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81-year-old man driven to death by phone scammers (q13fox.com)
140 points by BinaryIdiot on Oct 9, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 141 comments

Once the relatives get wind of this, there is a simple solution. Get a new phone number for the person in question. And even more critical don't cancel the old one.

Put an answering machine on the old one, and have a "safe" relative check it every other day or so. Give the new phone number to family and friends.

After a few weeks of getting nothing but answering machine messages, the scammers will go away.

If the old number has been cancelled, the scammers know you're on to them. And look for the new number. If the old number still works, they won't look for a new number. Mostly.

> Once the relatives get wind of this, there is a simple solution. Get a new phone number for the person in question. And even more critical don't cancel the old one.

Or an even better idea - transfer the number to a reputable VOIP provider and setup the number so that it rejects calls from all numbers except for the ones you specify. Your loved ones can still call but any other scammer would get a busy signal or whatever you specify as the destination. You could even direct unknown calls to you (you can setup a time condition) - and that would give you the ability to add that number to the whitelist if it was a legit caller.

Added benefit - the service will be vastly cheaper.

> If the old number has been cancelled, the scammers know you're on to them.

I can guarantee you that they don't care if you are "on to them". They just stop calling because no one is picking up the line.

> I can guarantee you that they don't care if you are "on to them". They just stop calling because no one is picking up the line.

I think that depends on how big a fish you are to them, or at least your relative size in their food chain. If you have someone worth a few hundred to you every month, you'll probably put in some extra work if you can't get that money for a month or two to try to recover that source.

There's the opportunity cost to the attacker as well.

Sure, they could walk around your barriers and scam your relative... or they could shrug it off, carry on with their list, and scam another five or ten people in the same time frame.

We could build this with Twilio.

No offense but I didn't mention a specific VOIP provider on purpose.

However, callcentric already has it built and much easier to understand than twilio. I'm not saying that service is bad - but the average person doesn't know what API, cloud, or SIP means (or care). Callcentric makes it pretty obvious what their service is and provides and how to use it.

I specifically mentioned Twilio because anyone can build a custom solution to address this problem.

Someone already has done this (with Twilio) to win the FTCs RoboCall Challenge: https://www.twilio.com/blog/2013/04/twilio-powered-nomorobo-...

I also like Twilio ;)

Funny. I've handled a lot of dialer traffic for customers, as an intermediary (a billion calls every day or two).

"Legal" robo dialer is fairly easy to block. We blocked it on our systems using the same ideas as in the link. Look for repeated calls, low call duration, etc. However, this did not impact our calling stats at all.

That's right, even filtering out all the "known" dialer, we still had tons of shitty dialer traffic coming. The scammier the dialer, the more inclined they are to just make up a new caller ID for each call. Then there's no real pattern and it's easy to slip through. This is illegal and the FCC can fine $10K a day or something. But they don't.

That's the REAL problem. There's never any follow up. Sure, end-users complain now and then. What does that do? It makes one telco pass up a request "please review or block this number". That's it. It is utterly ineffective.

If the FCC was actually serious, they'd start enforcing rules and hold companies accountable. If I, as a VoIP provider, am liable for my customers to a certain extent, then I'm gonna be a bit more selective. I'll make sure my $29 customers aren't faking caller ID or sending lots of calls. On the wholesale side, I will make sure my contracts contain harsh penalties and keep customers liable. It'll take a few months for stuff to trickle down and be enforceable, but eventually the FCC can simply start handing out fines and this whole game will be over.

There's nothing really stopping this from happening other than the FCC not wanting to do it. Sometimes people say "oh well the problem is someone in Elbonia can sign up for $15 and get going" - yeah well eventually their calls hit the US network, and US law applies. If the provider is letting the Elbonians do their scam, the provider is liable. End of story. Suddenly, providers will require a deposit and scammers will piss off.

It doesn't even have to be a large fine. Just making the cost of making up a new identity be non-trivial (a few hundred dollars is probably enough) will put a pin in it.

> There are no infrastructure changes, or hardware required. This was one of FTC’s guidelines for the contest.

> Unfortunately, Nomorobo is not available on traditional analog landlines or wireless phones at this time.

Sounds like he failed the challenge...

I don't think his idea is revolutionary - one could setup Asterisk to do what he did.

One is welcome to ship an Asterisk implementation of it any time one feels like doing so. One has not shipped an Asterisk implementation. One may underestimate to which degree ideas, revolutionary or otherwise, are improved by actually shipping concrete instantiations of them which actually work.

Incidentally: NoMoRobo gains some utility specifically because Twilio exists. A trivial example: phone numbers have a history to them. Most customers of Twilio want to buy phone numbers with a relatively clean history, i.e., ones that were not widely distributed prior to their life with that customer, to avoid misdirected calls or e.g. reputational issues. NoMoRobo wants precisely the opposite -- they literally ask Twilio to provision them with phone numbers which are otherwise unsaleable to customers, for example because those numbers are actively getting spammed to death. (Twilio has an entire team of people whose job is telephone number quality. Things you wouldn't have guessed existed in the world, right?)

This works great for NoMoRobo's use case, because a phone number getting spammed to death is perfect for them -- it lets them cheaply capture a lot of phone numbers which one has a high confidence are spam rather than ham.

Fun/rude anecdote: We (a VoIP provider) once got a number that was getting 250K calls every week. Not because telemarketers were calling it, but because that ID was being usd to make a lot of outbound calls. So people would call back, upset, trying to figure stuff out. We dumped the number (no sense paying for all that traffic), but not before shunting it into a conference call (and playing a message telling them so).

It was rather interesting to see how people reacted together. One person would call in, angry, another person would call in, soon there'd be 4 people all yelling at each other "Well you called me!" "No I didn't!" "Now listen here, I think maybe the wires are crossed" and on and on. Sometimes they'd gang up together and try to sort problems out, but often it'd just degenerate into name calling.

Anyways, it's sad that NoMoRobo exists. The FCC could trivially put an end to scam calls, robo-dialing, etc., with a couple days of drafting a new regulation, and then a few months to implement it. Source: I've handled billions of calls, much of which were dialer traffic. I've worked on both sides (trying to block traffic, trying to get upstreams to take traffic).

> with a couple days of drafting a new regulation, and then a few months to implement it.

How would they enforce the regulations though without NSA style SS7 taps throughout US telcom network infrastructure?

Why would you intentionally harass victims like that?

Wow, thanks so much for contributing this Patrick. I had no idea Twilio did this or had a team who worked on it!

> I don't think his idea is revolutionary - one could setup Asterisk to do what he did.

Twilio is stupid simple to prototype and get up and running with, at which point you could transition to your own SIP provider with a cluster of Asterisk servers when you're at scale.

Isn't Twilio more about making sure your 1099 employees can't start a relationship with the people you have them do work with?

Port that # into https://Ring.to for free

like this... the best way to stop abuse is to waste their time not yours.

My 85 year old grandfather didn't commit suicide, but he was taken for every penny of his meager life savings by the Jamaican lottery scam. My dad discovered what was going on, called the police, but was told there was nothing they could do. My grandfather firmly believed and probably still does that he had won the lottery and was just waiting for a payout. We basically had to revoke his phone privileges to keep him from giving them more money, because he was so convinced. He does't have Alzheimer's or dementia. The scammers are just very convincing.

I really think there is some other maybe even unidentified kind of mental issue going on with this kind of scam. I say that because I know of some people who are locked into the Iraqi dinar scam and simply cannot see what is going on in spite of being otherwise ostensibly smart and intelligent people. Maybe it's "greed" , but it seems to me that it's more of a vulnerability due to hopes and dreams not matching topic sophistication.

I think it's a couple of things.

The first is the sunk cost falacity / escalation of commitment ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitment ) - if you've already given the scammers $500, your choices are either to admit that you've been scammed and will never see that money again. The alternative is to convince yourself that you really are going to get the money (and you haven't been scammed) if you just send them a little bit more...

The second factor is that at a certain age most people begin to lose their judgement. You don't have to have full on dementia, just slightly less good judgement than you had when you were younger, in order to fall for on of these scams.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/your-money/as-cognitivity-... - "As Cognition Slips, Financial Skills Are Often the First to Go". Interestingly, financially savvy people who actively manage their money are at a much higher risk of losing everything to bad decisions at an older age.

I don't think it's greed. I think it's hope. Most of the people I know who fall for these scams are not any dumber or greedier than other people I know. They do seem to be much more optimistic and positive though.

Think if this same person has late stage cancer and believed they were gonna make it despite all odds it would be an inspiring lifetime movie. But unfortunately I think these are the same people who also believe that a Nigerian prince needs them to transfer some money before they will be handsomely rewarded against all odds.

I agree. In my grandfather's case, he was keeping this all a secret because he wanted to surprise his family with financial help from his "windfall." Something I think he always wished he could do, but never had the money to do.

Man, that's incredibly heartbreaking.

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. - John Steinbeck (disputed)

Lots of otherwise reasonable people are willing to delude themselves for a shot at a windfall.

My mother is in her late 70s and my father died a couple of years ago, I think just short of his 89th birthday. They grew up in a different world, where a handshake meant something and overnight wealthionnaires who won the lottery or got rich doing something online that many older people cannot fathom or whatever was just not a Thing that was going on.

My dad grew up on a farm, in a log cabin with a dirt floor. He remembered those phones I have only ever seen in black and white movies (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=old+party+line+phone&FOR...). He was able to tell me those phones were a party line, something I had never known. In other words, one phone line serviced the entire town. Anyone with a phone could pick up when it rang and potentially listen in on your call. There was no expectation of privacy.

He just could not keep up with the rate and level of change in his last years. The world had changed too much and he no longer wanted to try to understand. It was just not the world he grew up in.

People also were less likely to be college educated back then. There are ways in which they genuinely lacked the sophistication we just assume people are supposed to have.

My parents were/are very good hearted people and the way the world has changed just does not fit with how they related to it for so much of their lives. This is probably true for a great many other elderly people.

Then "handshake" bit is rose colored view of the past. Scams were incredibly common in the past. Real estate, diamond and gold jewelry, and even the original "snake oil" and patent medicines, and all the classic "confidence man" scams.

I was not saying no one ever got burned. But life was different back then and it can make it hard for an older person to figure out how to judge things today. It is very similar to moving to a different culture. Culture shock is not evidence of incompetence. It just means the context is vastly different from what you are used to, which is throwing sand into your gears. It is kind of disrespectful to assume older people are all just incompetent and stupid and not account for the fact that the world today is dramatically different from the one in which they grew up.

In Indonesia, a particular scam is calling people (esp. parents) very early in the morning, when people are still sleeping, "We're cops. Your son/daughter is arrested for drugs possession. Send us lots of money NOW or we'll send him/her to jail." followed by what sounds like someone crying in the background.

Since you're barely awake, and your son/daughter is indeed away (eg. on night shift or staying with friends), and the fact that some cops are corrupt, and somehow you can't call (busy line) your son/daughter to verify, make people fall prey to this scam.

The interesting part is: how do they know the relationship of the victims, and the location (i.e away from home) at that point in time, considering the scammers are sometimes from different island?

" how do they know the relationship of the victims"

Probably they don't. If the victim says "but I don't have a son" they just hang-up. Scattershot approach, not targeted.

or start with "your child has been arrested" when they say "what Mary Lou?" you respond with "yes we have your daughter".

At which point you can relax, because you have a boy called Josh.

If you have enough on the ball to do something like that, instead of operating on pure emotion, you're not going to fall for a lot of these scams anyway.

In Sweden there are lots of websites where you can look up the phone number and retrieve the address of that person, as well as other people living at the same address. From this information it is rather easy to do reverse lookups and figure out the potential relationships.

People often post about their families on Facebook. Then the scammers look into the profiles of those family members and look for someone who recently left on a vacation trip or something.

Why would they need to know? The could just call people (of a suitable age? I don't know if Indonesia has an accessibly census + phone database) and hope for a hit.

Just a heads up, this is a CNN wire story. The original, properly attributed to Wayne Drash, is here: http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/07/us/jamaica-lottery-scam-suicid...

Here's what I did to stop various scammers calling, I talked to them endlessly. They seem to almost never hang up, they'll just keep going and going. So I was bored one day and decided to see how the scam played out:


They did call again, I picked them up on the fact that it was a scam and asked them how they justify their actions to themselves and ask questions about how the scam works. I'll see how it goes but I seem to have got myself on some kind of blacklist as nobody has called in a month (used to get some kind of scam call at least one a week). It's unfortunate that wasting their time is the most effective defense I can think of.

I once kept a "Microsoft tech support" scammer [1] on the phone for over 30 minutes while I pretended to download and install some bit of malware he was trying to foist on me. When he finally realised what I was doing, I owned-up and politely asked why he was trying to rob me. He gave a loud scream of what sounded like pure frustration and hung up. I was laughing so hard I almost passed-out.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_support_scam

Yeah, also got a call from one of these guys telling me me Windows PC was infected. I asked him if I could have his coordinates so I could call the police and confirm if this was a scam or not (obviously I knew this was a scam). So the guy at the other end of the phone tells me: "No problem, I can connect you to the police right now.." and proceeds to pause a bit and starts "Yes, Police chief here..." prentending to be the Police using the same voice and not even trying to disguise his voice ... good times!

haha, one of my colleagues used to do it. somehow his phone number ended up on these lists and he used to get 2-3 calls a month, at work. Everytime he got a call he would ask us to be quiet (we have an open office) and then the fun would start - this colleague was so good in playing dumb, it was super entertaining. One day he got tired and asked the scammer if he would like to learn programming and that he was willing to teach if he wanted to learn. Nothing much came out of it but the calls stopped after that. Fun times.

I was under the impression that many times, the "scammer" is not even aware that they are in a scam. They're a contractor following a script. But I just did a search and I can't find the article (maybe from wired) where they talked about that.

If you want to talk to them endlessly without wasting your own time, forward them to Lenny (phone 347-514-7296) https://www.reddit.com/r/itslenny/

Well this telemarketer is probably out forever: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIVfrBFc5og


I don't see where you're coming from. This article does a great job of showing some of the impact these scumbags have on one of the most vulnerable segments of our society.

And regarding the guy who committed suicide, don't you dare try to shift blame to his family for not limiting his access to money. Even if it were easy to do, which it isn't, the resentment his caretaker would have to deal with might well have been too much for her to bear, and his wife and family already had enough to bear just watching his mental capabilities fade away. Until you've watched it happen to a parent or spouse, you will not understand what the immediate family has to go through.

The story is just an example of a bad outcome to the scamming. Its a way to personalize the description of whats going on behind the scenes.

Getting older is hard and when Alzheimer and dementia are in the early stages, before clearly identified people are vulnerable. What to do with people that can't make good decisions, or just aren't able to drive anymore.

Clearly keeping them away from firearms and removing financial access is a good idea. Those are hard but necessary discussions.

I get the IRS scam calls on my answering machine from time to time. Anoying. They've switched from the broken english to a computer voice.


>Secondly if the guy was so unstable that he kept sending money why didn't his family intervene by taking away his ability to send money

One day you're going to be old, and we'll see how easily you give up certain perks of being an adult. And let's hope you have loved ones to "intervene" and care for you.

>such sever Alzheimer's

It doesn't sound like you know what severe Alzheimer's looks like.

I hope my family loves me enough to see that if I'm losing money they prevent me and why does it matter if there are even more sever cases of the disease if even this one lead to a suicide?

If that's all you can think of, think a bit harder.

I'm guessing you don't know anyone who's old or vulnerable, or not nearly as well as you do. You're just going to have to take it on trust that that a determined and skilful individual can get the upper hand over a vulnerable person.

Also, not everyone lives in an environment where people are caring for them or looking out for them.

So you are saying that no one cared about the guy in the article? Then why was the article even written?

Reducing access to means and methods of suicide is an important bit of suicide prevention. We should be careful not to dump extra responsibility onto carers[1]. Caring is already pretty horrendous. But clinicians should be including families in discussions about suicide risk, and access to methods.

We know that carers want this kind of involvement because carer's organisations say it. And when someone dies by suicide clinicians say that talking to the family would have reduced risk. (This is in the National Confidential Survey[2])

[1] carer refers to someone who provides care but is no paid to do so.

[2] http://www.bbmh.manchester.ac.uk/cmhs/research/centreforsuic...

You're blaming the victim. Don't do that.

The lessons is not to "be wary of scammers" or "hack your phone"... That's totally missing the crux of the scam.

The lesson is that, as you approach old age, and if at all possible, you should give a trusted relative or close friend a durable power of attorney over your finances. In addition, (or as a second best), put your money in an irrevocable living trust assigning yourself as a beneficiary, and laying out strict rules for retrieving money.

The problem is that many senior citizens, especially men, will fight tooth and nail against this. They have a self-image problem. They can not see themselves as frail and vulnerable.

I lived through this with first my grandfather, then my grandmother.

Indeed. And it's absolutely understandable. Our seniors have been productive members of society for long decades, and as they reach their old age they suddenly find themselves not needed by anyone - the society doesn't want their services, their sons and daughters have already started their families and have little time for parents. No surprise they'll fight tooth and nail to keep the last bits that make them feel human - holding responsibility for their own actions, managing their own resources.

That's why it is important to set up these plans for yourself before you get old and proud, when you know what lies eventually ahead. And to spend lifetime developing the tristworthy relationships you will need later.

Or go on physically dangerous adventures in your old age, like skydiving. Or donate your funds away before you get senile, and rely on charity and public assistance

Sadly yes. That's why I'm not suggesting you ask your older relatives to do it. If you have to ask, it's too late. My point is that you should prepare yourself mentally for doing it later in life and be cool with it.

Unfortunately, a lot of elderly are just as likely to be scammed by a trusted relative or close friend.

Does anyone know what happens to the people when they get old, so they become gullible? Is there some physiological mechanism, or is it just that older people are less sophisticated about those issues?

As you grow up, you calibrate to the world. My theory is that ability to change your calibration once it's developed is difficult, and probably gets more difficult as you get older. These scams weren't around at this scale, and with this much potential for damage, when older people were growing up. It's probably quite hard to shake the instinct that when someone says they're from the bank on the phone, they probably are.

I'm sure there will be new things that I will be susceptible to in a few decades.

Also, people tend to abandon the old and vulnerable. It's just what happens. They're left alone. If the only voices they hear are the guy on the phone and their internal monologue, with no 'sensible' moderating force, and a potentially unlimited amount of time, it can be very easy for things to get skewed.

As Cognition Slips, Financial Skills Are Often the First to Go: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/your-money/as-cognitivity-...

I've read some sources that state as adults get older, they lose some of their inhibitions even if they don't suffer from dementia. However, I couldn't find any scholarly papers to back that up. Most of them are specific case studies, not statistical investigations.

What I did find however, is a paper that claims older adults are not more likely to be defrauded than the rest of the population. I'm somewhat skeptical of the claim, but it should be evaluated: http://pps.sagepub.com/content/9/4/427.short

In some cases like my great grandfather, I suspect he actually enjoyed the conversation because he was bored. Even though we went to his house nearly every day, there's still a lot of hours in the day.

He didn't get scammed over the phone but he probably had his driveway re-sealed 4-5 times a year. We would chase them away but they knew they could get him when there was nobody else around. Sickening people who do this.

It seemed possible that he knew his driveway didn't need sealed, but he would sit outside and chat with them for the 3-4 hours it took to do the job.

That's easy to answer: Dementia.


Dementia can grow slowly over time and can impact your judgement. And said person can be highly functional at the time, so the relatives don't know until something goes wrong.

Why assume that scams only work on old people?

This particular scam is targeted at old people, but plenty of very lucrative scams target working age adults.

"Wizard's First Rule: people are stupid."

Richard and Kahlan frowned even more. "People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People's heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool. "Because of Wizards First Rule, the old wizards created Confessors, and Seekers, as a means of helping find the truth, when the truth is important enough. Darken Rahl knows the Wizard's Rules. He is using the first one. People need an enemy to feel a sense of purpose. It's easy to lead people when they have a sense of purpose. Sense of purpose is more important by far than the truth. In fact, truth has no bearing in this. Darken Rahl is providing them with an enemy, other than himself, a sense of purpose. People are stupid; they want to believe, so they do."

— Chapter 36, p.560, U.S. paperback edition of Terry Goodkind's awesome book with the same title.

That's an offensively trite and simplified viewpoint on a very complicated and heartbreaking topic.

I made the mistake of reading this book once: the rest of it is similarly awful.

Very rarely do I ever see any popular culture handling of a complex topic that isn't.

I do apologize. It was never my intention to insult anybody.

It's hard to tell because the old people who are more sophisticated and know a lot about money are usually the kind of people who keep themselves mentally active in their old age.

That means they are both more sophisticated and physiologically more mentally healthy. It's hard to separate the two.

That's not how dementia works.

What part? I'm almost sure the part about being mentally active to delay dementia is true.

Does that only work on Alzheimer's disease, and not dementia in general?

Do you have any research papers to show that mental activity delays onset of dementia illnesses? So far what I've seen has been poor quality studies or early investigations. So, it might help, but we don't know yet.

The part I was mostly querying was about money being protective. It probably isn't. rich people probably get dementia at the same rate as poor people.


> Unlike age and genetics, certain health and lifestyle factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk may be controlled. Scientists are exploring prevention strategies to determine whether or not things like exercise, diet, and “brain games” can help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline. They are also investigating how certain medical conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, influence risk for cognitive impairment.

> So far, studies have not demonstrated that, over the long term, health or lifestyle factors can prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease or age-related cognitive decline. Similarly, clinical trial results do not support the use of any particular medication or dietary supplement to prevent these conditions.

> I'm almost sure the part about being mentally active to delay dementia is true.

This is marketing at work. There's been a huge PR campaign over the past ~10 years to convince people that "brain fitness" is an actual thing, including the idea that it is specifically useful for preventing dementia, but the science isn't really there.

I think it varies person to person and very much like you stated it comes from their naivety.

As you get older, you lose some discrimination ability.

>"targets nearly 300,000 Americans a year, most of them elderly, and has enticed them to send an estimated $300 million annually"

In this case, the scammers took advantage of an elderly man, inflicted with Alzheimer's and diminishing mental capacity. Sad.

But that can't be the case for the majority. How on earth do "normal" people fall for this? I can see, maybe, when the internet was young and this was new. But it's a pop culture joke now. Those numbers are staggering.

It's a game of numbers. Even if the response rate to spam email is like 0.00001%, it is still economically viable to send out 10 million spam emails.

Scammer groups that have survived for this long got to hone their skills of manipulation and persuasion (and have the money to continue operations). We are all to a degree vulnerable to persuasion, and it used by scammers, but also businesses: "Temporarily free version of Microsoft 10. Get yours now! It's easy. 10 million people have already upgraded."

Older people have trusted phones for all their lives. They are more vulnerable to these than email scams. Locally there is now a scam involving people who dress up as home care, visit one hour before the real home care person, tell them they are the new replacement, then proceed to ransack the place for valuables. I could see myself falling victim to that.

They played on this old man's hope and financial worries ("greed" in less positive terms). Stories like these gravely sadden me. Hits close to home too: Both my father and mother were targeted, one over email (cloud backup scam), the other over the phone (helpdesk scam). I hope to build a product in the future to help combat these online and offline scams.

Different people are vulnerable to different things. There are different kinds of scams, targeting (among other things) desperation, greed, loneliness, insecurity, and even altruism. No one is 100% rational 100% of the time.

> How on earth do "normal" people fall for this?

How do people fall for phishing scams or running malware from an email attachment? The answer to that question is the same to yours. I think it's a combination of lack of public education about scams and the belief that the email or phone call is legit.

And I think it's really interesting. A lot of people talk about "infected" PDFs - I've personally never seen that but what I usually see are:



Most sane email providers should scrub that attachment (or bounce it) - however email providers such as AOL don't. Thanks AOL.

I run my own email service and I get emails like these all the time [1]. And if you are someone who takes the tollway daily it could be a scary email that you open right away.

I do want to mention Amazon's practices. So it appears their system glitches and spews out this email to random people [2]. This email is plain text and, at least the last time I logged into my account, has no indication that they want this information (it does say that "functionality is limited" but those instructions that say to login to the site and submit your information are incorrect which immediately makes me think it's a scam - it even has typos that you would find on a scam email!). It's even been reported that customer service says that it is a scam. However, it is real and an easy template to scam people out of their identity. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee at starbucks you can get an 800 number from a VOIP provider with faxing ability. I've contacted Amazon about it....and they just sent me the same email back. Thanks Amazon. (You don't know how tempted I am to write a cron job that faxes a copy of my drivers license to them every hour)

[1] http://i.imgur.com/GH46n92.png

[2] https://gist.github.com/nadams810/cb1a85514484c2659f1b

Where I work we have gotten emails claiming to be from IT, after constant reminders on what an official email would look like and how to spot a fake and to never click on links. Apparently some have fallen for it.

While not lottery scams you would think that in a work environment where there is constant education on what to look out for it still happens.

I wouldn't attribute it to stupidity. Just getting caught at the right moment.

"How on earth do "normal" people fall for this?"

They don't have to convince everybody, just enough people to make it worthwhile. With third-world wages and cheap internet telephony, that number is surprisingly small. Some (but not many) people are just lonely/trusting/deluded.

One person in the story was actually threatened: I assume that happens quite a lot. Just say 'something' to threaten an old person her/his children... Hell, say that to young people; they will get scared but are less likely to take action on it I guess.

It's a pop culture joke among those who are regular internet users. There are a whole bunch of people who use the internet infrequently and don't hear or know about these scams.

Why do people fall for the "work for a startup and get rich" scam?

Probably because some people get rich. Also, many people appropriately view the options as a lottery ticket and just like to be in a company building something new.

> Why do people fall for the "work for a startup and get rich" scam?

In all fairness, just like the phone scams, people are warned the best they can be about start-up lottery tickets.

Or the 'try to play the markets and get rich' scam?

I've seen many elderly individuals playing the markets with far too little knowledge of how they work, thinking they can win.

This is probably the best comment in the whole thread. In fact, you can't get "rich" unless you're a founder in a startup. (And no, this isn't sour grapes! I've made money in Silicon Valley, and continue to work at age 53 in a new startup.)

Pop culture joke? Among the young, maybe. Perhaps not among the elderly.

Same way people get addicted to gambling.

I don't understand why Western Union et al aren't being held accountable, at the very least in the form of a class action lawsuit. It seems that either the money transmitters aren't obeying the "Know Your Customer" laws (are they somehow exempt?), or they are knowingly allowing people to be victims of fraud to increase their profit.

Making it much harder to transfer money anonymously seems both helpful in these cases, and lucrative for lawyers.

Western Union is not exempt from KYC requirements. Most agents of it, however, sound something like "the owner of your local bodega." They'll satisfy themselves of your identity, either via personal knowledge or asking to see an ID. They'll then ring up your transfer. The person on the other end of the transfer is "Some person in Jamaica." That doesn't automatically scream FRAUD unless you say "Lottery" -- the overwhelming majority of Americans wiring money to someone in Jamaica are, in fact, supporting family or friends there.

Fraudsters also tend to get pretty decent about instructing their marks to structure payments to avoid the obvious controls, for example by using mules [+] or by striping a $5,000 transfer into multiple smaller transfers on different days to different recipients controlled by the same operation. This is explained to the mark as something like "Oh, different tax bureau than last time" but it's operationally to avoid having velocity checks tripped at WU.

[ + ] Witting or unwitting co-conspirators who receive money in their own name and then forward it to the criminals, often for a cut of the profits.

The first time I tried to send money on moneygram to a real friend in Uganda, I had to jump through many of these hoops, speaking with a real moneygram representative on the phone. How do you know this person? Have you met this person face to face? Why are you sending this person money? It was annoying so I made my answers as vague as possible. He's a friend. Yes I've met the person. It's for sports equipment. They wanted real answers though and kept probing until finally I started explaining the drive from Kampala to the North I would take if I wanted to deliver the money myself and they were like ok you can send. I was sort of hoping to go from the scammed? queue to the whoa maybe terror financier? tier (where the questions are likely more interesting) but that did not happen which is probably for the best.

There is a solution to this problem.

1. Change the phone number system to require 207 digit phone numbers instead of the current 10 digits.

2. Assign random phone numbers to everybody.

Now the only people who can call you are the people who know you. You have to actively share your number with people. If people call random numbers they will get "not in service" messages all day long.

We have 20 years of experience with NEW communication systems with NEW addressing systems where people can't connect without knowing your email address or IM handle. It can be done, i.e. it is workable to require people to share contact info before you can communicate. People will find a way.

They are not calling "random" numbers. They are buying lead lists from telemarketing firms. I would bet they may even have demographic data on the people they are calling to be sure they are dialing susceptible people (the elderly).

I don't think a solution is a longer phone number. A solution is a better system that provides more security. So you can call someone by their name or other information and that person can simply block everything except for trusted friends and family. Or better yet have government run whitelists so you subscribe to it and if that business does too many shitty things they get axed from the whitelist that is instantly updated to everyone across the country.

What I suggested has many flaws I just don't think extending a current, shitty system is all that useful especially since the majority of these phone numbers are purchased anyway (almost no one dials random numbers to figure out if someone is there, who they are, etc).

My knee-jerk reaction was to balk to a 207 digit number system, but after digesting it, I realized that this isn't a terrible idea. 207 is little much, but longer length numbers in an age where everything can be scanned, pasted, mailed, etc. is actually smart.

Why create a new system? Just move everything on top of IPv6? Not like most of this junk isn't routed over the internet anyways...

With as much address space as is available in IPv6, it shouldn't be hard to create something that points to the person yet is malleable enough to not be easily abuse.

I used to get calls like this on my work phone when I was working as a mechanic. The scammer would tell me to send him money with some sort of green dot card or something. He kept saying once I send it I will be enjoying financial freedom. I don't think they specifically target old people, maybe just people that are more likely to jump at opportunities before they process how ludicrous they are. I was in a blue-collar environment, maybe that was part of it, though I'm not sure how they would have known that.

Well a close relative of mine recently got tricked by a phone scammer who claimed to be from Microsoft. They did the virus alert scam, claiming CRSS.EXE was a virulent virus and needed immediate attention. Hence, they request to connect, using TeamViewer and promptly change his windows account name to a phone number (CALL-XXX-XXX-XXXX) and put a password on it. They immediately disconnect.

Fix, 300+ for two years protection or 400 or so for three years. Needless to say fixing a password locked Windows computer is beyond the majority out there. Apparently its pretty common to declare themselves from Dell, Microsoft, or similar.

The modern day roofers, driveway sealers, and such.

on a side note, who do you report these guys too?

Low-tech winlocker ransomware! That's interesting. Never heard of that being done before by fake tech support scammers.

Someone called my grandma when she was still alive and tried to convince her that I was in trouble with some bad people or in jail or something. They were really well researched and convincing. I wasn't in either of those situations. It's insane that people prey on the elderly since it's not like most of them work at all and need the money to live.

Lions rarely go after the strongest, sharpest, healthiest gazelle. Why it should be any different in the human realm?

What we need is not stop denying there are populations at risk from the overwhelming disclosure of private information into the public, and start taking measures to educate the most vulnerable people, and if need be, isolate them from the (public?) online world. I know walled gardens are taboo, but they did make - and continue to make - a lot of sense once the Internet began to fill with lay (as in, not part of the technorati) people.

As a society we also need to start doing something more against it. Blanket ban on telemarketing and very high sentences for confirmed scammers would not be uncalled for.


Google still takes ads from iYogi. If you call iYogi they will try to scam you, over and over again. This has been going on for years. Has no one complained to Google about this? What about Apple, aren't they concerned about their brand being tarnished over unwitting seniors typing "Apple tech support" into their browsers and running into a tech support scam?

I don't seem to get any iYogi ads - could you share a screenshot and I'll share it with the bad ads people?

In a documentary, I saw lately (in Europe), one person did not kill himself, but did loss weight and was sent to hospital for inquiry, but nobody did find out what was wrong ... after he died, they found out, that he simply did not have the money to buy food and was so ashamed, that he did not tell anybody.

It was a different scam, where the victims where enrolled in regular lottery gambling (with a monthly rate) and the twist was, that when they found a victim, it was enrolled in more and more games (every game costing maybe $50-100) which where just automatically drawn from his bank account. Even when the victims objected ... the letters where simply not read by anybody.

In the UK, it's charities that hound people to suicide: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-32748923

My father, from whom I'm mostly estranged and who doesn't live in the same country as I, has given over $100K to Nigerian scammers. They hooked him on a Christian dating site. It's incredibly angering to watch all of this.

Sad sad story. The first thing i'd would do is to change the phone to a voip system where i could control which numbers are allowed to call.

Stories like this are why I support capital punishment for crimes beyond murder (at a higher burden of proof than "beyond a reasonable doubt").

I'd like to see these scammers hanged on national TV without hoods over their faces.

Just for their case in particular...Can't they block phone numbers from certain area codes? Or even request a new number and have it private? It seems strange that they can't do anything about 50+ calls a day.

Anybody have a solution for endless calls to a cell phone with a myriad of "google registry" or "small business whatever" scams? The calls started right around when I switched from being a Sprint customer to a Verizon pre-paid customer, but I can't definitively say Verizon sold my number. I ignore and block every call, but I receive anywhere from one to three calls a day.

Switching numbers isn't really an option I want to explore since I'm unconvinced it wouldn't just start on my new number if my carrier was the origin of the calls.

I started getting those after creating an LLC. I've tried to screw with them but they seem pretty good at sniffing that out and they just hang up whenever I tell them I "need to go find some paperwork" and leave the phone muted on my desk.

I also started getting letters that look like bills for my LLC but are actually just junk mail for SEO services. Those ones really pissed me off. Looks just like an invoice with "This is not a bill" in tiny font at the bottom.

I think this should be actionable offense. But its been going on for years in one form or another. Used to get a big ad packet from a local dept store - with the bill mixed into the middle. They were hoping I wouldn't notice, and my balance would roll over so I'd pay charges. Instead I took the reply envelope, put my check in and stuffed it full of the ads too.

It wasn't an actual bill, it was an SEO guy trying to trick me into thinking I'd already hired him for my new company by sending me something that looked like an invoice for services rendered.

Whoever sent it is still an asshole though.

I've been getting these for a while, and I'm a Sprint customer. I also know others who use T-Mobile who get them as well. I don't believe it's limited to a single carrier.

There are some Android apps that crowd-sources block lists for these types of calls (whenever I google the number they turn-up as known telemarketers) but I don't believe the security model on the iPhone permits intercepting and blocking these calls.

"The Jamaican lottery scam is a cruel, persistent and sophisticated scam that has victimized seniors throughout the nation"

What's so sophisticated about it? Honest question. Seems like the oldest trick in the book, as primitive and crude as scams only get. One that couldn't possibly work against anyone but most senile people. It's a sad story, I'm just missing the "sophistication" element.

The sophisticated part is getting the phone numbers of old people to begin the scam and then laundering the money at the end.

As far as I know these can be simply bought on black market... it's not like these scammers get them by themselves, hacking into databases etc.

I don't understand why his son or someone couldn't change his landline number. It is heartbreaking to see old people being bullied like this.

There was a great TV show from Belgium called Neveneffecten a few years ago. One of the things they did was take the bait of email spam scammers. One of the scam gangs arranged an in-person meet in Belgium and tried to convince them to take a plane to Nigeria with a large sum of cash to buy gold. I don't know what the gang's plan was, but I doubt they would get a warm welcome in Nigeria.

There's a delightful website that showcases the work of so-called "scam baiters" who aim to waste the time of scammers and lead them into compromising situations -- http://www.419eater.com/html/letters.htm

It's kind of depressing that they wage war on drugs, and then they try to put journalists in jail for nonexistent hacking, but they are incapable of going after phone scammers. I don't think they ever try.

If I would say I expect real protection from police & court, I'll get laughed at these days.

Since the NSA is by default monitoring calls, I wonder why they cant do anything about this? (:p)

With all the data they have and considering the degree to which they have violated our privacy, it's a shame they do so little with it.

And they are calls from foreigners, to boot. They may not even need to ask the secret courts for permission to record those.

Even the metadata, which they definitely collect, would be very useful.

Because despite all the propaganda, they are not here to protect you, the people but the government or whoever is in power. I'm sure the NSA could have prevented some school shooting but unlike terrorism that threatens the government directly, mass shooters do not.

Similar things happen in China every day. Government, police, banks warn people many times, but there are still some people believing they will win a lot of money. They forget "No pay, no gain".

In Japan they've gone so far as to install phone jammers at ATMs to aid against the scam that's common here where people will call elderly people claiming to be their sons saying they need money.

>They forget "No pay, no gain".

The problem is that they pay a lot.

Wouldn't all this be effectively prevented with either blacklisting all numbers outside the US or a whitelist on the elderly person's phone?

Interesting that a lot of data was stolen by call centre workers. Shows one of the perils of outsourcing abroad to incredibly impoverished countries.

The course for cost lowering is crossing lots of diminishing return points nowadays.

Will it cost the companies using these call centres anything?

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