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.

    • Chris Raymond

      No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head to take those jobs or to “force” them to call you.

  • 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

  • valerie

    i just got the survey call saying i won all they needed was credit card info the number was 1561 629 9649

  • 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!

  • 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!!

    • Sjunk Rjunker

      You probably mis-dialed. The scammer picked that number based on the fact that people attempting to call the IRS would sometimes mis-dial. Check your call log to see what you actually dialed instead of what you thought you dialed.

      Ha! “Dial.” Who today has even really done that! Rotary dialers actually broke an electrical contact which could sometimes spark a little; you were actually making FIRE to call. One step up from smoke signals.

  • Ashley_acula

    (754) 212-0274 is the number I got a call from. The guy I was speaking to, “Michael Harrison” was obviously reading from a script, we got to the “now I just need your credit card info to secure the reservation” part when I informed him of my skepticism, he then transferred me to the “Supervising Director” to calm my paranoia and to let me know that the conversation is being recorded to make sure they’re not telling me I won a free car or something ridiculous. Anyway, they said I had 18 months to make a decision on what days I wanted the cruise but needed my personal info immediately to secure a reservation that I haven’t even agreed too. I don’t know, they’re eagerness in repeating “Please trust us, what’s holding you back? We are not part of a scam” made me even more paranoid. I looked online and found this site and some of things other people have posted are identical with what I experienced. Told them to not contact me anymore with “special offers” and that I know what they’re trying to do.

  • Anonymous

    I got a call from these two numbers earlier today, the one on the bottom was a robot asking me questions such as things about transportation and such, the one on the top was a person I could barely understand about a trip. I hung up and researched it. I’m happy to know its not real

  • S…….

    312-818-3426
    Says the same thing abt winning a cruise if I take their survey. However with the new scams that, even if you press yes or whatever they tell you to press, you end up finding a humongous charge on your telephone bill; I don’t do anything except hang up!!!

  • Gouchybear

    I got a call from Green Energy Survey Corps (323-275-9710), and because I HATE these f’ing scammers I played along only so i could talk to a live body and get in a few shots of my own before they could hang up on me. But alas, twas not to be; the automated system remained on the line and would not transfer me to a human victim so I’ll just have to block their number instead.

  • Fed up

    In the past several months, every unknown caller to my phone has been this scam. My auto voice is “Lisa” who tells me I have won a cruise if I answer a short survey. She doesn’t say it’s political. Just a survey. When she asks if it’s ok, I say no and she says she’s sorry to have bothered me and my number will be removed from their list immediately. HA! I have had countless calls, all from different phone numbers in different states. How does blocking callers help when they have 10,000 phone numbers? I’ve been on the do-not-call list for years. Is there real advice out there on how to stop these people? Why does every victim have to stop them on their own, or just endure their wrath? There should be a stop at the level of the scammers. Not the consumers. Bear in mind, I have a cell phone plan, but not everyone does. This costs money for those who pay by the minute. And what if they are looking for a job? They will be inclined to answer calls from numbers they don’t know. OH Wait! That’s a different scam….when I was job hunting several years ago, I signed onto some reputable websites with my resume. There were so many calls from scammers wanting to “help me” go back to school (I’m 56, not 26) that I almost yelled at a prospective employer when they phoned. Somebody has to shut these shysters down!

    • nweb

      Exact same problem. I hate Lisa and I want her to stop calling me!

      The ‘advice’ in this column is stupid. Registered my number on the Do Not Call List the day I got the phone number. Ignore the calls- they just make them more often. Answer the phone and tell them to stop calling- if you are lucky enough to get an actual person to tell to stop calling you- and also tell them to get you off any other lists they hand out to their little friends- and it seems like that only gets you even more phone calls.

      • Hello,

        Legitimate businesses use the Do Not Call list.

        Of course, since scammers are not legitimate businesses they going to continue to call regardless of whatever or not a phone number is on the Do Not Call list.

        One of the reasons this scam continues is because it is profitable for the scammers to operate it. If you can think of any legal ways to degrade, disrupt or otherwise cause their "business" economic loss so that it increases their costs so it is no longer profitable, I would suggest doing so. Otherwise, the scam calls are likely to continue unabated.

        Regards,

        Aryeh Goretsky

  • Debra Norton

    Updated! Green Study Group says just answer three short questions about green energy and get a cruise. Losers.

    • indolent83

      Just got the same call from robotic “Lisa” from Green Study Survey Company. Said if I answer “no” I will be removed from “national statistical survey studies,” list. Number was 414-377-4035.

      • les

        Had the Same Robocall recording from Lisa Now the Phone # is 804-386-0728 Same Natonal Statistical Survey BS .. They say they will remove from their rolls if you say “NO” we will see.
        My phone is recorded as I am a member of Federal Law Enforcement.
        Hope they were telling the Truth..

      • TexasBoy

        Same..the number shown was 281-616-8236

  • Tom Michels

    Lisa from Green Survey Company has called at least 4 times from different numbers wanting me to completed a survey for a free cruise to the Bahamas. Each time this computer generated call comes in I answer no to the survey and am told I will be removed from their list but they continue to call from new numbers. When I call the number back the message is that that number has been changed, discontinued, or is no longer in service. An obvious scam.

    • Hello,

      Yes, since Green Survey Company/Study Group/{insert name du jour} is a scam and not legitimate, they do not honor the do not call requests.

      The out-of-order message you received when calling is mostly likely because they spoofed the Caller ID, which is trivial to do since there’s no authentication involved in transmitting it–whatever is sent is displayed, regardless of whether it is correct or not.

      Regards,

      Aryeh Goretsky

  • les

    Called me in Virginia today from 804-386-0278 with the Same FREE Cruise SCAM/ Green Survey Company… and the Same Lisa saying they are with National Statistical Survey Company. SAME HOAX you guys got.. My Supervisor called the # back. & ppressed 9 to get our # removed. If Not the FEDS will be all over You LISA.. You called the WRONG # this time..

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