Dealing with SPAM Calls

There is no warning. The telephone rings. There may or may not be background noise. The caller identifies themselves as your child, niece/nephew, or grandchild. Or perhaps a friend of your child, niece/nephew, or grandchild. You are told that there has been an accident or an arrest. The caller seems to know quite a bit. They ask for your assistance. The plea for help tugs at your heart strings. You reach for your wallet to get your credit card...

Most likely, your loved ones are safe. Almost certainly, what you are experiencing is the latest incarnation of a classic scam. These scams are increasingly not random, but systematically target our seniors. Many seniors have hearing issues, which makes them particularly vulnerable to such attacks. Those unfamiliar with social engineering and similar attacks are also more prone to accidentally providing personal information.

Personal information can be gleaned from social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn) and directories. When all else fails, information can often be obtained by social engineering, as in the following dialogue:

Scammer: Your grandchild asked me to call you. They have been in an accident.

Callee: Something happened to Charlie?

Scammer: Yes. Charlie asked me to call. He needs $ 500.00 to pay the fine for the accident. ...

In innocence, the callee has supplied the scammer with the name of their grandchild. The scammer has picked up on the information and repeated it back. Most likely, the callee does not even realize what has happened.

The combination of personal concern, imperfect hearing, and lack of security awareness increases vulnerability to this and other scams.

What can one do to protect ourselves and our loved ones?

Even calling a listed number may not be a good way to verify. As an example, one can call most hospital patients through the main switchboard. However, when a patient is away from their bed, their telephone is frequently unattended. A scammer can use this to their advantage.

Above all else, remember that legitimate requestors are well aware of the potential for scams, and provide ways to verify and prove legitimacy.

Keeping alert to the possibility of scams will prevent more upsetting consequences.



Robert Gezelter has over 40 years of experience as a systems programmer/architect. He has implemented and managed data communications in a wide range of environments using protocols including TCP/IP, DECnet, BiSynch, and others. He has also architected, designed, and implemented protocols at a variety of levels from local area networks to the communications between hardware elements in custom signal processing systems and computer peripheral equipment.

He is an accomplished speaker within the United States and internationally. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE, and an alumnus of the IEEE Computer Society's Distinguished Visitor Program (2004-6).

He is the author “Internet E-Mail Architecture” in the Handbook of Information Security (H. Bidgoli, ed., 2005, Wiley), as well as a Contributing Editor for the Computer Security Handbook since 1995.

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