October 2008

Have you ever answered your business or home phone and heard a recording announcing your car warranty is about to expire so "press one to speak to an agent"? This happens to me on the average once a day, on my cell and and my work phone, even in conference rooms. The short term solution is, I rarely answer phones that don't provide caller ID, I just check messages. What a waste of all that infrastructure!

Phishing Diagram

What's this all about anyway? The problem is phishing, where some crooks have organized a minimum-wage team to cold call a million phone numbers, looking for a thousand fools that might believe their lame story and cough up their Mastercard numbers. Apparently there is no shortage of fools....

It's time to answer two questions... how did they get your phone number (work and cell phone)? And how can we stop this menace?

How did they get your number?

One method of gathering phone numbers for phishing is illustrated in the image above. I was enlightened to this recently by my teenaged daughter who has worked in various restaurants where I have dined occasionally just to get her to say hello to me. One time I asked about the fish bowl at the hostess stand, asking how often they give out that alleged free meal they claim they have a drawing for. Daughter says, "never, but about once a week a dirtbag guy with a lot of tats comes in and buys the contents of the fish bowl for twenty bucks..." That explains something... how come you don't know anyone that ever won a free lunch from a restaurant fish bowl? And even if they did give away a lunch once in a while, what do they do with all those business cards belonging to the "losers?"

Hmmm, what's Biker Bob gonna do with all that information he purchased? Ya think he might be in this for a profit? Who might pay for a pile of business cards, and for what purpose?

Daughter and friends all share the sweet dream of
mastering the microwave craft...

First of all, if you are the sucker that tossed in the card, now you name is associated with at least one phone number (probably two, plus an email address), is in the hands of someone that would part with it for small change. You deserve all of the phone calls you're going to get, there is no free lunch! But what about the rest of us that never hand out business cards except in the context of real business?

Think about this... by tossing in a business card into the "phish bowl", it implies you have a job and disposable income, and you are in all probability gullible enough to fall for any number of other scam "opportunities". If you work for a big company, a phisher that obtains your card can guess that there might be other well-paid people that answer the 10,000 numbers that are possible in your telephone exchange. And what's this? He/she has access to as many as 10,000 cell phone numbers with a high probability of disposable income as well. Thanks a pant load, Porky!

How can we fix this problem?

First of all, companies should train their employees NOT to drop business cards in random restaurants. That's not why you have business cards.

But that isn't enough. Here's a suggestion. Many email systems are set up so that you have a "this is spam" button for garbage emails. This is an effective countermeasure, why not build it in to the next version of your phone service (like Audix)? Then we'd at least have the satisfaction of reporting phone numbers that tried to phish us, and the company could block all calls to co-workers originating from the offending phone numbers. What's the worst thing that could happen? That a random (but honest) sales guy accidentally gets blocked from your entire phone network? How would that be bad?

The following suggestion won't fix the problem, but might help you stay sane. If you answer a phone that turns out to be someone phishing, play along with them. First they'll ask you for the make and model of your vehicle, tell them you drive a 2008 Hummer H2 which always impresses boiler room employees. While you're at it ask them "what else would a vice president of marketing drive?" A few questions later they will want your name and credit card info. Tell them your name is Larry Craig (and no you're not a senator but you get asked out to the mens room all the time, Big Guy!) and you have a call coming in and you need them to stay on hold, then drop the phone down on your desk. If you happen to hear them in a few minutes saying "Hello? Hello?", pick up again and tell them you need just a few more minutes... or whisper that "a man just walked in with a gun so you have to duck down and lower your voice"... or tell them that "you are starting an assisted suicide business on the side and you're looking for some new clients"...


Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!