ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

No Calls, Please —

I could tell by the phone number on my caller ID (217) that I probably didn’t know who this was. 217, that’s Illinois. Probably one of the usual telemarketing calls that want to offer me telecommunication services or reams of copy paper for my (non-existent) business. All of my domains basically point to the same phone number, so who knows which it is.

“Hello, 217! How’s Illinois!” was my greeting.

There was a pause. I was waiting for either a click, or the deep intake of breath before the spiel begins. Either people call a wrong number, or they have to reassure themselves against my voice before launcing into a scripted hit.

“Is this… Scott Jason?”


“Yes, it is. Actually, Jason Scott. So you got Scott Jason because of a screwup on the domain name form. So what’s up?”

Pause. One can figure he’s a little uncomfortable that I’ve told him what state he’s in, the first three digits of the phone number, and how he found my number, and I’ve given him nothing.

“You run”

“Yes, I’m the guy.”

OK, now, generally, when people steel themselves up to call the telephone number to talk to me, they are of some extreme mind when they do so. Either they are so taken in with the history and the meaning of all these thousands of writings from years back, they want to thank me (this actually does happen) or they’ve found something that pisses them off so completely and totally that they have to make their mind known, and e-mail just isn’t enough for it.

Unfortunately, this was the latter.

“I just want to know how you can live with yourself encouraging people to commit credit card fraud. You have a file on your site that tells people how to do it and you are encouraging them.”

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve had one of these.

“Well, sir, I have many thousands of files on the site, which are collected from the era of bulletin board systems. They are very old, they are of historical value, and they provide historical context to that time. I distinctly do NOT encourage them to commit criminal acts. In fact, I doubt any of those files even work.

I can’t help but feel that the caller wasn’t entirely expecting this; I’m not one of those lame “@NARCHY” sites which have a bunch of old files HTMLified and combined with animated rotating skulls; I’m really doing something I believe in and have been doing so for quite some time. Or maybe that fact made them even more mad.

I decide to go for it. “Which file are you referring to, specifically?”

“The Video Vindicat….”

“Sir, that file is from NINETEEN NINETY-TWO.”

I hope the intonation is understandable; it would be laughable that credit card companies would be open to fraudulent techniques a decade old, or that those techniques even possibly worked at the time. Did you know that the number one reason that hacking and phreaking BBSes went down was as the direct or indirect result of Credit Card Fraud? The fact is, my friends, it doesn’t work. If it works for you, you are either seriously playing the odds or you have a meeting scheduled you don’t know about yet. Credit Card Fraud automatically incites the pursuit of federal agencies, who have very large budgets and very specific goals. It’s like going outside in the Everglades and punching alligators. Sure, you might get away with it… maybe. But the resultant pain would never make it worthwhile.

“You realize that by printing these files, you are commiting a criminal act, you are doing something illegal.”

“I am? How is that?”

“You are facilitating a criminal act by printing instructions on how to do so.”

“Sir, there’s a good hundred years of case law that disagrees with you.

The pause was palpable.

“You… are a BAD BOY.”

Well, that’s something.

“Is there anything else, sir? We’re not going to resolve this here.”

“Well, no, I guess you can live with having no conscience. And one of these days you’re going to go to jail.”

“OK! Goodbye!”

It took about 2 minutes to look up the phone number that called me and find their e-mail address. I figured that I’d mail them back and discuss things a bit more rationally.

I got mail from the president of the company that had called and they explained someone had attempted (note, attempted) to defaud the company using credit card information that matched some aspect of a Video Vindicator file. From this, the employee had decided to contact me directly, no doubt to vent anger.

I wrote back, and since I think these issues affect any site with unpopular information, I would excerpt it here. I am not identifying the company in question because it would be needlessly harassing.. and really, beside the point.

Several things… I didn’t write the file, I disclaim its
contents, I certainly go out of my way on my website asking people to NOT
follow instructions in the files that are contained on the site. With over
75,000 of them spread across the different sites, they range from the
tawdry to the sublime; if you look at my “top 100” files:

You can see more of my historical context to the files and thoughts on
their place in the history of BBSes. Some of them are certainly tawdry,
but none of them are “mine” in the authorship or ownership sense.

Now, I am certainly subject to concerns by folks like yourself, good
people making an honest living selling [product]. It is actually
quite a rare event, and certainly even rarer that I am personally
threatened, so I have time to answer in full, just as your
employee/relative took the time to research my phone number and call me.

Your caller, and, perhaps yourself, have a themeatic line of making me out
to be some sort of conscience-free monster; devoid of morals and
delighting in aiming mankind towards a general ruin. I don’t happen to
think this is the case, of course, and wouldn’t appreciate that
characterization without the existence of further evidence to back it up.
I understand the anger and hurt when one’s livelihood is defrauded; I
truly do. And while I’m sure it would be more satisfying for you to track
down and arrest the perpetrator the credit card fraud, it is certainly
easier to find someone with similar information and a phone number.

You have, fundamentally, no proof that the file even came from me. I
collect BBS-era “shovelware” CDs from throughout the late 1980’s and early
1990s, and the work of Video Vindicator shows up on many of them, simply
because his writing was so evocative. I am one of a thousand sources on
the internet.

But setting that aside, you have a situation that some errant soul used
information from a 10 year old textfile to attempt to commit credit card
fraud, one of the most-prosecuted and dangerous crimes a person can commit
without the use of a weapon. Many, many people have been heavily fined and
gone to jail for this crime (and rightly so). The fact that anyone would
attempt that, to me, is inherently foolish and showing that they could
have dervied inspiration from any of a number of sources, none of which
should share blame because a nonsupervised tot got a hold of his parent’s
web browser.

I consider myself a librarian in the truest and most honest sense. I
understand if you snort and giggle…. To bring up the obvious arguments: the
first amendment was not written to protect popular speech, I (and many
others) consider these files (no matter how misguided the authors at the
time) to be of historical and cultural import, and I dispute their
existent as purient, obscene, or the declaration of flames at a cineplex.

I understand your anger, but I will not consider myself the root cause of
it. And I am far from evil.

– Jason Scott

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