Protecting yourself from the CRA phone scams

Just last week I received a voicemail from someone pretending to be a Canada Revenue Agency official. This person told me that liens were going to be placed on my bank accounts because I hadn’t “paid penalties for tax evasion.” The liens would happen “later today” if I did not call back and settle up.

This was a really scary voicemail. It raised my blood pressure! After a few minutes of controlled breathing, I decided not to call back. I didn’t want to be a victim of a fraud.

I was lucky – because I did not feel the full persuasive force of these scammers, who have been bedevilling and defrauding Canadians for the last month or so. Many victims have heard their own bank and credit card and other personal information read back to them. Surely the caller was a government official, no?

No, not a government official.

Chester Wisniewski, a friend of No Contest Communications and a researcher at Sophos, a global firm focused on network and computer security, appeared on the CBC yesterday to talk about these scams. Discussing the case of a recently scammed individual, Chester noted,

“The information the criminals had could really have only come from his own device. The amount of information they had is beyond what a bank would have, it’s beyond what the CRA would have. The only place that all that information exists would be your own computer.” …

According to Wisniewski, the con artists will often spend days gathering information they can use against their victims.

“They may be criminals, but they’re not stupid,” he said. …

Wisniewski said it’s crucial that people protect their information by using unique passwords for every online account. There’s software that can handle that, but keeping a handwritten list is another option.

He also recommends keeping all devices up to date, installing every software update as soon as it’s available.

And any time a call comes in from someone claiming to be with the government, police or a bank, Wisniewski says it’s best not to agree to anything and then call back on a verified phone number.

“Because somebody calls you and has familiarity with your personal life, does not make them in a position of authority, nor someone you know,” he said.

The New York Times – subscription cancelled

Very few times in my life have I not believed my eyes. And the news on these occasions was never good.

This morning I had such an experience, reading a column in the New York Times by Bret Stephens, who was defending the indefensible hire of writer Kevin Williamson by the Atlantic Monthly. In 2014 Williamson tweeted that women in America who have had abortions and the doctors who performed them should be hanged. William has never retracted that statement; indeed, he has endorsed it repeatedly.

On this topic, Stephens wrote:

Shouldn’t great prose and independent judgment count for something? Not according to your critics. We live in the age of guilt by pull-quote, abetted by a combination of lazy journalism, gullible readership, missing context, and technologies that make our every ill-considered utterance instantly accessible and utterly indelible. I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet. When you write a whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who’ve had abortions, then I’ll worry.

“Then I’ll worry.”

I have been reading the Times for about fifty years. When I was young, after church my family would drive to the local drugstore to pick up the Sunday New York Times. My Mom had a copy reserved for her there. Once we got home, we dove into it. I made sure that I did not rush to pick up sections my Mom wanted first: Arts and Leisure and the Sunday Book Review; also let alone was the Week in Review section, which my Dad grabbed right away. The entire paper came my way eventually, though, and I spent hours reading it, practically cover to cover if I had time. Very happy memories.

Anybody who has seen my library – indeed, who has been (un)lucky enough to get into a debate with me – knows that I spend a lot of time reading material that galls, bugs, or even angers me. This is necessary mental and intellectual hygiene. And it is how I hug the world.

Not to have unsubscribed from the Times this morning, though, would have made me … an accomplice.

The Hobo Ethical Code

This is beautiful. From Open Culture:

1. Decide your own life; don’t let another person run or rule you.

2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.

3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.

4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.

5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.

6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.

7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.

8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.

9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.

10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.

11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.

12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.

13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children; expose all molesters to authorities…they are the worst garbage to infest any society.

14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.

15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

Where are the experts on *who we are*, in the social sciences, or in the arts, … anywhere?

downtownsky

Over at Research as a Second Language: Writing, Representation, and the Crisis of Social Science, Danish writer Thomas Basbøll does not view this question as an academic one. Neither would he give “both” as his answer.

In his stirring dissection of the United States election, “The Liberal Arts of Being Ruled,” Thomas writes:

The past few years have seen an intense effort to “purify” our political organisations, not least within the university and it would seem that university students and their teachers are now the least equipped to understand how Trump was able to win the highest office in the land.

You can’t beat a political opponent that paralyzes you with fear simply when he expresses his opinion. It’s because the left demonized Trump that they were unable to defeat him. In a word that I hope to give a particular meaning to in this post, they dehumanized him. In that sense, the rise of Trump can be attributed to the fall of the humanities. …

And that means that it can also be attributed to the inextricably related rise of the social sciences. For over a century, funded by a network of powerful foundations, they have wrested our understanding of our own selves away from, well, our own selves, and placed it under the tutelage of confederacy of academics and journalists, a convocation of politic worms, who are more comfortable with ideologies than actual ideas. …

Think of rhetoric as the liberal art of humanizing your enemy, of converting animosity into language. Not for the sake of your enemy but for the sake of your own moral orientation in the universe. Once you have decided that half your country has chosen a leader to represent only its bigotries, you have lost your way. Your ethics have been compromised by generalities. You have allowed a vague “theory” to overwhelm your data, which you have, I am afraid, taken too much for given. You’ve been taken in. And now you are living in fear of an inhuman oppressor. …

I think we may have to face the fact that social science and democracy are incompatible. The social sciences conduct an undemocratic inquiry into society. Democracy is an unscientific way of governing it. It is because psychologists and sociologists have supplanted poets and novelists as experts on who “we” are that we have lost faith in democracy—at a deeper level, we have simply lost faith in each other. Democracy is possible only on a “humanist” foundation. As Pound tried to tell us a hundred years ago, the arts provide the “data of ethics”.

Basbøll is a brilliant writer and thinker. I can recommend all his work to you without reservation.

Ethics of Persuasion: The Reciprocity Rule

I was walking down Granville Street the other day on my way to London Drugs when I spotted two Chinese monks ahead of me speaking to passersby.

Ordinarily cautious of sidewalk solicitors, I let one of them engage me precisely because they appeared to be Buddhist monks, with their shaved heads and saffron shirts and trousers. He placed his palms together and bowed, and I did the same. He handed me a little card with red tassels, and slipped prayer beads onto my wrist.

Then he showed me a flipbook containing names and donations, which all, curiously, seemed to be 20 dollars and written in the same handwriting.

“Oh, no no no,” I chided him. “I don’t have any money.” I handed back the little card and slipped the beads off my wrist.

“Change?”

“No, I don’t have any,” I told him, and scurried away.

A few years ago, I would have felt guilty, but that day I didn’t. The monk had attempted to invoke one of the most powerful societal norms we have — the reciprocity rule — solely to gain my donation. Because he’d given me a gift, I was then obliged to return the favor, or so it seemed.

Fortunately, thanks to Robert Cialdini, social psychology researcher and author of Influence, I reframed and rejected the gifts for what they truly were.

As long as we perceive and define the action as a compliance device instead of a favor, the giver no longer has the reciprocation rule as an ally: The rule says that favors are to be met with favors; it does not require that tricks be met with favors.

It’s worth noting that invoking the reciprocity rule in this fashion is a short-term strategy. We don’t tend to like people who have backed us into a corner. My fuzzy feelings about monks in general completely evaporated when it came to these particular ones. Indeed, not having any evidence they were affiliated with a temple, I began to wonder if they were monks at all, and whether there was anyone I could report them to.

The long-term (and ethical) strategy? Give freely, without asking for or expecting immediate returns. Reciprocity is powerful, and people will go to great lengths to try to return your favors. What goes around really does come around.

People will be suspicious; we’ve been taught “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and had so many experiences of being tricked that we sometimes reject treats.

That’s ok. Do it anyway.


Photo used under Creative Commons license from Richard Perry’s Flickr feed.