I just had an extensive conversation with a scammer. His command of English was quite high, he was polite, and sounded awfully forthright for a scammer. In contrast to most of the ones that start cursing me in Tamil or Marathi when I use the word “scammer,” he openly talked about the business he’s in. He thanked me for complimenting him on thinking quickly when I presented a particular objection. He was NOT new at this: he was aware of methods and terminology that scammers were using ten years ago.
I learned reading The Screwtape Letters that liars lie even when they’re talking about lying, so I’m not going to accept everything he said as true – but he really didn’t have a reason to answer my questions untruthfully, either. His estimate of a $10,000/month income seemed high, but for a high-performing scammer it’s not out of the question, especially if he supervises other callers. I was surprised that he told me he wasn’t in India at all, and that he was calling from Arizona. Improbable, but certainly possible.
The most astonishing thing this scammer told me was his success rate. He said that his system did keep track of how many calls were attempted vs answered by a live voice, but he didn’t know that percentage. The more important percentage was that once calls are actually connected and answered, he could count on getting at least one valid card number in one call out of six.
One in six. I can’t tell you how many times I post information about scammers on social media. I talk about it with the tellers at the bank (Kids, ask your parents about “bank tellers!”), with people who work in home care, in assisted living or retirement communities. I talk about it at church. I blog about it. Sometimes my wife thinks Rachel from Card Services is an ex because I talk about her all the time. Pen Fed sent us an email about phone scammers just this week, as did Chase. I think it was Chase. So naturally, because my entire professional focus is on fraud, I’ve been assuming that everyone else is as aware of the epidemic as I am.
Obviously, they’re not. One in six. Okay, of course the numbers are skewed. That’s one in six, but selected from the set of people who will answer the phone, and that’s a small percentage. It’s probably one out of hundreds of automated call attempts. But one person in six who – who I thought – is constantly surrounded by warnings about fraud will give up the information to a well spoken criminal on other other end of the phone.
I’m obviously at a loss as to how to reach people, and that’s concerning. Because it isn’t just my little crusade. It’s a concentrated effort among thousands of people like me, and we’re still not reaching the most vulnerable consumers. I realize that for a small percentage of people – who knows, maybe that percentage is indeed one in six that answer unknown numbers – it’s just not possible to protect them from themselves, but I know we can do better. We have to. Any ideas?