First let me vent for a few minutes. This morning I was working at my desk when I got a call from someone with Asian accent who identified himself as a technician working for “Windows Technical Support” He said his work center supports Window PC’s all over the world. He went on to say that there was something seriously wrong with my Windows PC. Sounding like he was reading from a script he informed me that his center has been detecting numerous error messages originating from my PC and that it needed to be fixed immediately. Alarm bells started ringing in my brain and I noticed that the calling number wasn’t showing up on my Caller ID. I started asking some very challenging questions which I thought certain would smoke out a scammer and cause him to hang up, but this guy was very persistent. He continued to tell me that he was only trying to help me save my computer. Tiring of his blather I hung up on him.
The “technician” then surprised the heck out of me by calling back. “Why did you hang up on me when I am only trying to help save your PC. If you don’t let me help you clean up you computer it will quit working within a half hour.” This guy was super aggressive. I told him I hung up on him because he was obviously either pushing a scam or was involved in social engineering to get access to my PC. I called him a few names (not suitable for repeating here) and hung up on him again. By then I had Googled “Windows Technical Support scam” and pulled up a notice from Microsoft warning against being duped by individuals making cold calls, impersonating their technicians and offering to fix PC problems. On other sites I found individuals describing being convinced by “technicians” to furnish credit card information to pay high prices for fixing their computers and to allowing the ‘technicians” to remotely access their PC’s to perform those “fixes”. In addition to doing absolutely nothing as they poked around in the machines remotely (because there was nothing wrong with the PC’s to begin with), the “technicians” down loaded either worthless software or Trojan viruses designed to gather and transmit the PC owner’s personal financial information and pass words.
The FTC recently set traps for six companies which were involved in this sort of scam. How they set traps and caught these scumbags is in itself an interesting story. You can read about it here if you would like: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/12/how-windows-tech-support-scammers-walked-right-into-a-trap-set-by-the-feds/1/ Obviously, however, the FTC didn’t get all of those involved in this kind of scam or I would not have received those calls this morning.
I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of getting several calls a week on my home and cell phone (both of which are on the Do Not Call list) from scumbags trying to execute some kind of scam. Many of these disreputable companies are located outside of the US. While the FTC is evidently catching some of these scammers, evidently the risks are far outweighed by the rewards because there is no shortage of scammers ready to replace those who get caught. As best I can tell, while the FTC can present evidence to federal courts which have the powers level heavy fines on companies and individuals involved in telephone scams, but no one seems to be going to jail. In fact most of the time the FTC negotiates the extent of the fines with the lawyers of the companies and individuals involved. I applaud the FTC efforts, but obviously what they are doing to stop telephone scams is not working.
To stop telephone scams we need laws and international agreements which will make the penalties significant enough to make the risks of getting into scam business outweigh the potential rewards. The US also needs to broker agreements with other countries which will make it impossible for scammers to hide behind national boundaries. Here are my suggestions:
1. Implement technological innovations which make it impossible to hide the origin of calls from caller ID systems. (This would make it easy track scam calls to their source.
2. Add significant jail time – up to five years or more – as well as heavy fines for the principles of companies perpetuating the scams. (This increases the risk of those organizing scams.
3. Prosecute the telemarketers who actually make the calls necessary to perpetrate the scams with penalties of a year or more i jail. (This increases the risk to the telemarketers hired to execute the scams making it much more difficult to hire the labor force necessary to carry out these crimes.
4. Broker international agreements aimed at fostering the international cooperation necessary to stop scam operations which cross country boundaries. This might take the form of countries sharing evidence which would be used to arrest and prosecute scammers and their telemarketers in their home countries.
These are just my suggestions. While I believe that there is some value in them, I am for any improvement in the manner in which we catch, prosecuted and punish those involved in telephone scams. Not only do millions of gullible individuals suffer heavy financial losses from these scams, but the rest of us are also spending countless hours fending of spam attacks. I am for anything that would work; obviously what we are doing now is not working.