Something’s Phishy…

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

Well, now. Mr. ChatGPT and others appeared before Congress this week and pretty much told us that if we don’t hurry up and do some things, chatbots could soon be the bosses. When a company asks for government regulation, ya gotta sit up and take notice.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said a bunch of scary things, including that when photoshopping became available,

“people were quite fooled by photoshopped images and pretty quickly understood that images might be photoshopped. This is like that, but on steroids.”

There are tons of important AI questions that I’m not touching on today. I am simply pondering: How will we be able to tell the chatbot’s “creation” from reality?

In one subsequent discussion I heard, a commentator said, “For now, ask your children.”

If you’re lucky enough to have a Gen Zer available, that wise young soul will have observational strengths that we older folk lack. (I’ve long said my hope lies with Gen Z, but I was thinking of their political actions!)

We seem to have moved in just a few years from “alternative facts” to alternative everything. In my little corner of the universe, I’ve had two head shakers just this week—one more upsetting than the other.

First were the iCloud messages—sent two days in succession. Bearing the Apple logo, they informed me that my iCloud storage was full. If I didn’t act soon, I could lose all my photos and documents. But fortunately, I was entitled to a free introductory offer. All I had to do was check to see if I qualified.

My scamometer clicked in fast enough to restrain my clicking finger. Still, I’d had a legitimate transaction with Apple two years ago when I really did have to purchase more heavenly Cloud space for my phone. That transaction set me back 99 cents per month til I paid it off.

And I’m way too lackadaisical about cleaning out old emails, which include multiple daily appeals for donations from every candidate to whom I’ve ever sent a small donation, as well as every new candidate who seems to know every candidate I’ve ever donated to.

Not to mention every organization I’ve ever contributed to in honor of or memory of—or every business I’ve ever frequented online…well, you get the idea. As I gaze at my desk, I am struck that both my real and virtual homes are overrun with clutter.

So to make sure I wasn’t in danger of losing the wheat as well as the chaff, I called Apple. In less time than I’d waited on hold, the lovely young woman who was probably on a different continent assured me this was phishing.

She directed me to take a screenshot and send it to Apple’s special phishing department, where, presumably, all the dead phish are cyber-buried—until scamming humans or bots come up with a new mutant phish in this never-ending struggle.

My second phish story is more unsettling. As frequent visitors here may recall, I’m still on Twitter, where I get some very worthwhile stuff. But the part of me that wants nothing to do with Elon Musk and the hell he’s fostering is not fully comfortable with my continued presence.

I made a deal with myself that I would stay as long as Ukrainian President Zelensky remains because I appreciate his daily updates, which I retweet to expand his reach–to the extent the teensy audience that the algorithm overseeing my activity delivers them to my fellow Birders.

In my Twitter profile, I note that I don’t accept direct messages (DMs). Twitter has lots of lonely guys (and some weirdly porny women) seeking companionship and whatever. Most people respect my statement, but when people don’t, I respond—once—politely telling them to go to hell. And of course, I don’t follow them back.

But this week, I received a DM that I felt deserved a response. It was (ostensibly) from a Ukrainian soldier, telling me how much he appreciated my continuing support—that it means a lot because so many people seem tired of the war, etc.

I answered that everyone I know supports the war in every way we can; we are grateful to the brave Ukrainian people who are fighting not just for their country, but for democracy everywhere. And I wished him well.

The response:

“I really appreciate all you doing for motherland [small Ukrainian flag icon]. I thank you for all you have donate But want you to understand that not all the donations get to me and squad at frontline and I feel sick, me and squad lacks some basic things like beddings, winter jackets that we need for our everyday live, I am not entitled to your donations, I will really appreciate if you can support just me and few squad members,

“I will tell my supervisor that donations are coming in for me and squad members, so they can release to me the PayPal address so you can send in your donation, trust me this your support will really save lives, for we are really going through a lot here, sometimes I will just scream “why is this happening to mother land [small Ukrainian flag icon] and why is Putin this evil”, I haven’t seen my mother and siblings for a very long time, can you imagine that kind of pain? That’s what me and few squad members are going through, honestly your donation will really help me and Squad members and we will forever grateful to you.”

My answer:

“Sorry. Please don’t contact me again.”

What do you think?

Ukrainian soldier in need?

Non-Ukrainian preying on sympathizers?

—Or bot?

Although I’d never respond to this type of request, I suspect that even if it came from a bot, it is describing real life in Ukraine for many soldiers today. For that reason, I found this episode deeply affecting.


29 thoughts on “Something’s Phishy…

  1. My rule is — if it looks fishy or wrong, it probably is. I got an email today with the subject “my account.” An email from an unknown party goes immediately in the trash. As for Ukraine, there are many safe ways to contribute through reputable organizations.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks, William. Yes; there are many. I’ve written about my favorite Ukrainian charity, which I’m about to give to again: United24. Founded by President Zelensky as the “main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine.”

      I also plan to donate to a new org begun by Dr.Irwin Redlener and his wife Karen, who have been working to combat the impact of the war on the mental and physical health of Ukraine’s children. Ukraine Children’s Action Project:

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Money is the root… In personal transactions, because I believe there are reasons a people panhandle, I hand them a can or two of chicken soup (you can open it and eat it no utensils needed) or a $5 Speedway card (buy 5 get 1 free if you time it right). The church gets my time, same for politicians, I give stuff to the Goodwill (def by G.Carlin). All money sent to the “internets” becomes virtual money. I think sending money to those “soldiers” would be like putting a dollar bet on the roulette wheel. I like roulette to much. So whenever I have an extra $300 burning a hole in my pocket I prepare myself by going into the bathroom and throw a buck into the toilet and flush.
    “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. ” — Nelson Mandela
    I believe you have both, dear lady! Wet money dries.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. That Ukrainian soldier story is sad . . . but. The dead-give-away clue to phishing, for me, is ill grammar. That in itself turns me off. We rarely give financial aid except through Catholic Charities or the Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, both legitimate and safe. I am glad you brought this up, Annie.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Jo. I agree about the ill grammar as a tip-off for the most part. Apparently, bots are not always grammarians either. However, I can imagine circumstances in which I would be more tolerant of people attempting to communicate in other than their native language.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Too many people want to make their fortune by scamming others rather than putting their shoulder to the wheel and doing something good for the world. We had a scammer at our door today … the 4th this week … wanting to see our electric bill … the scam is that they then write down your account number and you’ll find higher charges on your next bill, after they switch you to another provider. My Spam folder on my main email server now gets over 300 every day, and sometimes as many as 500! And now we have to worry about AI in addition to all else? Bah Humbug!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Someone involved me in a scam Wednesday. They send a phony invoice with the custodians name on it to the church secretary. Apparently many small organisations have developed a habit of simply passing these forward to be paid without checking.
      James Bolivar diGriz would say these activities keeps us on our toes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Several years ago, our checking account was cleaned out, and I learned then to be even more diligent than ever before. I’m an accountant by trade, so I was already pretty diligent, but now I have added security to everything and trust no one. I find it sad, though, that this is the society we have become, where we can no longer trust, where the norm, the expectation, is that someone will be trying to rip us off in one way or another.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Oh, my, Jill. That sounds awful! Yes, it is sad. In the past, we didn’t have to lock our doors. Now few people live in places where they have that luxury. So we learn to lock our virtual doors as best we can—knowing we still have vulnerabilities and will need to learn new techniques. But the good that will evolve—in terms of conquering diseases, etc, must not be overlooked either.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yes, and for every virtual lock we have, there are those who will spend their time and energy finding a pick or a code to override it, to break it. I remember my grandmother, who had lived through the Great Depression, stock market crash, and WWII, kept her life’s savings under her mattress! Some days I wonder if she didn’t have the right idea! 🤣 But with my luck, the house would catch fire and I’d have nothing!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s wise to be alert to phishing and other such scams. I’m not sure that chatbots and suchlike fakery will make that situation much worse, though. Instead of some guy in a basement impersonating a Nigerian prince, we’ll have a chatbot impersonating some guy in a basement impersonating a Nigerian prince? I suppose it might increase the volume of scam e-mails, but the ones I get seem to be automatically generated anyway.

    The Ukrainian exchange was probably a scam. If it were me, just on the off chance that it was a real Ukrainian soldier, my final response would have been more like “Sorry, but I do my contributing through organizations that help Ukraine. I’d rather not contribute via an e-mail from an individual because of the risk that it might be a scam from someone trying to profit off the conflict.” Something like that. I refuse to fall for possible scams, but I’d prefer not to risk hurting the feelings of a real person if that’s what it was.

    AI (not an accurate term for how ChatGPT and suchlike actually work, but we seem to be stuck with it) is causing a lot of problems and will continue to do so, but I don’t believe the solution is to give control over its future direction to Josh Hawley. As with any technology, trying to slow down or restrict its development via government regulation will just drive that future development to other countries, depriving the US of the chance to evolve the kind of experience and expertise which will be useful in dealing with future problems it produces. (Atomic bombs are dangerous, but just imagine what the world would look like now if the US in 1945 had reacted to that concern by shutting down the Manhattan Project, so that Germany and Japan became the first to build atomic bombs.) Right now we’re at the early stage where ChatGPT is the latest shiny new thing and people are fascinated by it, but over time people will come to realize that most of what it produces is useless rubbish with no connection to reality, and the mass public mind will come to recognize it as just another source of fakery, as we all now know that photographs can be faked, and take that into account.

    If “chatbots could soon be the bosses”, would we be able to tell the difference?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can tell from your response that you watched the video, Infidel, and I hope you’ll explore the issue more.

      Great line about Nigerian princes! One of the things I found most scary was the bot-like Insurrectionist Hawley pretending to be a real legislator caring about the future.

      Though I understand your concerns about government regulation preventing us from protecting ourselves while other countries forge ahead, in this instance it appears that other countries are protecting themselves while the people doing the innovating are crying for help.

      But the Congressional response, while apparently bipartisan, needs to be more thoughtful and careful and knowledgeable than it’s shown on tech matters to date.

      I do think the expressed apprehension about the potential impact on the 2024 election points to the need for far greater public education about what voters must watch out for.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I consider myself blessed to have known a techie – through my work – who trained me well. His number one advice: if it looks like it could be phishing – DO NOT RESPOND! Then they know there is a real person on the other end. That’s why they call it ‘phishing’. Don’t open messages you are not 100% sure come from someone you know and trust (and be a little distrustful of messages coming from people you know: they could be fake); flush ‘phishy’ messages and for added measure, empty your trash file too. I rarely open anything that was unsolicited. My techie friend taught me to be ULTRA, over cautious at all times.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, Patti. The gremlins got the response I sent last night. Thanks for passing along your techie colleague’s sage advice. The part about being a little distrustful of those we know also rings true. I recall receiving seemingly routine messages from friends—sometimes, but not always—followed by urgent messages stating: “I’ve been hacked!”

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I don’t know if it’s real or not in terms of human generation, but human or bot, it doesn’t feel like a legit appeal. The “feel” test is also known as experience. We’ve all been down this rabbit hole, right? Had another this week . . . a single lonely mother purportedly . . . or was she for real? Nah. She had to be a fake, or a fraudster, or something else I don’t want any part of . . . but I did think about it for more time than it deserved.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I am waiting for some Scotus clerk to add a headnote on a decision that grants bots and AI full citzenship rights. Just as corporations acquired it after centuries of law acknowledging that corporations are artificial creations that must be strictly regulated.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I hope I’m wrong but I really fear for writers with the advent and spread of AI. When readers can prompt an engine to tailor a story to their personal preferences, and to include their favourite characters, and when machine learning encompasses where a reader likes their surprises/how they prefer their pacing…

    I think a lot of writers (amongst many other professions) will have their livelihoods threatened.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m a bit more sanguine, Matthew. Your description delineates all the magic. I guess some formulaic writing will suffer, but not the kind of quality writing you consistently bring to life.

      The discussion before the Senate committee did delve into the potential for huge job losses, but it also included significant generation of new positions. It will be an upheaval, though—at a time when worldwide forces are buffeting people in so many ways.

      Liked by 1 person

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