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The Troublemaker's Playground

The internet can be tricky at times. There are scams out there and you have to watch out for them. My wife and I just recently encountered what we think was a scam. Just recently, we had plans to go to Mexico for a few days. The flight and hotel stay were already taken care of, so we decided to see what activities that the area had to offer. We found an interesting activity called "Dolphins in the Wild." It was a boat excursion that takes people to find pods of wild dolphins so the people can swim with them. It sounded fun so we decided to make a reservation.

Our big mistake was that we accidentally made the reservation on the wrong web site. We had originally found the activity on a tourism web site that was tied to the city that we were visiting, and seemed legitimate. We didn't make the reservation right away, so I had to look up the site again. I accidentally went to a different web site and made the reservation.

Later that month we had made it to Mexico and were having lots of fun. On the day that we were supposed to go on the dolphin excursion, I called the businesses phone number to make sure everything was in order, it was not. The business owner said that he had no reservation under my name, and to top it off, he didn't offer the dolphin excursion at that time of the year. He said the water was too cold. He seemed legitimate so I said I would call my credit card company.

My wife called the credit card company when we got back home. They said to call a phone number that was included with the charge to our account and said to call back if the people on the other line weren't helpful. She called the number and the person on the phone claimed that they were the company called PayPal. They asked her for her account number which she didn't know, and then they asked her for her credit card number. She asked why they couldn't just look up her name. They said in a testy voice, "That would take a long time to find your name, it would be much quicker if we used your credit card number." She declined and called our credit card company back. They said they would dispute the charge.

If I'm correct, I think that we were victims of a phishing scam. Phishing is described as "...the practice of directing users to fraudulent web sites" (Dhamija). Some of the scam artists out there seem to be talented web designers. I was a little embarrassed about this occurrence, but felt better after I learned from Dhamija's "Why Phishing Works" study that the best phishing sites were able to fool 90% of the participants of the study. That's alarming!

Usually I am very careful, but they got me! Every once in a while I find fraudulent emails in my in-box. I've seen messages that claim to be from PayPal, Ebay (of which I have no account!) and others that claim to be from banks. I put them on my "blocked" list and that's the last of it. If I'm shopping online, I'll use shopping web sites like Bizrate.com. I'll only buy from merchants that have a good customer satisfaction score. I haven't had any problems using this method....so far!

I have to say that chain letters annoy the ever loving BLEEP out of me. Three of my friend's wives (they are my friends as well) send these thing around to everyone when they receive them. I have seen many that incorporate the "hook, threat and request" method (Gurak). I recall reading a few about a child that is dying of cancer. I honestly wonder what kind of sick fool likes to make these stories up. It's sad. There are also the chain emails that I call the "Sappy Message" emails (Blender). These usually consist of an inspirational message or prayer with a line at the end that says "Send this to 10 friends and you will have good luck."

There have also been emails that claim you will have bad luck if you don't send it to X amount of people. Those emails employ a kind of intimidation to make people send them to their friends. I get a little bothered when one of the ladies sends me these chain emails. I'm a bit shocked at how superstitious they are. I've actually sent some of them a fake (I hope) chain email that says, "You will explode if you don't send this email to 500 people within the next 3 minutes!" That felt good hee hee ha ha.

One last thing. In Gurak's book (Cyberliteracy), it is mentioned on page 97 that everyday software developers can sometimes become hackers because they get a high from creating a program and sending it out into the world. They "develop code that runs across networks with the potential to wreak havoc on numerous systems" (Gurak 97)
This sort of reminds me of the description of a pyromaniac. They seem to feel a sort of satisfaction when they create a fire. It’s something that's alive and grows and grows if it's not stopped.

I'm assuming that the programmers that become hackers are not as mentally unstable as a pyromaniac, but I think that the parallel is interesting. The University of Iowa's health information web site www.uihealthcare.com claims that one of the signs of pyromania is when a person "experience(s) pleasure or relief when setting or watching fires."


From your phish story (and really from every Internet scam/identity theft story I've heard), it seems like trying to do damage control can be as risky as the original transaction. I'm glad your wife had the presence of mind to distrust the person on the phone saying they were with Paypal, since they likely scam more money from people that way as they do from a fake website. Maybe it's just me, but I think it's harder to be skeptical when there is an actual human on the line.