Press One if by LAN, Two if by Sea

At ESET, we spend a great deal of time researching the latest technologies and how they may be affected by frauds and scams. Sometimes these are “old fashioned” spam through email, or they may be programs like fake antivirus programs or ransomware. And we certainly have blogged extensively about PC support scams where the caller claims to be from Microsoft or an antivirus company and is contacting you to let know that your PC is infected.

It always comes at somewhat of a surprise, though, when we hear about something as old-fashioned as a phone solicitation scam that involves a different pitch. I myself, though, became far less enamored after receiving the call for the third time.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Over the past month, I have received several automated telemarketing calls from “John” of “Political Opinions of America.” What robo-John wanted me to do was to take a “short, thirty second research survey.” In exchange for that half -minute of my time, though, I would be granted a free two-day cruise for two people to the Bahamas.

The first time this happened to me was on Thursday, April 24th at 5:24PM. The Caller ID on my cell phone displayed a number of +1 (503) 468-5989, and when I picked it up, I heard the automated system tell me that I had been randomly selected to answer five political questions, that it would take less than thirty seconds to do so, and that in exchange for my efforts I would receive my free trip to the Bahamas. By mashing buttons on my phone I was able to make it through the survey in order to get transferred to a “travel fulfillment specialist” to assist me with my reward.  All this did, though, was to play several call hold announcements before disconnecting the call.

I received two more calls from the scammers, though, this time while at work. I did not pick up the calls, though, so you can listen to the messages they left in my inbox here:

04/26/2012 09:14AM from +1 (503) 468-5144 [link to WAV file] [link to MP3 file]

05/02/2012 17:23PM from +1 (206) 496-0951 [link to WAV file] [link to MP3 file]

Searching on these phone numbers returns many results reporting scams, telemarketers and fraudulent activity.

Likewise, searching on Political Opinions of America also returns many interesting search results.  They even have a web site, although I would not recommend visiting it as it may be unsafe to do so.  Here’s what it looks like:

web page

Although it may be difficult to read from the above image (and, again, I do not want to link directly to their web site), it is littered with the sorts of grammatical mistakes one typically associates with phishing and other scam web sites. Others “tells” that show that there is something wrong with this “telephone surveyor” include:

  • The domain’s contact information is obscured through Domains by Proxy, a service which hides the legitimate owner of a domain name. While privacy on the Internet is an important issue, one would think that any legitimate business would have its contact information listed prominently in their domain registration information.
  • There is no address, telephone number, press releases, client list or any of the other kinds of information a reputable survey organization would have on its web site in order to promote itself and generate further business.

A Scam Within a Scam?

So what exactly is the scam? Well, according to some reports, it is to generate sales for cruises in the Caribbean; however, according to the law firm of Shapiro Haber & Urmy, people don’t even get their cruises: The law firm claims that instead, the lucky survey recipients receive… pitches for vacation timeshares.

The “quick survey” in front of the sales pitch seems to be geared to get around the FTC’s rules on telemarketers, which still allow for calls from political organizations, charities and telephone surveyors, although they have to be introduced by a live person and not a recording. That does not seem likely to stop the above law firm from following through, though, and is not likely to impress the Federal Trade Commission.

Outfoxing the wily telephone scammer

As with any phone scam, there are a few actions you can take:

  1. To prevent “reputable” telemarketers from contacting you, register your phone numbers in the National Do Not Call database. While this does not prevent all telemarketing calls, it will reduce the amount you receive, and you can try requesting to any of the remaining callers to put your phone number on their “do not call” list.
  2. Hang up. As simple as it seems, the quickest way to end a call from a phone scammer is to get off the call by hanging up. You may continue to receive repeat calls, though.
  3. Don’t hang up. Depending upon the amount of free time you have, you may choose to engage in dialog with a phone scammer. Some people make an art of such “scambaiting,” seeing how long they can keep the telemarketer on the phone call. While it is not clear if this will prevent you from receiving repeat calls, it does mean they won’t be making any money for the time they spend with you on the phone.

While phone scams have become less frequent, they have not disappeared in the Internet age, and many modern technologies and services (VoIP, overseas call centers and so forth) make it less expensive for scammers to reach out and touch someone by phone.

Aryeh Goretsky, MVP, ZCSE
Distinguished Researcher

Author Aryeh Goretsky, ESET

  • Gopal Das

     
    I almost got scammed the same way back in March and I avoided it the last minute. I checked 
    on Scam Detector app. It's an awesome app that Apple released recently, it exposes 500 or
    600 scams in lots of industries. They are online as well, google it or check ;

  • Barak Hussein

    Amos studios should be called Crap App studios.  They offerings are junk.   Don't listen to the 2 dolts above.  They work for them and are simply trying to push their crappy app

    • David Harley

      Actually, one of those dolts writes for ESET, not Amos Studios – of whom he had never heard – and was actually pointing out that it wasn’t an app from Apple, as the previous comment indicated. And I still haven’t looked at the app, so I have no idea whether it’s any good. Using a blatant pseudonym doesn’t excuse you from checking your facts before you start name calling.

  • Mike

    I've been receiving a lot of these Free Cruise phone calls lately too.   These organized criminals think they can skirt around the telecommunications laws by tricking you into thinking that the call is from some sort of political survey.  In Canada, Surveys companies are one of the few exemptions in the Telecommunications Act,  so the scammers probably registered themselves as a survey company and then try and sell you some phoney curise deal or find out all your personal information in the course of their conversation with you, instead.
    The worst part of it is that they put you on hold after they've already wasted 2 minutes of your time. 
    That means if I wan't to scream F* O* into the receiver as loud as I can, as I do with every telemarketer, I have to work for the pleasure of doing so.  My goal is to make every telemarketer's life so miserable they won't get any more sick pleasure out of scamming people out of their hard earned life savings.  I don't know how they can do that and feel good about themselves but there is always someone else lined up looking for "grey work" instead of having to go out there and get a real job.  Maybe they got suckered in themselves too but that is no excuse.  More often and not they know very well that what they do is illegal, annoying and just plain wrong to fleece others.

    • Aryeh Goretsky

      Hello Mike,

      Thanks for your feedback—I was not aware this was occurring in Canada as well as the United States.

      Regards,

      Aryeh Goretsky

  • Susan

    I, stupidly, answered the phone to this scam and proceeded to take the survey, not sure why. This is the first time I've been dumb enough to fall for one of these things maybe it is because I have been volunteering for one of the political parties campaigning. Nonetheless, I did indeed fall for it. What do you think will happen? Like, what kind of scam is it? Should I be worried they are going to hack into anything. Should I fear Identity theft or anything, or just expect a lot more calls?

  • stan

    The companies that these employees work for are the ones to blame, not the telemarketers themselves.  They are most likely underpaid, often abused by the people they must call (you know who you are) and forced into this line of work not by choice.
    I am equally frustrated with these telemarketing calls and I have never signed up for anything from a telemarketer and never will.  That said I refuse to take my anger out on the telemarketer forced to phone me – it is not heir fault.
    It is not difficult to respectfully decline any solicitation, at least these people are not out committing serious crimes to make a living.
    Telemarketing scams are big business and people need to make it a policy never to sign up for anything over the phone.  That and only that will put them out of business.

  • Aryeh Goretsky

    @Susan:  If you did give them your credit card number to purchase anything, I would suggest contacting the financial institution who issued it to request a chargeback.  Since it is not clear how the companies behind this operate, it could be that the information they gathered about you during the call (name, telephone number, location, etc.) could be re-used or sold by them to other telemarketing firms, so some vigilance is required.

    @Stan:  I respectfully have to disagree with you about this.  Telemarketing, especially where the company is making random outbound calls is not a legitimate business activity, regardless of who does it or what is being sold.  In this particular instance, the use of a political survey as a pretext for the telemarketing call goes beyond unsavory business practices and into the realm of deceptive criminal-like behavior that the Federal Trade Commission needs to investigate.  Failing that, the only mechanism I see for stomping out this repugnant activity is if the victims of these abusive calls take action so that the telemarketing firms, and the companies which use them, are impacted in the only place they care:  The bottom line.  In my post I never suggested being rude or abusive to the telemarketer; I was unfailingly polite, genuinely interested in their spiel (although this was for collecting information on it, not because I had any interest in the cruise).  The only thing I didn't do was buy what they were selling, which is the same tactic you recommend.

    Thanks for your comments, Susan and Stan!

    Regards,

    Aryeh Goretsky

  • http://www.facebook.com/sean.roth.16 Sean Roth

    I was just pitched this cruise. The following details BLOW MY MIND! I was calling the 1800 number for Bank of America just to report my debit lost and was told that I won a cruise. Wow! Has to be legit I thought-it’s my bank! Sweet! Thank God for skepticism and smart phones! Did a quick search while talking to this guy-who was getting ready to close-and I found this site. All the details were the same, cruise ship, port, Island and the 59.00 port fee. I was really close to giving this guy my wife’s debit card number. It sounded too good to be true-but-I was calling my bank so, it’s gotta be legit right? Thanks for saving me a couole hundred bucks!

  • http://twitter.com/gesselemom kristin gessele

    My husband was calling the IRS today to make payment arrangements for our bill when he was told we had been selected to get a free trip to the Bahamas! Since he was the one making the call, and since it was to a government agency, he thought it might NOT actually be a scam but he told me that the recording told him to ‘press any number’ on his keypad to be routed to an agent.
    He was really mad that the IRS would offer us a trip when we have a bill with them that needs to be paid!
    These scammers are now able to high jack outbound calls? For heavens sake!!
    How do we know if we REALLY do win a cool trip? I could sure use one!!

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