driver, but now I don't I can just read the transcript in a few minutes instead of spending 20 minutes or so listening.

NPR does that for all their programming -- it's a godsend. From the disclaimer that appears on the bottom of their online transcriptions, it looks like they use this company to generate them: https://www.verb8tm.com/

Increase playback speed. You'd be surprised how your hearing can adjust. Just work your way up in small increments. Just be prepared that if you ever go back to 1x speed, it sounds really weird.

I did that when I was listening, but really I just have a problem with listening to people droning on.

It's just so much faster, more visceral, and more random access to read that I've basically just completely abandoned the linear presentation modes (audio and video).

Podcasts also tend to have a lot of side chitchat, breaks etc which don't add anything for me. I know some people really like that; I've hear it makes the conversation seem a lot more personal and connecting. Great, just not for me.

Up to 1.4 is not a big deal, somewhere around 1.5 or starts to get a little strange. Since I generally have technical or industry related podcasts going while doing other things too high a speed becomes a hindrance.

Try out rubberband. I find that with rubberband and mpv I can get close to 3x and still understand many (but not all) speakers. It depends on their particular accent/annunciation/cadence though. Some accents, like RP, are very clear to me at 1x but degrade more rapidly (for me) than others at high speeds.


What is improved by using Rubberband rather than the internal playback speed setting on mpv, which keeps pitch the same?

Good question. By default mpv will automatically insert the 'scaletempo' filter to adjust pitch when speeding up or slowing down audio, and it does a reasonable job at modest speed changes. And it's fast; very little CPU load. However at more dramatic speed changes it starts to sound choppy with parts of words getting cut out which limits how fast it can go while maintaining comprehensibility. Scaletempo sounds choppy at high speeds because the way it works is by playing small snippets of the audio stream at 1x, skipping ahead past some audio to keep pace with the sped up video. There is also some blending of those snippets, but in principle it's a very simple approach that generally works well enough.

How precisely rubberband works is something I've not looked into deeply, but the end result is increased CPU load and less choppy audio at high speeds. If you throw together a little script to switch back and forth between rubberband and scaletempo in realtime, I think the difference is pretty dramatic.

Ah thank you. Some good info here: https://github.com/mpv-player/mpv/issues/4418

With the exception for CarTalk, which I run at 1x because it's more about the joy of listening than the information, I tend to playback at between 1.6x-2x depending on the podcast. Occasionally listening to a podcast at 1x, live or whatever, sounds like the hosts are stoned :D

I agree, 1x sounds so slow. I've played it for others and they say it sounds normal.

I never needed an adjustment period that I recall to be able to skip right to 2x. That's how I watch any video like Linus Tech Tips or others where it's mainly just talking these days. YT doesn't go any faster but I wouldn't be surprised if I could push it even more.

You can definitely go faster, here's the api: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/HTMLMediaEl...

Try going up to 2x for a minute then down to 1.5 again and it will sound fine.

A thousand times this. I wish more podcasts would have transcripts. I much prefer it to listening to podcasts as I can read at my own speed, which would often be quicker than the audio.

Reading vs viewing/listening speed must be at least 10:1 for most people and maybe 20:1 for speed readers.

Video/audio are such timewasters if you can read at a decent rate.

I like youtube content too, however I watch it at 2X speed.

Today I learned the Youtube app has a speed setting :-)

mpv and mps-youtube allow finely gradated speed config up to 8x speed.

(2x is generally my max, unless speed-seeking.)

I love that. I don't really have time for podcasts -- no commute, etc -- and reading is WAY more efficient.

I used to really enjoy the Scott Adams blog. Particularly the run-up to the Trump election. Then he decided to switch out and do videos instead of text, and I can't stand it anymore.

The radio version: https://www.npr.org/2019/08/07/749135286/episode-931-the-it-...

The climax of this story involves the belief that “Linux servers don’t just crash”.

If he was familiar with those servers, he probably had a sense of how likely it would be that they would just "crash" out of the blue. I've seen Linux servers crash, but that's because they were setup by a dumbass and were doing all sorts of insane shit that kept filling up the disk and memory. If a server isn't doing anything stupid, it's pretty unlikely it's going to simply crash. He was working for criminals, and I think they said one guy was wanted for murder, so I can see why he'd be super suspicious.

In the linux 2.2 days, my home linux had a kernel crash. Every attempt to open a tty caused a stack trace in dmesg.ssh telnet xterm, you name it. Amazingly, the system worked perfectly apart from that. I could troubleshoot the problem, save my work and shut down

The point being: Windows would just BSOD in that kind of situation. Not that continuing to run with corrupt kernel data structures is a good idea, but there is something grandiose about the OS stubbornly refusing to die when it's raining kernel crashes.

Also the fact it crashed on a Sunday when no one was supposed to be at work.

I refuse to believe this wasn't just a way to add drama/tension. You can't work in IT and actually believe this.

Well, he was afraid he was going to be murdered by criminals. Under those circumstances even slight suspicion would be terrifying.

And he'd been working there long enough to know that this wasn't a common event. He even qualifies it, "You know, it's very hard for that to happen."

I mean, it depends. Services crash, sure, that might be what they meant by "the server crashed". But it's very, very difficult for an actual modern kernel to crash and also not auto-reboot and resume whatever it was doing. Hardware failure is always a possibility though.

maybe the disk filled up?

That would cause any disk-write-dependent service to crash, yeah, but the kernel isn't one of those. Syslog will stop and a bunch of things will complain, but I've always been able to SSH in and free up some disk.

Did you read/listen to the story? A non-tech person called him and said "the server crashed." I am pretty sure they would say that in case of "any disk-write-dependent-services crashed, but you could ssh in and free up some disk." The criminal boss wasn't gonna "ssh in and free up some disk", that's why he had an IT guy!

Anyway none of this is particularly important for the story, but I don't think the guy telling it is lying for dramatic effect, I think he's probably being honest that the boss saying "the server crashed" made him suspicious cause that server never crashed, and I too found it amusing for this to be included in the story (as a sort of by-the-by advertisement for linux). (Also, though: it turned out the server really did "crash" in some way).

I just figured he was talking about an OS-level "crash", considering how he went on about how Linux never crashes.

Non-IT people may say it's a crash no matter what actually happen. "Crashed" "Freezed" "app not working" "can't print" is the same thing for them often.

BTW I've seen an error where app server couldn't write files to a directory but only for specific filenames (that wasn't already created). Turns out if you have dozen thousands of files in one directory the hash table has collisions and some files you can create while some other names you cannot. It was lot of fun to discover that :)

And customers described it as "server doesn't work" but when we connected the randomly generated names it was trying to write were different and it worked.

This has happened to me on a Sunday albeit with a hosted server running that awful cPanel version of linux.

The backup was what killed it, it ran out of disk space and the box keeled over. I could not believe the backup program was that stupid to back up twice as much stuff as it had space for and then to kill off the important processes to keep the backup running until zero bytes were left.

I have also had a close one with mySQL replication, it took the disk to fill up before I configured it to purge the logs. My own stupidity is to blame for that one.

Log files are going to be the killer, run a linux box for long enough without any log file rotation and the disk is ultimately going to fill up. I can't imagine that a decade ago when this server was built that there was a rack of terabyte SSDs in there.

Email is also an area that just grows and grows. The email doesn't even have to be used, just your system message stuff.

It might have been that the specific server in question usually didn't crash because of the applications being run. Also it could have been that the bad guy wasn't giving any detailed information about what happened so it seemed like a setup.

They don't "just crash"

You need to run stuff you care about on them for that to happen. If you don't they run flawlessly for decades. I know of a switch that was up for 11yr (not a server I know, still a unix/linux based OS though) which is as much a testament to UPSs and backup generators as it is to the OS.

I set up a couple Linux boxes at work a couple of years ago for some new software we were building. A year later, I logged into the box, checked the up-time and realized it hadn't been rebooted since I installed it. So if that's his experience, I understand him.

OTOH, we also have an NGINX box that is automatically restarted once a week, because otherwise our API gets really slow. I understand that this isn't good practice, but we've spent too many hours debugging already and at the end of the day, this works.

"That's the one day I saw a linux server crash..."

Most unbelievable part of the story. Cracked me up.

It happens. I sent a dev server into a kernel panic when I kill -9'd a hung ddd debugger. This was about 15 years ago, on a 2.x kernel. Pretty sure that issue has long been resolved, but Linux isn't bulletproof.

I cringed so hard when I heard that...

Spoiler: their Linux server actually crashed.

Just taking a look at the judgement, Emilio was sentenced to 84 months (7 years) around this time in 2012, followed by two years of supervision [1]. I wonder if he was released. Super interesting read overall. Thank you!

[1] https://www.docketbird.com/court-documents/USA-v-Torres/JUDG...

That seems... too lenient. What are the chances he just moves back to Costa Rica and starts up another scam shop, this time refusing to leave?

I dunno, maybe compared to what were used to but just think about it, 7 years locked up not able to do anything you want, that's huge punishment to me. But I also argue most sentences should be shortened and replaced with programs to reintegrate them into society.

We don't have IT scams like this in Lithuania,as nobody ever pays for IT support,they just get someone they know to do it for free. However massive prize scams used to be quite popular and still are to certain degree today. Scammer calls a victim and claims he's calling from a radio show,some company, events organiser, whatever.Then obviously comes the part where he saya that the victim won x,y,z and all they. need to do is to buy some prepaid topup cards for mobile( these usually have a code on them that needs to be used to add credit) and tell the con artist those codes,for "verification purposes" or whatever the reason of the day is. This was many years ago. One day,a friend of mine gets home and his dad,a surgeon, shouts across the room: Anthony,we won!!!!we won it all!!My friend: what? Yeah,we won!! HI-Fi system, a vacuum cleaner and I think a washing masine as well!!!Yeah! My friend,still being quite confused about his dad's instant gains: what are you talking about, where's this coming from? Well,the guy called from the radio,they ran a game and we won.Anthony, here's some money(it was at least a couple weeks wage),go to the shop across the road and buy topup cards,will you? My friend looked at his dad and said: dad, shut up and go back to bed.

> get someone they know to do it for free.

Because people with technology skills should perform free labour for people without...

Labor is cheap in the third world, which is annoying when you are the labor, but fortunately it cuts both ways. Dentistry, hair cuts, cleaning services and excellent food are affordable even on low wages.

This was a great story.. thanks to Planet Money for re-broadcast it.

I simply do not pick up unexpected phone calls. If it's actually important, they'll leave a message saying who they are, and I will look up the number for that organisation and call them back.

"So his friends at the U.S. Embassy got him a visa and got him to the States, where he works in IT."

This stuck out to me. Puerto Ricans are United States citizens and as such do not require any kind of visa to live and work in the states. There isn't even an embassy in Puerto Rico since it is part of the United States.

Makes me question the rest of the article.

Puerto Rico != Costa Rica, which is the country this story took place in.

>WARNER: Joe Healy is sitting in this conference room with Felipe, the IT guy in his buttoned-up shirt.

>HEALY: He's a physically little guy...

>WARNER: He's 5-foot-4.

>HEALY: ...And not overly muscular.

Man, Planet Money's constant interruptions and hacked-apart quotations are just as jarring to read as they are to listen to. It's entirely possible to transition your narrative structure between accessible exposition and raw firsthand accounts--but for some reason Planet Money tries to chase after both, simultaneously, at every second. The result is a choppy, rattling collage of thought fragments. Ugh!

What, you guys don't like style criticism? Complaining about a webpage is okay so I don't see why this should be off-topic.

I generally like Planet Money's style, in which the reporter/correspondent will do a majority of the narration, paraphrasing and interjecting when the original speaker isn't saying something particularly notable. Sometimes this is just necessary, interviewees don't always speak in complete and or/concise fashion, especially when doing boilerplate description.

In the example you give, I think the interjection is fine. Healy, the U.S. postal inspector, gives a vague description of Felipe – "a physically little guy" – and the reporter interjects with actual specifics. I don't think the flow would be noticeably better if this was the edited cut:

> HEALY: He's a physically little guy...And not overly muscular

> NPR: Felipe's actually 5-foot-4

If it's unnatural to include before or after, that's because it's not that relevant to the story in the first place. It's enough to be able to picture that his risk is compounded by a physical disadvantage, we don't need to know his exact dimensions if that data isn't worth bringing up afterward. And if it is that important, the middle of someone else's sentence is the most flow-breaking place you could possibly put it.

Yeah I think this is definitely a style preference. Planet Money (and other featurey shows, like This American Life) often tries to describe the non-aural qualities of the people in their stories, ostensibly to better humanize them. It's not for everyone but I personally find it to make the subject more engaging.

Planet money started as a spinoff of This American Life back in the 2008 financial crisis.

Perhaps it works for radio, but I agree that it is jarring to read.

It also left me wanting for more. Why did the family member refer Fernandez? What is the psychology behind operating a scam as a business? What motivated Emilio to be a "really good boss" when he was proactively hurting so many other people? I realize that this is a human interest story that isn't intended to address such questions, yet the frequent interruptions seemed to encourage such mental wanderings.

That's my issue with RadioLab. It is just constant interjection.

I was not bothered by the interjections in the Planet Money story, but I am by the ones in RadioLab. I think it´s because in PM it sounds like friendly banter, but in RL every interruption is like it´s made to be thought of as a [pause for dramatic effect] revelation.

Those guys are annoying AF. It really makes it a close call whether it's worth listening to.

Yeah, the content is just the right level of interesting/shallow to be great for a commute or something of that nature, but they get annoying very quickly.

I think this is a reasonable way to turn a long interview into a cohesive story for the listening. On TV it's we use "noddies"[1] to cut together interviews and this is the audio equivalent.

If you're interested in a different style, try listening to BBC radio shows. The interviews tend to be more complete and are often recorded live. The downside is that the interviews often run out of time or the interviewees don't get to make their point as well as they could.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noddy_(TV_interview_technique)

I hadn’t previously heard of Planet Money but I found it too hard to read for the same reason and actually gave up soon after that. I figured the transcript was being too faithful to the podcast and that the story would be easier to follow in the audio version.

What a crazy life ! Great read. So what know the guys is out and will scam again?


You're being downvoted, but I hear where you're coming from. Phone scammers make my blood boil like little else does.

I don't know why he was downloaded. I mean, come too Florida and talk to some 80 year old guy who has nothing, due to being scammed or ID theft.

Frankly, be better if you just killed the guy. Now this guy has to decide between food and meds because his SSI doesn't cover it all. And his savings are gone.

> Frankly, be better if you just killed the guy.

I feel like you should ask the guy his opinion on the subject. He's likely to disagree.

82 years old, with serious cash flow issues. Choosing between food and meds? It's 50/50. In fact, living among them in Florida, I'd give odds that he'd choose to die.

I’m with you on that. Lethal injection is too good for the perpetrators - I say, Death of the Boats.

I was downvoted because the same people who have the influence to legalize their crimes have the influence to make the public believe that it is right and proper.

That is absolutely not why you were downvoted.

Read Alex Karakatsanis

No. This is a lazy comment. You're giving me a world of homework, without bothering to even give me a specific link to something.

Furthermore, I doubt that the guy running the illegal scam operation, a type of operation that literally everyone hates, is an example of a crime that the public thinks is right and proper.

Great story but a little anticlimactic.

It's like yadda-yadda-yadda, he gets arrested and goes to prison. That's it? The story is just an IT guy that tells US authorities before he takes on a job with scammers and is then a mole? It's neat and all, but not a totally captivating tale.

If you haven't heard it, this is a good one: https://gimletmedia.com/shows/reply-all/6nh3wk

> We found these guys who live in Bradford, England who are setting up websites and companies so that they can process money for Accostings in the UK.

I'm from Bradford - this is not at all surprising.

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