When the phone rings and the display says "private" it can mean one of two things.

Our dear friends on St John's Hill are calling to catch up or there will be a long pause and a voice of foreign extraction will start to tell me that there is a "problem with my PC".

Nine times out of 10 this is an opportunity for hilarity as more often than not I switch into "improv" mode (from a number of years in '90s theatresports) and adopt different identities and characters to basically 'mess with' the caller on the other line. Some of my favourites include:

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•Telling the caller that I have lost my computer in my house and getting him / her to help me find it
•Going through all of their 'steps' and declaring 'thank you, my VHS player now works'
•Impersonating the Liam Neeson character from the movie Taken.
•Giving the phone to the dog
•Resting the phone next to the TV and putting on Breaking Bad's "Say my name" scene
•Finally (and best of all) getting right to the end and saying "I don't have a credit card or bank account, I have cash under my mattress"

The satisfaction of the "click" ending the call is worth the effort, but it points to a growing menace of people and organisations using nefarious ways to steal – and they are only getting more determined and creative.

For business there is no less risk, particularly in the field of cyber security. Recently I received an email from a trusted and long-standing client, containing a PDF attachment.

Fortunately we had recently upgraded our security platforms because I clicked the attachment and the anti-virus software swung into action. We were protected, but I had to declare to staff that it was me who clicked on the "bait".

There are some clever tips for detecting malicious emails. First, check the address line – if it looks incorrect in any way, it's likely that it is not from a reputable source.

Second check the instructions / grammar of the messages – if it doesn't look like it is in the syntax / structure of the person or organisation you are familiar with, it is likely that it is an imposter. Third, if the email has an embedded link, check the address. Basically, the rule should be: If in doubt, don't click.

Bogus emails from banks are a regular in my spam folder, but these are becoming more and more "real" looking, so it is important to be vigilant — you also have the option of calling the bank concerned to check the veracity of the email(s) received.

Of course, if you receive an email from a bank you do not trade with the speed of pushing the delete button will always be quicker.


However, it has been a while since I received an email proclaiming that a distant Nigerian relative (who happened to be a King) had millions of USD to channel through my bank account (for a "handler's" fee of course).

I guess we've finally caught on to that and they've moved onto bogus "computer calls" – that is until "Liam Neeson" scares them off!

*Balance Consulting is a Whanganui consultancy specialising in business strategy, process excellence and leadership mentoring — contact Russell Bell on 021 2442421 or John Taylor on 027 4995872