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Playing into the Hands of Scammers

May 27, 2013

little-girl-talking-on-phoneLast week I had a call from my home phone line provider – or so the person on the other end of the line told me. Not long into the call we reached a stalemate, because I believed that the service provider was using an authentication model that compromised my personal security, a model that ultimately serves only to condition consumers in a way that opens the door for phone scammers.

Funnily enough, the same day I read about one of these scams in my local paper (you can see the same article online in the Mudgee GuardianTelstra warns of scam callers).

I’ve had these calls before, where the company you are using for phone/internet/electricity/banking/insurance wants to show you how they can save you money, or somehow improve the service they are providing.

From my experience, most companies seem to use the same flawed model.

Here’s a rough idea on how the call goes:

Caller: Hi, Mr Aungle, my name is X and I’m calling from Company Y. I wonder if you have a few minutes to talk about how we can improve the services we are currently providing to you?

Me: Sure.

Caller: Before we start, I’d just like to verify that I am speaking to the authorised account holder. To verify that I am speaking to the account holder, can you please tell me your date of birth?

… and, that’s as far as we get.

On the call last week, I then spent the next few minutes carefully explaining why I was not willing to give him my date of birth. Given that he called me, why should I verify who I am, when there is no way for me to verify his identity?

In a weaker moment, I might have given him my date of birth without thinking, but why are these companies conditioning us to accept without question the bona fides of telemarketing calls? Instead, I used the opportunity to let the guy know that he should tell his company (if he was really from that company!) why I wasn’t willing to deal with him, and to come up with a more secure way of creating the trust required to do business over the phone.

Most alarmingly, I had the feeling from his reaction that I was the first person to respond to him like that.

The irony was that I had no way of know if my message would get through, because I had no way of knowing if he really did represent that company. Hence my whole argument …

The problem is that we end up with people accepting without question the identity of a caller, we get to a situation where people are believing this sort of stuff (via @darrenpauli’s Twitter stream today):

https://twitter.com/darrenpauli/status/338808050083307521/photo/1

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