Saturday, November 08, 2008

Telephone Call Offering to Lower Interest Rate is a Scam!

Cheap long distance, the ability to spoof caller ID and the credit crisis are being used to facilitate a scam called vishing. Although telephone (telemarketing) scams are nothing new, the term vishing probably came about because advances in telephone technology are being used to depart unsuspecting people of their hard-earned money.

The term vishing was coined from the word phishing. Internet scammers phish the waters of the Internet using spam e-mail as bait. Once a person falls for their "too good to be true" lure -- personal and financial information is stolen using social engineering (trickery) or malicious software designed to data-mine the information right off the infected machine. The personal and financial information is then used to commit financial crimes, which is often referred to as identity theft.

In the past week, I've received several calls where a computerized voice informs me that the offer to lower my interest rate is almost over. It then says to press "1" if I want to lower my interest rate.

I went ahead and pressed the number "1" to see what this "too good to be true" offer was all about. After a few seconds, a female voice came on and asked me if I was interested in lowering my interest rate. I told her I was and she asked me for the 800 number of my financial institution so she could verify my eligibility. Since this is public information, I went ahead and gave one to an institution, I no longer do business with. While I was digging up the number on the Internet, she made a lot of inquires about how many lines of credit I was behind on. After providing her with the 800 number, she asked me to give her all the credit card numbers that I wanted to lower the interest rate on.

At this point, I had very little doubt I was dealing with a scam designed to steal credit card numbers. At no point did she identify a financial institution -- and besides that -- no financial institution would make a cold call and ask for credit card numbers. Additionally, when was the last time a financial institution offered to lower an interest rate to an existing customer unless they were being bailed out by the government (taxpayer)?

I asked if she felt good about ripping people off and if I could speak to her supervisor. Of course, I was never referred to a supervisor and after cursing at me, she hung up. Trust me, from the vulgar language that was expressed, this call was not being recorded for training purposes!

In the past couple of years, we've seen reports of vishing. In the case, I'm writing about a dialer system is obviously being used. Dialers are used by collection agencies, telemarketing companies, political campaigns and even charities to direct calls to live employees. Basically, dialers screen the calls via computer to make the process more efficient.

Having never priced one, I decided to see what Google had to offer. I found them to be rather inexpensive starting at a mere few hundred dollars. There were also options to use already set-up systems on a cost-per-call basis.

Caller-ID spoofing services can be purchased legally and are used by a lot of legitimate companies to entice us to pick up calls. Because of this, it is probably wise not to put your faith in caller-ID.

Some blame VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology for vishing. VoIP has made calling long distance cheap.

So far as where the victim lists are obtained, they can be easily purchased. My phone number has been unlisted for over 20 years, but information brokers data-mine information from every source imaginable, including magazine subscriptions. Since these lists are worth money, companies who gather information routinely sell the marketing information they gather on all of us. It also isn't unknown for dishonest employees to sell information directly to criminals. Often this is done right on the Internet in chat rooms, which keeps the transaction fairly anonymous.

Recently, the FBI announced that they stung an Internet forum used to sell stolen information known as Dark Market. At it's peak, the group had 2500 registered members and it is estimated that they prevented losses of $70 million (worldwide) by cracking this case.

Even the IRS and Social Security have been impersonated in the past two years in vishing schemes.

InsideCRM magazine recently published an article detailing 50 ways to protect your privacy. This magazine represents the call center industry and has a stake in fighting vishing activity, which gives legitimate e-commerce a black eye. If you (like a lot of us) enjoy the hassle-free environment shopping at home, the article is a great educational resource.

The U.S. government has also set up a highly visual and interactive site to educate people about crimes being enabled by technology. Please note this site is available in Espanol, also.

While both of these sites are designed to cover computer security issues in addition to telecom type scams, we need to remember that a lot of these scams probably started before telephones or computers made them easier to do, as well as, more efficient.

Scams rely on human emotion and greed. Knowing this is the best way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. The "too good to be true" principle coupled with "does the transaction make sense" is the best way to figure out whether an offer is legitimate or NOT!