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Guest Post: Wilson the Intern

Today’s guest post is brought to you from one of our data verification interns, Wilson. Our data verification team verifies thousands of numbers each year so our apps keep up with the newest scams.

Today was a great day…in addition to my hourly pay, I was the lucky recipient of a $9000 grant!  What did I do to receive this grant, you ask? Did I write a proposal and submit it for consideration? Nope. I simply made a phone call.

I called a number and told the man answering that I had missed his call…which was a lie, but we’ll get back to that. The man said that he was calling from the U.S. Federal Grant Department and that I was being awarded a $9000 grant. He explained that based on a “demographic survey”, 1500 upstanding citizens had been selected to receive “loyalty grant money”…and that this would only happen once in a lifetime. I felt very special! The man then listed several ways in which I had qualified: I hadn’t filed bankruptcy within the last 6 months, I had no criminal record, and I was basically just an all-around great American. Okay, so he didn’t say that last part, but I could have sworn the sound of some patriot tunes had begun to play softly in the background. The man continued by explaining that this was not a loan – I did not have to repay any of it – plus, it was tax-free.

Too good to be true you say? Of course it is.

My role at First Orion as a Data Verification Intern is to call phone numbers that have been flagged as potential scam calls. Many of the calls are legitimate: Event Notification from schools during bad weather, Telemarketers, Charities, Financial Services and Debt Collectors, even personal numbers that have likely been spoofed by scammers. First Orion is the leader in identifying scam calls because we have real people checking suspected scam calls. Real people listening to recorded messages and asking for a business name. Real people like me.

Typically I can make about 50 calls in an hour, but I always take time to play with scammers when I can, partly because it helps First Orion learn more about the latest scams. It also keeps the scammers busy and from harming someone else, if only for a short time. But I’ll be honest, it breaks up what the monotony of making phone calls…because it’s fun.

When the man told me he was from the U.S. Federal Grant Department, I resisted the urge to laugh, and instead channeled my amusement into sounding surprised and excited…but keeping it realistic so he wouldn’t suspect that I was playing him.

There were so many flaws in the scam that I wanted to point out: the official sounding but completely fake name; terms such as “demographically selected”; and a big giveaway was the fact that while I was one of only 1,500 from the entire nation selected, the scammer didn’t know my name or my address! But I played along. Show me the money! Show me your scam!

The scammer explained in great detail that once I received my grant, I could not use it for anything illegal. I had to resist uttering a sad sigh and lamenting, “There go the plans for the new meth lab.” I listened carefully as he told me how I could not use my $9000…ways that were considered illegal: no alcohol, no cigarettes, and no gambling.

That was not what I expected to be on an “illegal” list, and it wasn’t until he mentioned them again that I had to ask. I could have picked any of those three, but it was horse racing season in nearby Hot Springs, and that was where my mind went.

“But gambling is legal in my state,” I told the supposed U.S. Federal Grant Department agent, who was more likely on the other side of the planet.

There was a long pause… Had I stumped the scammer? Had he hung up?

I’m not sure what happened during that pause. I like to imagine he was shuffling through his pages of script for the correct response. I waited and then finally he was back, continuing as if nothing had been said. He was sticking to the script.

The scammer still had tricks and lured me back into the scam by dangling that $9000 and asking how I was going to spend it? Would I buy a car (really? For $9000? Definitely not a new car…)? Pay off some loans? The scammer waited for my response, so I said I had some student loan debt. It isn’t true, but it sounded likely. By now, the scammer was sounding very confident that he had me in his web. He gave me a reference ID number and a new phone number that I was to call immediately to get the instructions to receive my grant. He said his manager at the new phone number would tell me how I could get my grant by visiting a Western Union office.

I had a feeling the Western Union scam was likely to show up at some point. Gotcha.

At that point, my fun with the scammer came to an end. He was ready to pass me off to the Scammer Level Two and I needed to get back to making phone calls to find more scammers…since that’s my job at First Orion.

Just remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


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