DRIVING PHISHERS CRAZY!
By H. David Morrow FuzzyGem@worldnet.att.net
© H. David Morrow ~ October 1, 2004
GW was sitting at her computer. (Trying to locate her family links back to Adam and Eve, no doubt.) Suddenly she called for me to come over to her desk; it's just across the room.
"Look at this," she demanded. "The National Bank of Burundi sent me an email. They want me to update my account information or they'll close my account."
We, GW and I, have been pretty open about our respective financial resources, so I was surprised to learn she had a bank account in a rich country. I told her I was disappointed in her secrecy.
"But," she wailed, "I don't have an account with that bank!"
"Sure," I said with a slightly sarcastic tone. I was wondering how I could get my hands on her previously concealed cache of... probably millions.
Then I remembered a news story about scammers who try to get your personal information through something called "pfishing." They phony-up web pages to look like the real thing to get you to give them your bank account number and social security number. Then, using this purloined information, they clean out your account. The news stories all advise NEVER giving out such info in an email and banks all say they never use emails to get updates on such data.
"Let's have some fun," I said.
"Not now. I'm busy." (GW is almost always busy when I infrequently make romantic suggestions.)
"I didn't mean that. I meant let's drive the scammers nuts. You can make their life miserable." I suggested.
"How so?" she questioned.
"Look, you already have all the information they want... on some of your ancestors. You just send them the numbers on your grandmother. You've got her social security number and her mother's maiden name. All you have to do is phony up a bank account number. Then when they try to use it, it'll be rejected and maybe they'll get caught."
"You mean scam the scammer?"
"Right." I said with a nasty smile on my face.
"Isn't that what you do with all the credit card applications you get?" she asked me.
"Not exactly. I don't give them any information. I just cut out my name and send back everything in their postage paid envelope. I even add extra cardboard for weight. All I'm doing is supporting the Post Office... and driving the credit card companies crazy."
Genealogists are in a unique position to help drive 'pfishers' crazy and, just maybe, get some of them caught. Where else, but official records, can you find so much information on people who have passed on and are way beyond being scammed? A genealogists computer!
"Imagine this," I continued. "A scammer gets your grandmother's information and a phony account number. First, the number doesn't match the name. Second, the bank already knows your grandmother isn't alive anymore. When they get a bunch of requests from someone to withdraw money from non-existent accounts... well, you can see what might happen."
"What happens if the bank gives out money anyway?" GW queried.
"That's their problem. If they aren't smart enough to research the Social Security Index then their system is broken. It's just like they paid cash on a phony check."
GW's face took on a conspiratorial, evil look. (It was not a romantic visage!)
"So what do I do now?" she asked.
"First, do everything you're not supposed to do."
She gave me a quizzical look, "You mean click on the page the email gives me?"
"Right. It should look just like the real bank page," I explained.
Sure enough, the page came up on her monitor. It had all sorts of seals and crests and announced it was the National Bank of Burundi. GW read a plausible explanation that their computer had malfunctioned and they needed to update client information. Then it asked for name, Social Security number, mother's maiden name and account number.
"Go ahead, fill everything in with grandma's name and numbers," I told GW.
We took the routing number off an old check of mine from a bank in California and provided enough random digits to form an account number.
"Now," I said, "just click on 'Submit' and let's see what happens."
About two weeks later, I showed my wife a news item that said some guy had gotten arrested in Belgium for trying to cash checks on a non-existent California bank account. One of the items police seized was his computer which had information on 140,000 people. Names and numbers!
"Gee," I said, "you're so lucky to have such a brilliant husband!"
GW gave me a knowing, sexy smile. My pulse and heart rate both began to elevate. I smiled as I headed for the bedroom. But she went to her computer... to look for information to prove some ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War. She thinks, maybe, she'll join the DAR.
Glumly, I went into the family room to watch the Comedy Channel. My pulse and heart rate returned to normal. In my mind I was thinking about that famous line from the old movies: "Curses, foiled again."