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:
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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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