This morning I feel like it is time to shine some light on a particular breed of scam artist that is the consummate cockroach. Actually, they’re so low as to make cockroaches look comparatively good. These scams are the ones where people get phone calls claiming that money has been stolen from them, they’re under investigation for a crime, etc. These days scamming people out of their life savings has hit quite a technical complexity but the tools to perpetrate these acts are readily available using off-the-shelf tools and software. Here is how the scammer sets up his or her operation and here is how to thwart them.
A scam operation is usually set up where there is a large call center industry and India and The Philippines are known countries that operate call centers. Cheap high-speed broadband internet connections are readily available in these countries making it inexpensive to set up a call center. The artist just needs a few second-hand PCs, Microsoft Windows or Linux, a software telephone, and some headsets. Unlike the days of yore when making international phone calls cost a small fortune, most calls are now routed over the internet. Therefore, the scammer purchases a virtual server and something called a SIP trunk which routes calls from the telephone network to the internet. These calls cost fractions of a cent on the dollar to make. Given that India and The Philippines are tech centers, there is an abundance of cheap, highly educated labor to implement these systems. The scammer and his or her associates simply have a computer keep dialing random number combinations until somebody answers.
As technology has improved and computers are able to generate digitized voices with startling accuracy, the scammers can create professional-sounding greetings. It used to be that you could smell some of these scams a mile away and the ones that are low-effort, you still can. The low-effort ones usually involve the scam artist’s associate purporting to be from the “Department of Social Security Administration” or something like “The Department of Medicare” with a clear Filipino or Indian accent. Those are obviously red flags. Nowadays with computer digitized voice, the greeting can sound exactly like the country of origin that the scammer wants to be from. The greeting can be professional and sound convincing. Hang up immediately!
Now that we have satisfied our curiosity as to how these cockroaches set up their relatively sophisticated operation, stopping them is actually relatively easy. If you get a call purporting to be from a business about an issue, just hang up. For example, say that you get a call stating that money has been stolen from your bank account and you are being asked to “verify” your account information. If you do this, you give the scammer the keys to your bank account and private life. Just hang up the phone immediately even though it may seem rude or even be very convincing. Then go to your bank’s website and get the contact information for the bank directly from the website. Once you do this, call your bank and make certain that everything is okay. These days it’s a good idea to trust no incoming phone call that is not a friend or somebody you know personally.
If you are anything like me and can smell this scam a mile away, you can have a little bit of fun. I make up names and if I am asked for my social security number, I give them 123-45-6789. This usually results in an angry explitive coming from the scam artist and the phone call being terminated. They got excited because they think they got a mark and I burst their little bubble. Then I call the scammer back and keep calling them to pester until they block my caller ID. But that isn’t enough to stop me! I then block my own caller ID and keep calling them until they shut down that call back number. This is how I thwart them!