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The Phone Phisher Cometh

compliance and privacy

Current News Updates

The Phone Phisher Cometh

Prompted by this article in The Hindu Businessline, Peter Andrews, editor of Compliance and Privacy recalls his own brush with attempted phone phishing and ID Fraud.

The article has a fake phone call between a phisher and an ordinary person. It starts:

Caller : "Sir, this is to advise you that we are upgrading you to a silver account, which allows a higher interest rate on your deposit account and lowers your mortgage by 0.25 per cent."

Recipient : `Ok.'

Caller : I need a confirmation of your acceptance. It is just a formality but we can take it over the phone.

Recipient : Ok, I guess if it is going to benefit me I will go for it.

Caller : Fine sir, I need you to key in your PIN number.

Recipient : (At this stage, he/she has pressed the pin)

Caller : Right sir, thank you for verifying your pin. Now I need you to tell me which account I should upgrade.

Recipient : Which account? What do you mean?

Caller : Sir, we have two accounts here. A savings and a current account.

Recipient : No but I have only one account - savings.

Caller : Ok sir, there seems to be some small confusion. What is your account number?

Recipient gives his account number.

Caller : Oooh. Sorry sir, the confusion was at my end. Your account is more than six months old? No?

Recipient : Yes/No

Caller : (regardless of the answer) That explains it. A parallel account number was allotted to you in case you ever wanted to create another account. Anyway, no problem. You will get a mail confirming the same at your e-mail ID within the next five days. Could you just confirm that we have the latest one on our records?

Recipient : gives the e-mail ID.

Caller : Great. Have a nice day.

This call is not so different from the one Andrews received a month or two before the UK Chip and PIN cut over date. He banks at First Direct, a bank set up to handle the phone first and foremost, and he was unaware that he was about to receive a new credit card, so he was not surprised that it did not arrive. And the First Direct phone system is pretty secure, with variable questions asked.

The call was simple. And it was in the form that the bank uses. The bank, when it calls, asks a couple of security questions, and these are usually the type with a “standard” answer, like “mother's maiden name”. The “expected call centre voice” asked and was answered. There was no reason to suspect a thing at this point.

The rest of the call was both professional and also odd. Questions about supermarkets used were, at best, unusual. The killer question was “Please tell me a four digit number associated with your card?”

This is a clever question. Most people have the PIN ingrained in them and give it out easily. Andrews is most people, but he didn't. Instead, still deceived, he asked “You don't mean the PIN, do you?”

The script handled that. “No, Sir. We never ask for a PIN. Just any four digit number.”

That blew it and Andrews carried on chatting to see how the call would end and then called the bank at once to ask if the call had been made by them. It had not and they stopped the card at once, but not until it had been used to buy a tank of petrol and two loads of shopping at the local ASDA. The new card had been intercepted in the mail and it was a pretty slick operation going on to get as many PINS as possible before they team, presumably, moved on.

But the bad thing about this is that it was up to Andrews to inform the police. The bank would not, because, in their experience, the police are just not interested. Andrews made the call and decided to cut his losses. The police were just not interested – despite ASDA security cameras being able to identify the perpetrators.

Andrews had to change some security things on his account. They'd also called the bank to try to get in to his accounts. They knew things like his date of birth, which is rather hard to change and really should never be a part of any challenge and response security system .

It's not so much that “The Phone Phisher Cometh”. He came already. And even an experienced and cynical journalist like Andrews, who works in Compliance and in Privacy was not immune. They almost got him. He was at home, relaxed, and his mind was occupied with domestic trivia.

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