I got a phone call this past Saturday and I wanted to write a quick post with my methods on how to fight phone fraud. First off, this is not a post about how to protect your identity, how to obscure your publicly available information, how to add yourself to the 'do-not-call' list, or anything correct and vanilla like that. This is a post about what I do when I get a call that I KNOW for a fact is someone sloppily attempting to gather information from me to defraud me.
This past Saturday, the lady was supposedly calling from "The Government" to get me money that was due to me ($8,000? Wow!) due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is an actual thing but was enacted in 2009. In addition to the standard red flags -- her accent, stumbling with English, nervous fast-talking -- there was also the fact that she was calling at all. If the "government" actually owed me money, they'd likely just mail me a check assuming they were to notify me. Add to this the fact that it was a 2009 stimulus thing, and I was pretty sure all the money from that had already been given out by now.
So clearly this phone caller was a liar trying to trick me and it was a waste of my time even talking to her at all. OR WAS IT? Lucky enough for her (and me) I happened to be between tasks.
I guess a lot of people would have just hung up the phone or told her where to stuff it. And my belief is that this is a mistake. Hang up, and then this predator moves on to the next potential victim. And that person might not be alert or smart enough to spot the thief.
The Way to Stop Phone Fraud and Phone Spam is To Distract Them
So I talked with her, asked a lot of questions, sometimes the same questions more than once, gave her no real accurate personal information and kept her talking to me as long as I possibly could. I've done this many times before, when the timing of the call is convenient. In this particular instance, I was only able to keep her going for 15 minutes before her script was overly exhausted. At that point, she gave me a different number that I should call and give my "money password" to an "accounting officer" which I promised dutifully that I would do. Of course, I was lying. My record for this type of call is just under an hour and a half.
And before you ask, no I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about it. Sure, you could argue that the person on the other end of the phone may not be aware they are part of a fraud scheme. Or perhaps they are in an extremely poor situation and this is their only way out of it. There may be no other economic option in their country. Sure. That's certainly possible.
But I'm not fighting them individually. I'm fighting the industry. The people at the top, making the decisions, setting up the scams. They are only successful if the small army of poorly paid people who do these canvas calls can churn out 1,000 calls in a week and get 10 successful marks to hand over vital information like bank accounts, social security numbers and so forth. Certainly the larger percentage of people are aware of these schemes and can spot them, but it's still a numbers game. As long as most people who know it's a scam hang up immediately, they can move on to the next potential fish. So I instead keep them talking. The longer they talk to me and the more fake personal details I give them -- "Yes, my full name is Galen Marek..." -- and the more fake credit card numbers I offer them -- "My Visa card number is 4012888888881881..." -- the longer they spend with me and the more frustrated they get with me. The more times they attempt to run a credit card number that won't work, the more times their processor charges them a fee.
You could argue that in the grand scheme of things, me doing this all by my lonesome self is not going to really do much to a huge criminal industry of fly-by-night jerks. It's just me, taking one call at a time in my spare time and I can't possibly cause that much wasted time and damage.
Unless that is, I'm not alone in my methods. That's right, I'm talking to you now, silent reader. The next time you get a call from a number you don't recognize, take a second. Deep breath. Don't block or ignore that call. Answer it. If it's a scammer, dive right into the role of the confused older naive person who legitimately is curious about what the person on the other end is trying to supposedly offer them. Have fun.
Alternatively,... Officially Reporting Fraud
Still with me so far? Okay, so perhaps the above suggestions make you uncomfortable. I get it. But don't just hang up. Grab a pen and paper, and record as many details of the caller and what they are trying to do then politely decline and hang up. Then take all of the details and submit them to the FBI's public tip page. For the specific fraud call related to the ARRA, people are supposed to report it on the Recovery.org fraud page, but sadly that entire web site is buggy and broken. I think the site is abandoned. I never got the form page to load at all.
And that was after researching all over the place for the proper department or entity, page, email address or phone number to which I was supposed to report this kind of thing. Here's a list of the other stops along my route.
- FBI.gov - Corruption Alert
- BBB.org - "Government Grant" Phone Scam Targets East Texas
- Grants.gov - Grant Fraud
- Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force
- Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency: there are a lot of choices on this page, way too many honestly.
Addendum: Also check out what this guy does with a spam email that got through his filter. Hilarious.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. Be careful out there folks.