When a Robocall is Not (Quite) a Robocall

Quasi robocalls, new distraction trick and anti-virus virus: Internet Scambusters #596

Is a telesales call that uses human-controlled, pre-recorded statements the same as a robocall and, if not, is it deceptive, illegal or what?

We don’t have the complete answer but we certainly have the details of how to spot these weird calls in this week’s Snippets issue.

We also tell you about a new distraction trick crooks are using to steal shoppers’ wallets when they return home, along with a warning about a dangerous piece of software that aims to disable your anti-virus software.

And now for the main feature…

When a Robocall is Not (Quite) a Robocall

Despite the outlawing of automated telesales “robocalls,” many of us continue to receive them for one simple reason — crooks don’t care about the law.

Fortunately, even if we answer the call, most of us realize what’s happening and are wise enough to hang up.

Now an interesting variation has cropped up: pre-recorded statements and answers to questions, apparently controlled by a real human.

According to Time magazine, overseas lead-generating firms are using a computer program with American-accented voices to bombard consumers with calls about products like health insurance.

Using American voices conceals the fact that the calls are actually being made by people in other countries.

At first, tech experts thought the crooks were using artificial intelligence and speech generators capable of listening to and answering questions.

New research, however, suggests the solicitors are simply using operators to listen to their victims and then press a key that plays the right statement or answer.

This enables them to avoid revealing their foreign accents and, in a limited way, find out if the person on the other end of the line is a potential customer. Positive leads are then sold to firms inside the United States.

The legality of this technique is not clear but it’s certainly deceptive and something we all need to be aware of. If, by asking a few questions (assuming you’re even interested) you keep getting strange or repetitive answers, at least you’ll know what’s going on.

Want to hear what these bizarre calls sound like? You can read more about this trick and hear what happened when a persistent and inquisitive Time reporter put this new soliciting service to the test in Robot Telemarketer Employer: Samantha West Is No Robot.

As with all dubious marketing techniques, just remember: if you answer a telesales call, all may not be as it seems!

Car Breakdown Distraction Ruse

We wrote last week about the tricks burglars use to get you out of your house, but there’s another sneaky distraction trick they’re starting to use that simply stops you in your tracks on your way in.

It’s particularly targeted at women who’ve been out grocery shopping and arrive home to find someone outside, in the street, with their car hood raised.

Seems like they’re trying to fix something and they wait till just the right moment, as the shopper unloads her groceries, to ask for water to put in their radiator.

The right moment, from the crook’s point of view, is when the shopper’s purse is left in a vulnerable position, either on their car seat or even on the door step, as the victim puts it down while they fetch the water.

It may seem incredible that a thief would go to all this trouble to set up a victim for theft but exactly this incident has been reported to police, most recently in parts of Canada.

It’s believed the trick actually starts in the supermarket parking lot where the thief scopes out his victim, follows her home and then quickly parks and lifts the hood on his car.

He may also have an accomplice in the car who actually steals the wallet while the front man distracts the victim with the water request.

But, of course, it’s merely one example of the wider crime of distraction that we’ve previously reported in How Crooks Use Distraction Scams to Trick and Rob You.

The correct action is never to leave your wallet unprotected while you help someone else — and, of course, never leave your home unlocked if you’re outside even for a few seconds.

Anti-Virus Virus

It’s easy to believe that once you have Internet security software installed, your PC is protected and safe.

The truth is that no anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam or anti-anything-else program is 100% safe.

And, since scammers and hackers are producing new malware every day, even today’s most effective security program may become vulnerable tomorrow.

To add to the risks, the FBI has issued a warning about malware that actually disables security software, rendering it useless and leaving PCs wide open to potential attack.

It’s a new kind of malware, known as Beta Bot, and is mostly used to target businesses. But it can find its way onto any Windows-based PC via infected websites and even USB drives.

One of the clever techniques it exploits is the genuine Windows User Account Control (UAC), which notifies users of attempts to modify the computer’s settings.

A window that looks exactly like the UAC pop up and asks for permission to run something called “Windows Command Processor,” which, it says, is published by Microsoft.

But if you click the “Yes” button to allow the program to run, it makes alterations to the computer and disables security software.

If this happens to you, you may need professional technical help to get things back to normal — unless you have a recent system backup you can reinstate.

But you can avoid this scam by closing the pop-up if you haven’t initiated any actions to make changes to your PC. Then run your full Internet security program.

News alert of the week: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a warning about what they’re calling “last dollar scams” — the techniques that heartless crooks use to relieve people who are already struggling financially of what little money they have. It’s cruel and you can learn more about what the FTC is doing to tackle it in their article, Last Dollar Scams.

That’s it for this week. Remember to be alert for those weird robocalls, car breakdowns outside your home and software that wants to disable your anti-virus.

Time to close today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!