Jun 282018
 

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.

 

photos by Robert Basil

Mar 102013
 

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.