Friday, April 14, 2017

Telemarketers Aim to Scam via Social Engineering

Most people have experienced robocalls and telemarketers looking to sell them something. While such calls are annoying, up until recently, they were just annoying. Very few people actually bought the products being sold, but they sold enough to make robocalls economically feasible. Most recently, however, the robocallers have taken a new strategy: known as the "can you hear me" scam. David Lazarus, in his latest L.A. Times article, discusses the popular new telemarketer scam and what you can do to protect yourself from it.

Just as technology is constantly improving to make overall quality of life go up, that same technology can be used to make life more difficult for some. Technology similar to that used by Apple's Siri and Google's Alexa is now being used by computer programmers to make telemarketing calls by a computer seem conversational enough that the recipient doesn't hang up immediately. Because the technology is not perfect yet, the target will quickly catch on and realize that they're speaking to a computer, but in the first few seconds, they may say something that can be used against them.

The "can you hear me" scam is a feat of human engineering, where telemarketing companies demonstrate a thorough understanding of the dynamics of true human conversations. By using that knowledge, the computer is able to get a response they want, in order to scam the responder later. In this scam, the computer asks "can you hear me" with the same inflections as a human, which can usually cause the recipient of the call to respond "yes." Giving an affirmative response is the worst thing you can do in that situation, according to police officials.

When the recipient of the call says "yes," the computer already has what it needs to move forward with the scam. The affirmative response can easily be edited later to make it seem like the target was giving the company approval for a purchase of some kind. There have been several situations over the past months where people have responded to the question "can you hear me" and later found that their credit card had been charged for products they never ordered. A safe rule of thumb when dealing with telemarketers, especially those employing these tactics, seems to be to hang up immediately. If you're not sure if someone is a telemarketer or not, avoid affirmative responses and ask a lot of questions to determine if the answers seem like they are coming from a computer. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are just starting to boom, so be on the lookout for similar scams in the near future.

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