Originally published at: Pluralistic: How I got scammed (05 Feb 2024) – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow
- How I got scammed: And why AI will make it worse.
- Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
- This day in history: 2004, 2009, 2014, 2019, 2023
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading
How I got scammed (permalink)
I wuz robbed.
More specifically, I was tricked by a phone-phisher pretending to be from my bank, and he convinced me to hand over my credit-card number, then did $8,000+ worth of fraud with it before I figured out what happened. And then he tried to do it again, a week later!
Here's what happened. Over the Christmas holiday, I traveled to New Orleans. The day we landed, I hit a Chase ATM in the French Quarter for some cash, but the machine declined the transaction. Later in the day, we passed a little credit-union's ATM and I used that one instead (I bank with a one-branch credit union and generally there's no fee to use another CU's ATM).
A couple days later, I got a call from my credit union. It was a weekend, during the holiday, and the guy who called was obviously working for my little CU's after-hours fraud contractor. I'd dealt with these folks before – they service a ton of little credit unions, and generally the call quality isn't great and the staff will often make mistakes like mispronouncing my credit union's name.
That's what happened here – the guy was on a terrible VOIP line and I had to ask him to readjust his mic before I could even understand him. He mispronounced my bank's name and then asked if I'd attempted to spend $1,000 at an Apple Store in NYC that day. No, I said, and groaned inwardly. What a pain in the ass. Obviously, I'd had my ATM card skimmed – either at the Chase ATM (maybe that was why the transaction failed), or at the other credit union's ATM (it had been a very cheap looking system).
I told the guy to block my card and we started going through the tedious business of running through recent transactions, verifying my identity, and so on. It dragged on and on. These were my last hours in New Orleans, and I'd left my family at home and gone out to see some of the pre-Mardi Gras krewe celebrations and get a muffalata, and I could tell that I was going to run out of time before I finished talking to this guy.
"Look," I said, "you've got all my details, you've frozen the card. I gotta go home and meet my family and head to the airport. I'll call you back on the after-hours number once I'm through security, all right?"
He was frustrated, but that was his problem. I hung up, got my sandwich, went to the airport, and we checked in. It was total chaos: an Alaska Air 737 Max had just lost its door-plug in mid-air and every Max in every airline's fleet had been grounded, so the check in was crammed with people trying to rebook. We got through to the gate and I sat down to call the CU's after-hours line. The person on the other end told me that she could only handle lost and stolen cards, not fraud, and given that I'd already frozen the card, I should just drop by the branch on Monday to get a new card.
We flew home, and later the next day, I logged into my account and made a list of all the fraudulent transactions and printed them out, and on Monday morning, I drove to the bank to deal with all the paperwork. The folks at the CU were even more pissed than I was. The fraud that run up to more than $8,000, and if Visa refused to take out it of the merchants where the card had been used, my little credit union would have to eat the loss.
I agreed and commiserated. I also pointed out that their outsource, after-hours fraud center bore some blame here: I'd canceled the card on Saturday but most of the fraud had taken place on Sunday. Something had gone wrong.
One cool thing about banking at a tiny credit-union is that you end up talking to people who have actual authority, responsibility and agency. It turned out the the woman who was processing my fraud paperwork was a VP, and she decided to look into it. A few minutes later she came back and told me that the fraud center had no record of having called me on Saturday.
"That was the fraudster," she said.
Oh, shit. I frantically rewound my conversation, trying to figure out if this could possibly be true. I hadn't given him anything apart from some very anodyne info, like what city I live in (which is in my Wikipedia entry), my date of birth (ditto), and the last four digits of my card.
Wait a sec.
He hadn't asked for the last four digits. He'd asked for the last seven digits. At the time, I'd found that very frustrating, but now – "The first nine digits are the same for every card you issue, right?" I asked the VP.
I'd given him my entire card number.
The thing is, I know a lot about fraud. I'm writing an entire series of novels about this kind of scam:
And most summers, I go to Defcon, and I always go to the "social engineering" competitions where an audience listens as a hacker in a soundproof booth cold-calls merchants (with the owner's permission) and tries to con whoever answers the phone into giving up important information.
But I'd been conned.
Now look, I knew I could be conned. I'd been conned before, 13 years ago, by a Twitter worm that successfully phished out of my password via DM:
That scam had required a miracle of timing. It started the day before, when I'd reset my phone to factory defaults and reinstalled all my apps. That same day, I'd published two big online features that a lot of people were talking about. The next morning, we were late getting out of the house, so by the time my wife and I dropped the kid at daycare and went to the coffee shop, it had a long line. Rather than wait in line with me, my wife sat down to read a newspaper, and so I pulled out my phone and found a Twitter DM from a friend asking "is this you?" with a URL.
Assuming this was something to do with those articles I'd published the day before, I clicked the link and got prompted for my Twitter login again. This had been happening all day because I'd done that mobile reinstall the day before and all my stored passwords had been wiped. I entered it but the page timed out. By that time, the coffees were ready. We sat and chatted for a bit, then went our own ways.
I was on my way to the office when I checked my phone again. I had a whole string of DMs from other friends. Each one read "is this you?" and had a URL.
Oh, shit, I'd been phished.
If I hadn't reinstalled my mobile OS the day before. If I hadn't published a pair of big articles the day before. If we hadn't been late getting out the door. If we had been a little more late getting out the door (so that I'd have seen the multiple DMs, which would have tipped me off).
There's a name for this in security circles: "Swiss-cheese security." Imagine multiple slices of Swiss cheese all stacked up, the holes in one slice blocked by the slice below it. All the slices move around and every now and again, a hole opens up that goes all the way through the stack. Zap!
The fraudster who tricked me out of my credit card number had Swiss cheese security on his side. Yes, he spoofed my bank's caller ID, but that wouldn't have been enough to fool me if I hadn't been on vacation, having just used a pair of dodgy ATMs, in a hurry and distracted. If the 737 Max disaster hadn't happened that day and I'd had more time at the gate, I'd have called my bank back. If my bank didn't use a slightly crappy outsource/out-of-hours fraud center that I'd already had sub-par experiences with. If, if, if.
The next Friday night, at 5:30PM, the fraudster called me back, pretending to be the bank's after-hours center. He told me my card had been compromised again. But: I hadn't removed my card from my wallet since I'd had it replaced. Also, it was half an hour after the bank closed for the long weekend, a very fraud-friendly time. And when I told him I'd call him back and asked for the after-hours fraud number, he got very threatening and warned me that because I'd now been notified about the fraud that any losses the bank suffered after I hung up the phone without completing the fraud protocol would be billed to me. I hung up on him. He called me back immediately. I hung up on him again and put my phone into do-not-disturb.
The following Tuesday, I called my bank and spoke to their head of risk-management. I went through everything I'd figured out about the fraudsters, and she told me that credit unions across America were being hit by this scam, by fraudsters who somehow knew CU customers' phone numbers and names, and which CU they banked at. This was key: my phone number is a reasonably well-kept secret. You can get it by spending money with Equifax or another nonconsensual doxing giant, but you can't just google it or get it at any of the free services. The fact that the fraudsters knew where I banked, knew my name, and had my phone number had really caused me to let down my guard.
The risk management person and I talked about how the credit union could mitigate this attack: for example, by better-training the after-hours card-loss staff to be on the alert for calls from people who had been contacted about supposed card fraud. We also went through the confusing phone-menu that had funneled me to the wrong department when I called in, and worked through alternate wording for the menu system that would be clearer (this is the best part about banking with a small CU – you can talk directly to the responsible person and have a productive discussion!). I even convinced her to buy a ticket to next summer's Defcon to attend the social engineering competitions.
There's a leak somewhere in the CU systems' supply chain. Maybe it's Zelle, or the small number of corresponding banks that CUs rely on for SWIFT transaction forwarding. Maybe it's even those after-hours fraud/card-loss centers. But all across the USA, CU customers are getting calls with spoofed caller IDs from fraudsters who know their registered phone numbers and where they bank.
I've been mulling this over for most of a month now, and one thing has really been eating at me: the way that AI is going to make this kind of problem much worse.
Not because AI is going to commit fraud, though.
One of the truest things I know about AI is: "we're nowhere near a place where bots can steal your job, we're certainly at the point where your boss can be suckered into firing you and replacing you with a bot that fails at doing your job":
I trusted this fraudster specifically because I knew that the outsource, out-of-hours contractors my bank uses have crummy headsets, don't know how to pronounce my bank's name, and have long-ass, tedious, and pointless standardized questionnaires they run through when taking fraud reports. All of this created cover for the fraudster, whose plausibility was enhanced by the rough edges in his pitch – they didn't raise red flags.
As this kind of fraud reporting and fraud contacting is increasingly outsourced to AI, bank customers will be conditioned to dealing with semi-automated systems that make stupid mistakes, force you to repeat yourself, ask you questions they should already know the answers to, and so on. In other words, AI will groom bank customers to be phishing victims.
This is a mistake the finance sector keeps making. 15 years ago, Ben Laurie excoriated the UK banks for their "Verified By Visa" system, which validated credit card transactions by taking users to a third party site and requiring them to re-enter parts of their password there:
This is exactly how a phishing attack works. As Laurie pointed out, this was the banks training their customers to be phished.
I came close to getting phished again today, as it happens. I got back from Berlin on Friday and my suitcase was damaged in transit. I've been dealing with the airline, which means I've really been dealing with their third-party, outsource luggage-damage service. They have a terrible website, their emails are incoherent, and they officiously demand the same information over and over again.
This morning, I got a scam email asking me for more information to complete my damaged luggage claim. It was a terrible email, from a noreply@ email address, and it was vague, officious, and dishearteningly bureaucratic. For just a moment, my finger hovered over the phishing link, and then I looked a little closer.
On any other day, it wouldn't have had a chance. Today – right after I had my luggage wrecked, while I'm still jetlagged, and after days of dealing with my airline's terrible outsource partner – it almost worked.
So much fraud is a Swiss-cheese attack, and while companies can't close all the holes, they can stop creating new ones.
Meanwhile, I'll continue to post about it whenever I get scammed. I find the inner workings of scams to be fascinating, and it's also important to remind people that everyone is vulnerable sometimes, and scammers are willing to try endless variations until an attack lands at just the right place, at just the right time, in just the right way. If you think you can't get scammed, that makes you especially vulnerable:
Hey look at this (permalink)
- Online anonymity: study found ‘stable pseudonyms’ created a more civil environment than real user names https://theconversation.com/online-anonymity-study-found-stable-pseudonyms-created-a-more-civil-environment-than-real-user-names-171374 (h/t Kottke)
How to Take Back the Internet https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/cory-doctorow-how-to-take-back-the-internet/
we’ve found it folks: mcmansion heaven https://mcmansionhell.com/post/741171396971053056/weve-found-it-folks-mcmansion-heaven
This day in history (permalink)
#20yrsago Itunes blocks you from sharing music with YOURSELF, on your own computer https://web.archive.org/web/20041009202513/http://www.raelity.org/computers/operating_systems/apple/mac_os_x/apps/itunes_single_instance.html
#20yrsago How fanfic makes kids into better writers (and copyright victims) https://www.technologyreview.com/2004/02/06/40304/why-heather-can-write/
#20yrsago Apple selling DRM’ed silence at $0.99 a pop http://www.appleturns.com/scene/?id=4490
#20yrsago RIP Disney World’s designer, John Hench https://www.theguardian.com/news/2004/feb/13/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries1
#20yrsago Worst ToS on the entire Internet https://web.archive.org/web/20040304015054/https://research.yale.edu/lawmeme/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1319
#20yrsago Steve Jobs for Disney CEO? https://web.archive.org/web/20040430133708/http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/main_news.cfm?NewsID=7861
#15yrsago House of Lords damns British surveillance society https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/feb/06/surveillance-freedom-peers
#15yrsago Scientist who criticised DJ for vaccination scare talk gets copyright threat https://www.badscience.net/2009/02/legal-chill-from-lbc-973-over-jeni-barnetts-mmr-scaremongering/
#15yrsago Ooh-De-Lally song from Disney’s Robin Hood goes to the Tower of Babel https://waxy.org/2009/02/robin_hoods_oo_de_lally_translated/
#15yrsago Mystery maple syrup stink of New York revealed https://archive.nytimes.com/cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/05/uncovering-the-source-of-the-mysterious-syrup-odor/
#15yrsago UK copyright law in verse https://jergames.blogspot.com/2009/02/uk-copyright-law-in-verse.html
#15yrsago A moving eulogy for a father https://scottedelman.livejournal.com/116341.html
#15yrsago Flashmob of ATM crooks scores $9 million in 49 cities https://web.archive.org/web/20090205214559/http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/090202_FBI_Investigates_9_Million_ATM_Scam
#15yrsago Internet not full of pedos, the statistical edition https://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2009/02/06/doing_the_math.html
#10yrsago Turks bid farewell to the Internet in the face of brutal censorship/surveillance law https://medium.com/@ahmetasabanci/saying-goodbye-to-internet-in-turkey-33d805b98f6c
#10yrsago Middle class brands collapse, 1% brands thrive https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/business/the-middle-class-is-steadily-eroding-just-ask-the-business-world.html
#10yrsago How UK spies committed illegal DoS attacks against Anonymous https://www.nbcnews.com/news/investigations/war-anonymous-british-spies-attacked-hackers-snowden-docs-show-n21361
#10yrsago Toronto’s reference library gets a makerspace https://web.archive.org/web/20140209061223/http://torontoist.com/2014/02/reference-library-unveils-3d-printers-is-cooler-than-indigo/
#10yrsago Toxic Avenger’s brilliant rant about the importance of Net Neutrality https://www.techdirt.com/2014/02/05/innovation-our-better-future-depend-preserving-net-neutrality/
#10yrsago Kim Stanley Robinson on science fiction and California: “California is a terraformed space” https://boomcalifornia.org/2014/01/27/kim-stanley-robinson/
#10yrsago Bruce Sterling on making the Internet safe for freedom and art https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dacKWLGZklM
#10yrsago DEA reveals “parallel construction” techniques the “taint team” uses to disguise its reliance on NSA surveillance data https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2014/feb/03/dea-parallel-construction-guides/
#10yrsago Documenting the NYC snowpocalypse’s neckdowns: latent traffic calming revealed by climate and crowds https://vimeo.com/12796677
#10yrsago Reporters document Sochi’s Potemkin hotels https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/02/04/journalists-at-sochi-are-live-tweeting-their-hilarious-and-gross-hotel-experiences/
#10yrsago The Haunted Mansion, the Haunting, and “Boo” vs “Brr” in spook-house design https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2014/01/unseen-twists-and-turns-in-corridor-of.html
#5yrsago Houseplant patent EULA: “Asexual reproduction using scions, buds or cutting is strictly prohibited” https://www.reddit.com/r/Anticonsumption/comments/an923y/houseplant_drm/
#5yrsago As the German Government Abandons Small Businesses, the Worst Parts of the EU Copyright Directive Come Roaring Back, Made Even Worse https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/01/german-government-abandons-small-businesses-worst-parts-eu-copyright-directive
#5yrsago Toronto cops can frequently get your public transit history without a warrant https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/metrolinx-continues-to-share-presto-users-data-without-requiring-warrants/article_b18dbac7-67ba-565b-805d-59dcd65dc103.html
#5yrsago Any sincere theory of property rights would bankrupt the energy sector https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/02/if-property-rights-were-real-climate-destroying-companies-would-be-sued-out-of-existence
#5yrsago During a secret meeting, a top Pelosi health aide told medical insurers that there was no need to worry about Medicare for All passing https://theintercept.com/2019/02/05/nancy-pelosi-medicare-for-all/
#5yrsago If you work for a living, America taxes you at double the rate of wealthy investors with “unearned income” https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/features/2017-09-12/why-american-workers-pay-twice-as-much-in-taxes-as-wealthy-investors
#5yrsago Father of Parkland victim responds to Louis CK’s jokes with a “standup set” of his own https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TERPmtOw1e0
#5yrsago Appeals court to Donald Trump’s FCC: “Drop dead.” https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/02/ajit-pai-loses-in-court-judges-overturn-gutting-of-tribal-broadband-program/
#5yrsago Consultants will train the crew of your super-yacht to take care of your fine art collection https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/02/cornflakes-on-the-basquiat-perils-of-superyacht-art
#5yrsago One of pharma’s most notorious gougers is going bankrupt, but 2019 is a banner year for shkreli-grade pharmaceutical price-hikes https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/02/infamous-pharma-company-declares-bankruptcy-after-3900-price-hike/
#5yrsago Chasing down that list of potential Predpol customers reveals dozens of cities that have secretly experimented with “predictive policing” https://www.vice.com/en/article/d3m7jq/dozens-of-cities-have-secretly-experimented-with-predictive-policing-software
#5yrsago Amazon is using purchase data to sell targeted ads, which is creepy, but not because they’ve invented a mind-control ray https://memex.craphound.com/2019/02/06/amazon-is-using-purchase-data-to-sell-targeted-ads-which-is-creepy-but-not-because-theyve-invented-a-mind-control-ray/
#5yrsago The next Firefox will block all autoplayed audio, video https://hacks.mozilla.org/2019/02/firefox-66-to-block-automatically-playing-audible-video-and-audio/
#5yrsago RIP, author Carol Emshwiller https://locusmag.com/2019/02/carol-emshwiller-1921-2019/
#5yrsago Washington State sheriff used courtroom camera to zoom in on defense attorney and juror’s private notes https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/san-juan-sheriffs-use-of-courtroom-camera-to-view-jurors-notebook-lawyers-notes-sparks-outrage-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case/
#5yrsago Lawsuit says that America’s “break even” court records website shouldn’t be making 98%+ profits https://www.techdirt.com/2019/02/06/multiple-parties-including-author-law-governing-pacer-ask-court-to-stop-pacers-screwing-taxpayers/
#5yrsago Fox News blames schools teaching “fairness” for support for a tax on the super-rich https://www.reddit.com/r/LateStageCapitalism/comments/annfs6/fox_news_blames_public_support_of_wealth_tax/
#1yrago Bruce Schneier's "A Hacker's Mind" https://pluralistic.net/2023/02/06/trickster-makes-the-world/#power-play
#1yrago Higher interest rates increase both the monetary supply and inflation https://pluralistic.net/2023/02/04/if-i-was-a-horse/#friedman-was-a-dolt
#1yrago Small Government https://pluralistic.net/2023/02/05/small-government/
#1yrago When Facebook came for your battery, feudal security failed https://pluralistic.net/2023/02/05/battery-vampire/#drained
Today's top sources:
* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025
* The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024
* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Latest podcast: My Marshall McLuhan Lecture on enshittification from Berlin's transmediale conference https://craphound.com/news/2024/02/05/my-marshall-mcluhan-lecture-on-enshittification-from-berlins-transmediale-conference/
* The Bezzle at Weller Book Works (Salt Lake City), Feb 21
* The Bezzle at Third Place Books (Seattle), Feb 26
* Tuscon Festival of Books, Mar 9/10
* Media Ecology Association keynote, Jun 6-9 (Amherst, NY)
* Enshittification: The Rise and Fall of Big Tech (Crash Course Economics)
* Generation of Lost Causes with Vass Bednar (Toronto Public Library)
* Low-Key Clippy (This Week In Tech)
* "The Lost Cause:" a solarpunk novel of hope in the climate emergency, Tor Books (US), Head of Zeus (UK), November 2023 (http://lost-cause.org). Signed, personalized copies at Dark Delicacies (https://www.darkdel.com/store/p3007/Pre-Order_Signed_Copies%3A_The_Lost_Cause_HB.html#/)
* "The Internet Con": A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech (Verso) September 2023 (http://seizethemeansofcomputation.org). Signed copies at Book Soup (https://www.booksoup.com/book/9781804291245).
* "Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com. Signed copies at Dark Delicacies (US): and Forbidden Planet (UK): https://forbiddenplanet.com/385004-red-team-blues-signed-edition-hardcover/.
* "Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59?sk=f6cd10e54e20a07d4c6d0f3ac011af6b) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
* The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024
* Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
* Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025
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