Cold Calls

The other day we had a brush with criminals in our own home. It was mid-morning, I was out and my wife got a phone call from Microsoft. The nice, Indian, gentleman on the line said that they had detected problems with our computer and he was calling to put it right. Well Pam was a little unsure about this, suspicious but thinking it could just be legit and had the sense to play the dumb blond so she said something like “I’m sorry, I don’t use computers you’ll have to speak to my husband when he’s home this evening.” I have run this story past her for vetting, by the way.

So sure enough at about 6 o’clock the phone went, she picked it up then referred it to me with a brief outline of the earlier call. I had a faint recollection about this scam so I quickly but politely thanked the fellow for calling and said we were happy to care for our own computers thanks and put the phone down. Well, they’re nothing if not persistent because it wasn’t 20 seconds later that the phone was ringing again - sir, we are getting serious error messages on your ... I don’t think so, goodbye.

Well, it provided variety from all the payment protection insurance calls we get, and I took a few minutes to find some detail on this business. What they do is ask you to go to your computer and visit some obscure logging page on it where there’ll be all sorts of gobbledegook which they will tell you is evidence that you do indeed have a problem. It is in fact perfectly normal but if you’ve followed them this far it’s unlikely you’ll be aware of that. They’ll offer to install remote support software and sort it out over the phone line, probably at no charge and if you allow this they’ll fiddle around for a bit and then show you evidence that, happily it’s all OK for now. Finally they’ll offer to sell you software to make sure it never happens again.

Buy that and you have a totally compromised computer so they’ll be able to see everything you do on it and they have your credit card details plus payment for useless software. And people do fall for it - I gather teenagers at home alone are surprisingly trusting and one blog invited responses, finding that 3% of responders admitted to having been taken in to a greater or lesser degree. Another meaningless statistic, of course but it shows the scam must pay sometimes.

But what struck me most of all was that these people must have fair technical skills and more than that, above average personal skills to engender enough trust to see this scam through. In fact there are some parallels with what I do - my job also involves a lot of remote support with problem solving and training aspects which depend heavily on people believing that I know what I’m on about. The big difference is that I’m always responding to invitations but I’m left asking why do such people choose to be criminals or is there a sense in which they find themselves lured into something they’d rather not do because there are few alternatives? There must be some brains there - have they no shame?

I think I’ve said before that it’s a shame we get such short extracts from the OT sometimes. I’ve no doubt you recognised the Proverbs 8 reading as key to much Christological debate but if you didn’t I hope you enjoyed anyway it as nice poetry. The whole of the chapter is devoted to this female figure called Wisdom - among other things it is a lovely celebration of goodness. And, as is normal, it follows chapter 7. Nothing unusual about that you might think, but chapter 7 is quite a different kettle of fish and the two are best read together. 7 is all about a wayward woman with seductive words. She leads men into folly. A brief extract will give you the flavour of it.

With persuasive words she led him astray;
   she seduced him with her smooth talk.
All at once he followed her
   like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer stepping into a noose
till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
   little knowing it will cost him his life.

Men eh? Such pushovers. You really have to read it all. The two chapters together provide a classic biblical contrast between the way of the world as against the wise way and we can read it at that level - an encouragement to celebrate the good, to embrace it and to seek the right path. It’s not a bad aspiration - the world would certainly be a better place if all computer experts stuck to good & positive uses for their technology.

But there’s something else going on here, something deeper and it’s why the reading-choosers chose the section they did - did you catch the assertion that wisdom was always there, from the beginning. And it asserts it very strongly - throughout the two chapters it’s clear that wisdom is open and in the light and gives the life which it always had, not hidden in dark places bringing death like the way of folly. Wisdom is then said to rejoice in the whole world and delight in mankind. So the passage is dealing poetically with how the eternal meets the finite and attempting to grapple with the question of what life is.

And it sets the scene for what is really Christianity’s big idea - that God reaches out to us through the life of Jesus. The source of life is still one of the big questions whether in science, philosophy or religion. What we’re getting here is the idea that God being the source of life made himself known to us through Jesus. The invitation comes from him to us - will we have communion with him?

You have to be wary of unsolicited calls, they’re usually after your money by fair means or foul. But a kindly meant invitation demands a response. So how are we to respond to God? To stick with the OT imagery, shall we go with the wise woman or the wayward one? The ladies among us may wish to substitute wise men and gigolos at this stage. And let’s be honest - put like that it’s not a complete no-brainer - let’s pray for the discernment to go on following the right path.