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Why people are trolling their spam texts

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Why people are trolling their spam texts

The other night, I received a mysterious WhatsApp message. “Dr. Kevin?” it began, the question mark suggesting the sender felt bad for interrupting my evening. “My puppy is very slow and won’t eat dog food. Can you make an appointment for me?”

I was mystified. My name is not Kevin, I am not a veterinarian, and I was in no position to help this person and their puppy. I nearly typed out a response saying “Sorry, wrong number” when I realized this was probably a scam to get me to confirm my number.

I did not respond, but many others who received similar texts have. Some are even throwing it back at their spammers by spinning wild tales and sending hilarious messages to frustrate whoever is on the other side. They’re fighting back with snark, and in some cases posting screenshots of their conversations online. 

Spam texts are on the rise, and so are the number of people who are striking back through “scambaiting,” which refers to “the act of wasting an offender’s time,” says Jack Whittaker, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Surrey who is studying the phenomenon. However, experts say responding defeats the point, as it opens a person up to even more spam texts.

@bellabeeeaar

Spam texts seeking to scam their recipients into giving up valuable information are not new. Some of the earliest digital spam was sent via email chain letters, the most notorious being for scams in which someone impersonating a Nigerian prince claimed to need the receiver’s help in depositing a large sum of money. 

Once smartphones became common, scammers switched to texting. And in 2022, spam texts are much more personal. Often they mimic a misdirected text, perhaps addressing the receiver by the wrong name or using a generic first line (“How’s it going” or “I had fun tonight!” are common) to prompt a response.

If you’ve received any such messages lately, you’re not alone. “There’s been an incredible spike in spam texts,” says J. Michael Skiba, a professor at Colorado State University who specializes in cybercrime and international financial fraud. Globally, 90 billion of them were sent last year, he says; in the US, 47 billion spam texts were sent from January to October 2021, up 55% from that same period in 2020. According to RoboKiller, a spam blocking firm, scam texts led to $86 million in losses in the US alone in 2020. “People are just bombarded with these,” Skiba says.

Skiba says texting has several advantages over email from a scammer’s perspective—a note from a phone number raises less suspicion than one from a sketchy email address, and the casual nature of texting makes grammatical errors less noticeable. Many people also feel a very human urge to respond to a text. “It’s a psychological trick in that you know the text is not correct, but it appeals to your desire to help and say, ‘You’ve got the wrong number,’” Skiba says. 

The person on the other side, however, is most likely working with an organized group of scammers in a call center and hoping you say exactly that. A single response is enough for a scammer to verify that a phone number is real. That response leads to a domino effect that could invite even more spam texts to your phone. Ultimately, scammers are looking to at least verify your number to potentially sell it to other groups; getting your personal information is a sweet bonus. 

“I would 100% recommend not responding at all,” Skiba says. 

But a scroll through Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and TikTok shows that people aren’t taking that advice. Instead, many are engaging with spam texters and posting their conversations for the world to see.

Gabriel Bosslet, an associate professor of medicine in Indianapolis, decided to mess with a recent spam texter by firing off increasingly outlandish replies. He’s been doing this kind of thing since the early 2000s, when he started writing back to mysterious emails that were clearly Nigerian prince scams. Once it’s clear he’s corresponding with a scammer, Bosslet goes into troll mode, fabricating fanciful stories and characters—the more bizarre, the better. “None of it is true,” he says. “I just make it all up.”

Asked what his goal is in these conversations, Bosslet says it’s just to connect and interact with a stranger. He brings up the example of Wanda Dench, a grandmother who accidentally texted then-17-year-old Jamal Hinton an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner that has turned into a sweet annual tradition. “I realize that’s super odd, but I am open to some sort of interaction like that,” he says. 

Jason Tanamor, an author from Portland, Oregon, has also started texting spammers back. And, like Bosslet, he isn’t trying to reform anyone. “I just try to get them to say ‘deez nuts’ because it makes me giggle,” Tanamor says. For him, chatting up a spammer can be fun; if he has time, he simply tries to keep the conversation going for as long as he can. 

Neither Bosslet nor Tanamor was aware that answering spam texts probably verified their number, allowing their spammers to sell it to other spammers—resulting in even more spam texts. But neither cares. For them, messaging back with outlandish jokes is a form of entertainment. And both expressed empathy for the people on the other side of the phone. 

But others have a more vengeful approach. Whittaker at the University of Surrey says some people have taken scambaiting to extremes, joining online forums where they create elaborate hoaxes to trap the perpetrators. That can be dangerous, he says. “Scambaiting can also [lead to] hacking into an offender’s computer as a form of public entertainment,” he says. That’s problematic, possibly exposing people’s private information, and it’s also illegal, despite the moral high ground scambaiters may claim. 

Whittaker cites Jim Browning, the alias of a YouTuber and software engineer who has used scambaiting to delete stolen files from call centers involved in spam texts. Other scammers who have been exposed by people like Browning have retaliated by swatting scambaiters (making a false crime report to call out law enforcement) or luring them to dangerous locales. 

“Scambaiting activities can become quite radical,” Whittaker says. “Also, scammers wise up to these tactics quickly, so wasting an offender’s time can actually teach them to become more wise to the efforts to waste their time.”

It’s a dilemma for people who mess with a scammer. It can be satisfying, if only as a form of rebellion against an annoying modern intrusion. But that rebellion can be costly, in terms of both the time it takes and the risk of setting off an avalanche of future spam texts that could, if scambaiters fall for them, put them at risk of financial or personal ruin. 

The US Federal Trade Commission and consumer advocates have attempted to fight back with Do Not Call registries and efforts to stop spam texts at the network level, but spammers are constantly evolving their tactics to bypass these laws. That can make it feel as though there’s only one way to handle the frustrating situation: with a joke about “deez nuts.”

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FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are

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FIFA 23 lets you turn off commentary pointing out how bad you are
A player shouldering the ball



(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 23 might be the best game soccer game yet for terrible sports fans, as it lets you turn off commentary that criticizes your bad playing.

Now that the early access FIFA 23 release time has passed, EA Play and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers can hop into the game ahead of its full release. But as Eurogamer (opens in new tab) spotted, they’ll find a peculiar option waiting for them.

FIFA 23 includes a toggle to turn off ‘Critical Commentary’. The setting lets you silence all negative in-match comments made about your technique, so you can protect your precious ego even when you miss an open goal or commit an obvious foul. The more positive commentary won’t be affected. 

Spare your feelings

A player dribbling the ball in FIFA 23

(Image credit: EA)

The feature looks tailored toward children and new players, who don’t want to have their confidence wrecked within mere minutes of picking up the controller. But even experienced players who just so happen to be terrible at the game might benefit.

It’s not perfect, though. According to Eurogamer, the feature didn’t seem to work during a FIFA Ultimate Team Division Rivals match, with critical comments slipping through the filter. Still, who hasn’t benefited from a light grilling every now and then?

Polite commentary isn’t the only new addition in FIFA 23. It’s the first game in the series to include women’s club football teams, and fancy overhauled animations that take advantage of the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S’s new-gen hardware. EA will be hoping to end on a high, as FIFA 23 will be the last of its soccer games to release with the official FIFA licence.

If disabling critical commentary doesn’t improve your soccer skills, maybe building a squad of Marvel superheroes will. Although you might not do much better with Ted Lasso wandering the pitch.

FIFA 23 is set to fully release this Friday, September 30.

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and Gamesindustry.biz, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games. 

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Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch

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Google Pixel 7 price leak suggests Google is totally out of touch
The backs of the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro



(Image credit: Google)

We’re starting to hear more and more Google Pixel 7 leaks, with the launch of the phone just a week away, but tech fans might be getting a lot of déjà vu, with the leaks all listing near-identical specs to what we heard about the Pixel 6 a year ago.

It sounds like the new phones – a successor to the Pixel 6 Pro is also expected – could be very similar to their 2021 predecessors. And a new price leak has suggested that the phones’ costs could be the same too, as a Twitter user spotted the Pixel 7 briefly listed on Amazon (before being promptly taken down, of course).

Google pixel 7 on Amazon US. $599.99.It is still showing up in search cache but the listing gives an error if you click on it. We have the B0 number to keep track of though!#teampixel pic.twitter.com/w5Z09D28YESeptember 27, 2022

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According to these listings, the Pixel 7 will cost $599 while the Pixel 7 Pro will cost $899, both of which are identical to the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro starting prices. The leak doesn’t include any other region prices, but in the UK the current models cost £599 and £849, while in Australia they went for AU$999 and AU$1,299.

So it sounds like Google is planning on retaining the same prices for its new phones as it sold the old ones for, a move which doesn’t make much sense.


Analysis: same price, new world

Google’s choice to keep the same price points is a little curious when you consider that the specs leaks suggest these phones are virtually unchanged from their predecessors. You’re buying year-old tech for the same price as before.

Do bear in mind that the price of tech generally lowers over time, so you can readily pick up a cheaper Pixel 6 or 6 Pro right now, and after the launch of the new ones, the older models will very likely get even cheaper.

But there’s another key factor to consider in the price: $599 might be the same number in 2022 as it was in 2021, but with the changing global climate, like wars and flailing currencies and cost of living crises, it’s a very different amount of money.

Some people just won’t be willing to shell out the amount this year, that they may have been able to last year. But this speaks to a wider issue in consumer tech.

Google isn’t the only tech company to completely neglect the challenging global climate when pricing its gadgets: Samsung is still releasing super-pricey folding phones, and the iPhone 14 is, for some incomprehensible reason, even pricier than the iPhone 13 in some regions. 

Too few brands are actually catering to the tough economic times many are facing right now, with companies increasing the price of their premium offerings to counter rising costs, instead of just designing more affordable alternatives to flagships.

These high and rising prices suggest that companies are totally out of touch with their buyers, and don’t understand the economic hardship troubling many.

We’ll have to reach a breaking point sooner or later, either with brands finally clueing into the fact that they need to release cheaper phones, or with customers voting with their wallets by sticking to second-hand or refurbished devices. But until then, you can buy the best cheap phones to show that cost is important to you.

Tom’s role in the TechRadar team is to specialize in phones and tablets, but he also takes on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working in TechRadar freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. Outside of TechRadar he works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.

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DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max

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DisplayMate awards the “Best Smartphone Display” title to the iPhone 14 Pro Max

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