This Hacker Fights Back Against Phone Scammers

Dramatic interpretation of a hacker plying his trade

AARP recently published a fascinating investigative report of how one man, alias Jim Browning, fights back against phone scammers who often prey on the elderly. The story is behind the Apple News+ paywall but I was able to access it without a subscription using this link someone sent me.

Scamming the Scammers

During the day, Jim is a software engineer at a consulting firm. At night, he retreats to his command center and helps stop phone fraud. Phone scammers in countries like India are rampant, swindling money out of thousands of people. Jim began his journey in 2014 when he kept receiving dozens of robocalls. Finally, he decided to answer and play along.

The person who answered asked if he could access Jim’s computer to diagnose the problem. Jim granted access, but he was ready; he had created a “virtual computer” within his computer, a walled-off digital domain that kept Jim’s personal information and key operations safe and secure. As he played along with the caller, Jim recorded the conversation and activity on his Trojan horse setup to find out what he was up to. It took mere moments to confirm his hunch: It was a scam.

Jim then made this a routine, hacking into the scammers’ computers, recording their activities, then uploading their conversations with victims to YouTube. But that wasn’t enough. As he began to witness their crimes in real time he wanted to take action. So he began warning victims, their banks, carriers like FedEx unknowingly tasked with sending cash to the scammers, and law enforcement.

By hacking into computers Jim’s actions are illegal, but law enforcement usually turns a blind eye to vigilantes “as long they don’t ‘cross the line’ and use the information they gather for nefarious purposes.”

I know that law enforcement probably wouldn’t approve of what I do. But almost every time I pass on information they tell me they are grateful and say, ‘Keep doing what you are doing.’

It’s rare for law enforcement themselves to hack into computers like Jim does, as electronic wiretapping rules are restrictive. For now, we can rely on people like Jim until governments can find a way to regulate and fight these scammers.

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