Quick, funny story about a phone scammer trying to get a Riseup email invite code from me

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 45 of 52.

On September 4, I answered my phone to hear the voice of a man in his thirties or forties: “I’m calling you out of nowhere, and this is a pretty strange call and pretty strange request, so bear with me.” With an opening like that, how could I not keep listening? (I recorded what happened at the time but never got around to blogging about it until tonight.)

Just before the phone rang, I was at home in my high castle, right, reading obscure histories of northeast Oregon towns, digitizing old documents, or whatever it is I do with my eccentric life when I’m not substitute teaching, ghostwriting for dimes scraped off someone else’s dollar, or otherwise answering to the trade economy’s myriad commercial imperatives.

When my phone rang, I thought, Probably another damn spam call. Those in the United States know how they’ve been getting worse in the past few years: another sign of the times, likely. But hey, the area code was 213. Los Angeles! Maybe, just maybe, opportunity was knocking. Hey, even anti-careerists can daydream.

Well, I was wrong. Opportunity wasn’t knocking. Hilarity was.

You won’t believe what happened next

After his fantastic opening line, the mystery caller then explains he’s looking to get an email account with Riseup Networks. For the uninitiated, Riseup is a longstanding Seattle-based provider of email and other tech services for millions of activists worldwide. They’re a savvy collective with decades of meritorious history.

I’ve been using Riseup email—dal@riseup.net—since 2012. Back then, Riseup gave out email accounts to anyone who agreed, or clicked that they agreed, with certain basic human decency principles, free of charge, donations encouraged. Nowadays, Riseup no longer just hands out email accounts. If I recall correctly, they stopped around 2016. Tightening things up; could be. Yet another sign of the times, likely. Currently, to get a Riseup email account, aspiring users need an invite code from someone who already has an account and is willing, in some algorithmic digital trust network sense, to vouch for them.

So, the mystery caller tells me he specifically wants a Riseup email invite code. I say I’m curious how he got my number—not because I’m offended, I explain, but because as a journalist/researcher, I often dig up information on people, and I want to know his tricks.

Like steam exiting the depressurizing coolant expansion tank of an overcompensating pickup truck’s tortured engine system, he barks odd laughter. He can’t help but tell me he ran a search for “riseup.net” and came across my email address and phone number in some online Freedom of Information Act filing of mine. When I used to conduct adversarial interviews more often than I do now, I was amazed at how readily interviewees expectorated the information I sought. Today I understand it’s because they’re tightly wound bio-psycho-socially. If, like Kevin Costner at the climax of his cheesy Robin Hood movie, you aim your interviewing bow and arrow just right, they become spectacularly undone with unintentionally confessional words torrenting out of their big mouths. You might be surprised at how far playing dumb as an interviewer can get you in life, unless you watch the old detective show Columbo.

En garde!

Climactic scene from Spaceballs where, in the evil spaceship, the lovable rogue character and the Darth Vader character face off as if in fencing, but hold their base of their lightsabers just above their clothed, uh, groins.
Spaceballs, the 1987 film masterpiece for every serious thinker

To his black market credit, the mystery caller recovered his poise quickly. Of course, under no circumstance was I going to give him, a total stranger, a Riseup invite code. But I wanted to see how this call was going to go down, and I think he wanted to see, too. That meant at this point in the conversation, the two duelists had taken stock of each other’s lightsabers. The battle was now to begin in earnest.

He launches into a predictable sob story about how he lost his wife and dog and money and homework, could I please give him a Riseup invite code. Man, that’s all he’s got?

I tell him No, I don’t give Riseup invite codes to people I don’t know personally, ever. But I can tell him a good way of going about getting one.

He doesn’t understand I’m hinting at volunteering. He tells me of some corner of the Internet where people are, he says, selling Riseup invite codes. I tell him if a Riseup account is linked to scammers, it poisons the reputation of the account that invited the scammer in, or more generally poisons the trust network of email accounts associated with the scammer, so don’t bother.

With the embarrassing bravado of a demagogue, he pivots to his next attack.

Really? Really?

Then the caller tells me he knows, of all people … the founder of Bitcoin! None other than the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, whose legal identity, despite many theories, remains uncertain. Wow, someone knows the founder of Bitcoin and just so happened to call me on a random Saturday morning. Que suerte! Not.

Rule number one of an adversarial interview is to keep the interviewee talking. The more words they emit, the more likely they’ll mis-step. So I ignore, sorta acting like I, too, know Satoshi Nakamoto. Doesn’t everyone?

But wherever he’s going with his Bitcoin founder thing is lost because I start laughing, unfortunately breaking character. Out of my typical benevolence, I tell the guy he should join the Riseup Internet Relay Chat channel and volunteer his time, building karma that way until he earns an invite code.

The caller’s totally not interested in ye olde effort. By this point in the call, I’m getting bored. Time to wrap this crap up.

He asks me a final time for an invite code. I say No. “Why are you against it?” he pleads. And I say, “For one thing, because I do get these requests [by email] every other month or so, and they take up way too much time while I’m trying to get work done. Bye!”

A half hour later, he text-messages me a giant poop emoji. The poor thing.

If you use Riseup Networks and can afford to, please donate to them!

Modification of the Debian logo to include an A for anarchy and command line interface code to the effect of installing anarchism.
Riseup Networks images may be found here

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Quick, funny story about a phone scammer trying to get a Riseup email invite code from me, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/13/phone-scammer-riseup-email-invite-codes/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

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