#102 Long Distance

July 27, 2017

This week, a telephone scammer makes a terrible mistake. He calls Alex Goldman.

 

Further Reading

If you suspect you are a victim of a tech support scammer, you see a suspicious pop-up, or get an unsolicited tech support email, you can make a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission by following this link, or by contacting the company that the call center was impersonating directly.

Microsoft fraud report page
Apple fraud report page

Microsoft did a global survey of tech support scams in 2016, and the results are pretty interesting. You can find it here.

Oh, and don’t be like Alex. Never let some stranger remotely connect to your computer.

 

Show transcript

ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman.

PJ: And I’m PJ Vogt.

ALEX GOLDMAN: PJ…

PJ: Yes…

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, ’bout seven months ago, the end of January, I had just spent a long afternoon recording with producer Damiano Marchetti. And just during a break I got a phone call from a 1-800 number. And, I don’t know what it is about 1-800 numbers.. My natural ih-impulse is to just be curious as to who’s calling me so I always pick them up.

PJ: Really?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Always.

PJ: Do you have a natural impulse to open junk mail?

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs) If the uh.. `subject’s funny enough.

PJ: Okay.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So I get this call. It is a robot saying, “Your iCloud may be compromised.”

BRITISH VOICE: We seriously recommend you to call us on 1-844-885-0011. We request you not to use your computer or other Mac devices before speaking to our certified technicians.

PJ: Okay.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And—and so I’m thinking to myself, “Hm. I don’t think my iCloud is compromised.”

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So I called them back:

[HOLD MUSIC]
RECORDING: Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and you will be transferred to the next available agent.
[Hold Music]
[BEEP]
ALEX MARTIN: Thank you for calling — talking to Alex. How can I help you?
ALEX GOLDMAN: What a coincidence. My name is Alex. Uh, I got a call that said that there was some sus–
ALEX MARTIN: No, your name is Michael Goldman!
ALEX GOLDMAN: My middle name is Alex. I go by Alex.
ALEX MARTIN: — Oh, you go by Alex. Okay Alex. How can I help you?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I got a call that- so there was some kind of suspicious activity going on on my iCloud.
ALEX MARTIN: Okay. What kind of activity? How do you know about that?
ALEX GOLDMAN: I got a call from you guys.
ALEX MARTIN: You got a call?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.
ALEX MARTIN: Alright. Alex we have seen that your IP address has been compromised from other countries in the last 2 days. Have you been to some other countries, using your devices over there?
ALEX GOLDMAN: No.
ALEX MARTIN: And do you have any computer, like a laptop or desktop with you.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes, I do!
ALEX MARTIN: Alex, the thing is that we need the help of a computer so we can rectify this kind of issues. Is that possible you can access the computer, please?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I’m standing right in front—I’m sitting right in front of it. Just to be clear, you guys from Apple?
ALEX MARTIN: Yes sir, I’m a certified technician to support Apple. That’s right.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay. Do you have some kind of uh ID—ID number that I can call Apple to cross reference? Cause I don’t—I’ve never experienced anything like this before.
ALEX MARTIN: Sir, you are already calling us, so you will call us back to ask for my ID number?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh…yeah! Well, I’m trying to figure out what’s going on here. And I just—I don’t, you know. I’m- I’m curious what’s going on…
ALEX MARTIN: So you want to call one of our technician here to verify my IP address—my I–my ID, right?
ALEX GOLDMAN: No, no, no, no, no, no– I want to call Apple to verify–
ALEX MARTIN: — You are already calling us, sir. So, you want to hang up the call and call us again?
ALEX GOLDMAN: No, how do I know you guys are Apple, though? What proof do I have? I’m looking up this phone number. I don’t see it associated with Apple at all.
ALEX MARTIN: You can look that again, sir.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m looking up this phone number online. It does not say that it is any–it’s related to Apple in any way. So I’m trying to figure out who you are. Who are you? Are you calling from Apple?
ALEX MARTIN: We are anonymous. We are legion. Expect us.
ALEX GOLDMAN: You’re–oh, you’re anonymous, you’re legion, expect you?
ALEX MARTIN: Yes.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Are you come (laugh)– Are you coming for me?
ALEX MARTIN: We will be demolishing all of your social identities.
ALEX GOLDMAN: All of my-my–me personally, or like–?
ALEX MARTIN: We — have broken some laws on the internet. — have — some porn sites displaying some sort of child porn. We have eh-detected some issues. And we have –deducted that whoever you, wherever — are, we will be demolishing all your social identity and leaking them on the porn site itself.
ALEX GOLDMAN: You’re going–just I want to be perfectly–I want to be perfectly clear here. You’re saying that you are going to, first of all, destroy all of my social media stuff. Then you’re going to leak it onto a porn site?
ALEX MARTIN: That’s right.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh, cool. I’m recording this. Um, I hope that you like being on YouTube, cause this is definitely gonna-gonna to go on there.
ALEX MARTIN: (laughs) Seriously? Tell me the channel. Where–What name will you upload it?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh okay. So, what–So eh- in all honesty like what is your- what is the deal–
ALEX MARTIN: –You tell me. You tell me. What’s the channel name? What’s the channel name? I will subscribe you. I will like you. — I will do everything.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Cool. What’s the scam you guys are running? What are you—What do you do…When you call people what are you trying to get from them? What-Do you sell them antivirus software? Is that the deal?
ALEX MARTIN: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what we do.
ALEX GOLDMAN: And how much are you selling it for?
ALEX MARTIN: $400.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Really!? $400?
ALEX MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah.
ALEX GOLDMAN: And how—and like How oft–How many sales would you say you make in a day?
ALEX MARTIN: Here are- Here we are around 50 to 55 people and we make around…I-I personally make around six or seven sales a day.
ALEX GOLDMAN: So, six or seven sales a day. So that’s what? So it’s like seven, four. I’m really bad at math, I’m sorry. That’s like 2800 dollars a day?
ALEX MARTIN: Somewhat.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Wow! How much a that do you get to keep?
ALEX MARTIN: 50 percent.
ALEX GOLDMAN: 50 percent?
ALEX MARTIN: Yeah.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Don’t you feel bad at all about scamming people who don’t know anything about computers?
ALEX MARTIN: No I don’t.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Why–Why not?
ALEX MARTIN: Why would I?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Because–
ALEX MARTIN: You guys have a lot of money that needs to be spent.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Who-Who is “you guys”? Who are you talking about?
ALEX MARTIN: Like, the people we scam.
ALEX GOLDMAN: But, how do you know how much money I have?
ALEX MARTIN: We judge them, like we make a judgement. Like, somebody with the name Richard or –having a really good name, you say like, “They all–they must be having good amount of money.”
ALEX GOLDMAN: Wait–eh-people- m- The amount of money someone has isn’t based on what their name is!
ALEX MARTIN: Ah, yes.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Um. Lemme- How do you choose me–how’d you find [Fades]

ALEX GOLDMAN: So this guy who says his name’s Alex Martin we talk for a couple more minutes. Um, I ask him stuff like “How did you get my number?” And he won’t answer me and then he hangs up. So the second time I called back, I did not get Alex Martin, sadly. I got a different guy.

PJ: Uh huh

CHARLIE: So this is Charlie. And I’m a certified technician who support Apple customers.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Nice to meet you, Charlie.

CHARLIE: So I checked your number, sir, and it says that your Apple ID has been compromised.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh oh. Whatwhat does that mean?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Um. And, uh, rather than say right away, “I know this is a scam.” I let him diagnose my computer. I let him connect to my computer (laughing).

PJ: Really?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes.

CHARLIE: On the top of the browser, in the address bar, type a technical website that is

www.– [FADES]

PJ: That is bad judgement.

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)

PJ: Like you gave him remote access?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes.

CHARLIE: So we’re successfully connected now, sir. Can you see my cursor moving on your screen?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yes, I can.

PJ: So what did he do when he started to get in there?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh my god. It is the best!

PJ: Ok.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I could not believe how amazing it was (laughing).

PJ: What? You are so weird.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay. So, what this guy did is he got on my computer, he opened up the terminal, which is just this little window that allows you to enter text commands into your computer.

PJ: I’ve been in there like twice.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Mhm.

PJ: When you open terminal, it looks like you are hacking a mainframe in a–bad movie.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Right. That’s exactly what it looks like. And he ran a command called netstat. And what netstat does is throw up a bunch of information about your computer, um, like connections to the internet. It has the old-school hacker look that you’re talking about.

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, then, he suddenly makes the terminal window incredibly small.

PJ: Like he just made it like postage-stamp sized?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, so that he could still use it, but I couldn’t see what he was doing.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Why did it get so small? I’m trying–
CHARLIE: Just give me one second, sir.
ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m trying to read it.
CHARLIE: Uh. Even I don’t know, sir. Just give me one second, sir.

PJ: That is…so, like, not slick (laughing).

ALEX GOLDMAN: And then he made it big again and written in it was, um, something like, “iCloud Compromised”

PJ: (laughing)

ALEX GOLDMAN: “SSED Hacked”

PJ: (laughing)

ALEX GOLDMAN: And then it said—it-what it meant to say was “Zeus Trojan Detected.”

PJ: Uh huh.

ALEX GOLDMAN: But what he had–what he had typed was “Zeus Troan Detected” with no J.

PJ VOGT: (laughing)

ALEX GOLDMAN: What’s Zeus Troan?
CHARLIE: Okay, the wording is… Zeus Trojan, sir.
ALEX GOLDMAN: But it doesn’t say Trojan. It–
CHARLIE: —a Zeus Trojan is found in your device.
ALEX GOLDMAN: It says Troan. It doesn’t say Trojan.
CHARLIE: It doesn’t say Trojan?
ALEX GOLDMAN: No, it says Troan, There’s no J.
CHARLIE: Yes……… Wow.

PJ: (laughing)

ALEX GOLDMAN: And then, without missing a beat, he continues to l- to like go through his script. And he says:

CHARLIE: Ok, it says that your Apple ID is compromised, and a Zeus Troan is found. Okay?

PJ: (laughs) He’s a good improv comedian.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Um. So, at that point, uh I–I revealed again that I knew who he–w-what was going on.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Charlie–
CHARLIE: –Yes? Yes, sir?
ALEX GOLDMAN: –I know that, I know–I know that you’re scamming me. I know that you’re at least trying to scam me.
CHARLIE: Yes, I know.
ALEX GOLDMAN: –Cause I know what net—I know what netstat does.
CHARLIE: –Yes. Exactly, sir. You’re a genius sir. You’re intelligent.
ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing) I’m not that intelligent.
CHARLIE: Yes, sir. You are technically savvy.
ALEX GOLDMAN: -Well- I’m not that technically savvy, I just know that you misspelled Trojan.
CHARLIE: -No No No. You are technically savvy–
But you are–a little bit.
ALEX GOLDMAN: So I’m curious…[Fades]

ALEX GOLDMAN: I tried to get this guy to tell me more about what was going on at this call center, but he pretty quickly hung up on me. And…

PJ: –They’re gonna have like a picture of you in the call center soon.

ALEX GOLDMAN: That’s like “Do not surf this man”?

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, I keep calling them back and eventually, I realize the mistake that I’m making, is that I am so excited to let these guys know that I’m onto them, that I don’t let them play out their entire script. So I don’t know what the full scam actually is. So, I call back again:

[CALL MUSIC]
[BEEP]
ALEX MARTIN: How can I help you?
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. Uh…[FADES]

ALEX GOLDMAN: And I get Alex, the guy from the first call. But I don’t want him to know that it’s me, so I use a different name, I tell him that my name is Rusty Savage. And we go through the entire thing again.

ALEX MARTIN: Alright sir, now we are connected, sir.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And he opens up the terminal. He runs netstat, says I have a virus. And then I say like, “Oh. That sounds terrible. What do I do to fix it?”

ALEX MARTIN: So, to fix this kind of problem we will require some other –network technicians of Level 9.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay.

ALEX MARTIN: And they must be certified from Apple to handle this case.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, he forwards me to the technician, Level 9, and that technician tells me to go to a website called Quick Pc Resolve.

PJ: Quick Pc Resolve…?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Do you want to take a look at quickpcresolve.com?

PJ: Yeah. Hold on. See like, I feel trepidation about visiting this website.

ALEX GOLDMAN: You shouldn’t.

PJ: Well, that’s what you say. Okay. So I’m (laughing) I’m at Quick Pc Resolve…. (laughing) Ha! Ohhhhkay! So uh–So–it’s a lot of stock photos. Uh, there’s a really happy business woman with her-with her arms in a victory pose. “Next generation tech support. We assure you best experience with us.” There are a lot of copywriting and, and graphic design choices that suggest like, this certainly isn’t Apple. Like it-Like it looks–It doesn’t look great.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Right. So we got to this website and the Level 9 technician was like, “Okay, so I’m going to need your credit card. This is going to cost a couple hundred dollars.” And I was like, “-A-ho-Okay, listen. I am not going to give you my credit card information because I know this is a scam. Like how stupid do you think that I am?”

ALEX GOLDMAN: Do you just have a really low opinion of Americans in general?

LEVEL 9 TECHNICIAN: Yes.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And why do you have a low opinion of them?

LEVEL 9 TECHNICIAN: You guys are conservative-minded people. Still you are fighting for who is black and who is white. Everyone is human being. But you guys are doing terrible thing to your brother, your people that are living in your country. You are killing them and you are robbing them. And you are saying that you are very honest.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m gonna be honest with you. I agree with you. But listen, I am a human being.

LEVEL 9 TECHNICIAN: No, you–you were also a human being when you bomb 1947/45 atom bomb on Japan. –Have you heard about that?

ALEX GOLDMAN:Okay. Th- I have heard about that.

LEVEL 9 TECHNICIAN: –Millions–[CUTS]–millions and millions people died

ALEX GOLDMAN: Ithat was

LEVEL 9 TECHNICIAN: And still in Japan, babies arebabies are born and paralyzed and disabled.

ALEX GOLDMAN: —That was 45 years before I was born. So I only had so much decision making power when that happened. —

CHARLIE: –So listen to me. You are all ee– Where was the humanity of those American people that point of time?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh

CHARLIE: –Alright? You’re talking about human beings. What–You don’t have answer of my question. And you are giving me talk– You are giving me long speech about the human being? What do you–Just don’t talk–

ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m not a–Look`

CHARLIE: –You can hang up the phone–[FADES]

ALEX GOLDMAN: It was a long and very frustrating conversation. And eventually, he got tired of me and hung up just like they always do. And, I would say under five minutes later, I was getting ready to leave the studio. And the phone–the studio phone rang.

[PHONE RING]

ALEX GOLDMAN: Hello?

ALEX MARTIN: Yeah. Hi, is that Alex Goldman?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. Hey, what’s up?

It was Alex Martin again.

ALEX MARTIN: Yeah. Hi Alex. How are you?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Good.

ALEX MARTIN: You’re a liar.

ALEX GOLDMAN: What do you mean?

ALEX MARTIN: Why you said –your name was Rusty Savage?

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing)

ALEX MARTIN: Your name is Alex. I know that.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, how’s it going Alex?

ALEX MARTIN: (laughing) How’s it going. Great buddy, great. Youyou fooled me. You got me. You know? –It’s so embarrassing, buddy.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I appreciate you calling me back, man!

ALEX MARTIN: Uh. Yeah! I did–I want to talk to a person who fooled me. My goodness. I don’t know how I fell for you.

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing) So the guy who I was talking to was really indignant and super mad. Is he actually a third party company? Or is he just part of the same company you’re in?

ALEX MARTIN: He was no third party company. He’s just– He’s just the third person sitting next to me.

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing]) Of course! Ah! Oh man.

ALEX MARTIN: You’re a famous personality on Google, you know? You just Google your name and you got a..silly looking guy having half bald hairs. Big, fat, and wearing a spectacles. Having a weird smile.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh yeah I do have a

ALEX MARTIN: Looking a bit gay. —?

ALEX GOLDMAN: I do have a weird smile. I dunnoI mean I’m

ALEX MARTIN: Oh yeah. You have a very weird smile.

ALEX GOLDMAN: That’s kinda mean.

ALEX MARTIN: -I bet you wanna kisscome and kiss me right away.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I don’t want to kiss you. But I

ALEX MARTIN: Of course, thank god. Thank god, thank god you don’t want to.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Um. What do you do for fun?

ALEX MARTIN: I’m a hacker. Whatever stuff like piss me off, I hack it.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So are you going to hack me?

ALEX MARTIN: Why would I be doing that? You never piss me (laughs).

ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh, well that’s good! I was worried that I might have made you mad. I mean, you did call me fat two minutes ago.

ALEX MARTIN: Ah no buddy, ah-these were just forI was just kidding.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay. Cool. Cool, cool, cool. That means a lot to me!

ALEX MARTIN: Yeah. What do you–what do you do? What do you do like–What do you do for fun?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh, play guitar. Uh, play video games. Uh…

ALEX MARTIN: Hm. What games you play?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh well, here’s the problem. I have an old computer. You-you–you know. You’veyou guys have been on it plenty of times.

ALEX MARTIN: Mhm.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Um. And it–I play–I play a lot–on Steam. But I mostly play like older games. Like Team Fortress 2 I like a lot. Um, stuff like that. What do you play?

ALEX MARTIN: What do I play? Counter-Strike.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Ooh…

ALEX MARTIN: Warcraft.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Are you good at Counter-Strike?

ALEX MARTIN: Pretty good? I’m hella good.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I suck at that game. I suck at that game.

ALEX MARTIN: You suck it? Why? C’mon!

ALEX GOLDMAN: BecauseI don’t know. I like–I liked–

ALEX MARTIN: Oh would you–Would you really mind if I called you back? Now? Right away? I give you a quick call back? Would you mind?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh why?

[BEEP]

ALEX GOLDMAN: He didn’t call back.

PJ: How old do you think this person was? That is like the homophobia of a junior-high-schooler or a high-schooler.

ALEX GOLDMAN: He told me. He was 22.

PJ: Huh.

ALEX: He’s a kid.

PJ: Huh.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And I kept calling the call center back asking for Alex but I couldn’t get him again. It was like he totally vanished. By this point, everyone at this call center was just stonewalling me. Like they were totally done with me. But I was not done with them.

[MUSIC]

I was determined to figure these guys out. And I had a piece of evidence to go on. That website: Quick Pc Resolve.

[BREAK]

ALEX GOLDMAN: Welcome back to the show. So, PJ, this story has like ballooned in terms of its complexity and density. And so, I have, uh, since the beginning basically, been working with producer Damiano Marchetti on research. He is in the studio right now.

DAMIANO MARCHETTI: Hi PJ.

PJ: Hey Damiano.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So you’ll remember that before the break we have one piece of evidence to go on which was this website Quick Pc Resolve.

PJ: Uh huh.

ALEX GOLDMAN: We looked up the Whois record for Quick Pc Resolve. And we found a couple a names associated with it. And when we checked to see if those people had any other websites, we found this whole great constellation of scammy tech support websites that looked exactly like Quick Pc Resolve.

PJ: Got it.

AG: But there was one that was associated with these guys that was different.

PJ: Which was?

DAMIANO: It was this website called accostings.com

PJ: Accostings? Like to accost someone?

ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s a weird name for a website. Even weirder name for a company.

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: The company is called Accostings Infotech Private Limited.

PJ: Okay.

DAMIANO: And when we go and look at the website it’s so different then the other ones we’ve seen. It says very clearly that it’s a call center. And it has what looks like a real address on Club Road in New Delhi. It has a real Indian phone number.

AG: Not a 1-800 hundred number like all the other ones have.

DAMIANO: And so we’re like, “Is this like the parent company? Like is the place where all of these scams are coming from?”

[PHONE RINGS]

THEM: Hello?

AG: So in order to figure that out I just called the number on the accostings website.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi, I’m trying to reach technical support.

THEM: Yup. How can I help you, sir?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uhhhh. Just to be clear, this is Quick Pc Resolve?

THEM: Yes Yes. It’s Quick Pc Resolve, sir. Absolutely correct.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Thank you very much.

 

ALEX GOLDMAN: And so then I went to all the other websites. I called all the other 1-800 numbers and asked them they were Quick Pc Resolve. And they all said yes. It doesn’t matter which one of these websites we go to. It doesn’t matter which number we call. They’re all going to the same call center. It’s the same company. It’s this company Accostings.

And so we started researching Accostings, and there was this one name that kept popping up over and over again. This name Kamal Verma. And I was like, “Who is this guy?” So I just started calling the call center and asking for him.

[PHONE RINGS]

FEMALE VOICE: Thank you for calling premium technical support. How may I help you?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. Uh. I’m trying to reach, uh, Kamal Verma. My name’s Alex Goldman. I call you guys pretty regularly. Uh. Is he there?

[HANGS UP]

[PHONE RINGS]

MALE VOICE: Hello?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. Uh. Trying to reach Kamal Verma.

MALE VOICE: Please stop calling us.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Um. I’m not going to, uh, until I –get the answers that I’m interested in.

MALE VOICE: That’s okay.. Then keep calling us.. Keep calling us.

[PHONE RINGS]

MALE VOICE: You know what? You are an asshole. –You are–You are an asshole. You are an asshole.

ALEX GOLDMAN: -Why Wou–Why would you say that?

MALE VOICE: Because you are an asshole!

ALEX GOLDMAN: But why-

MALE VOICE: You don’t know about it? You’re bothering.

[HANGS UP]

MALE VOICE: Who is-Who is Kamal Verma, sir? I don’t know.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Can you put me in touch with him?

MALE VOICE: Uh. Do one thing–just bear with me, bear with me for one minute.

[BACKGROUND CONVERSATION]

MALE VOICE: Hello?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Hi?

MALE VOICE: Yeah, this is a wrong number, sir.

ALEX GOLDMAN: No. It isn’t. I know it’s not a wrong number.

MALE VOICE: Yeah, I’m going for a dinner. Bye-bye.

[HANGS UP]

ALEX GOLDMAN: So I didn’t really get anywhere. But, on that last call you can hear a couple people speaking in Hindi faintly in the background for a minute. So I got Shruti Ravindran, who is a producer on another Gimlet Show, Science Vs, and also speaks Hindi, to come into the studio and listen to see if she could translate for me.

PJ: Devious.

SHRUTI RAVINDRAN: I think um- So (sighs) s-The person said, um, “He keeps calling and he’s taking—this is Hindi-ism—taking Kamal sir’s name.” I mean, he professed to not know this guy, but he used like a respectful tone to call him. So he does recognize him, and then, um, I think he was proposing by the end, the other person he spoke to was proposing by the end to, um, say it was the wrong number.

ALEX: So Shruti told us that these guys are using a term of respect for Kamal, like a term that you would use for a superior. And so we’re pretty sure that Kamal is the boss of Accostings. And Damiano starts to dig really deep on this guy.

DAMIANO: Yeah I started doing tons of research on him. I find his Facebook page, uh, which of course has all these pictures on it. And I wanna show you one of them. So, Kamal, and like, all the big-wigs I think, they like to go to this bar called Chug It.

PJ: Chug it? (laughs)

ALEX GOLDMAN: …down the street from uh, from the office. Kamal is the second from the left.

PJ: Oh, he looks like the boss.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, he looks like a tough guy right?

PJ: He-I mean he’s just like–he’s just got like- Everybody, everybody who’s not him is like a little bit like shlumpier. Like, I don’t know, he’s got like a very salon-y haircut. Um, and like his clothes are a little bit more fashionable. Yeah–he just looks like the boss.

ALEX GOLDMAN: -Yeah- Totally.

DAMIANO: So, for weeks, Alex was calling the call center and asking for Kamal. In the meantime, like, I was dying to know more about this call center, Accostings.

[MUSIC] “FORMER EMPLOYEES”

[Phone Rings]

WOMAN: Hello?

DAMIANO: Hello?

WOMAN: Yeah. Hi Damiano?

DAMIANO: Hi. How are you?

DAMIANO: I started to find former employees who listed Accostings on their Linkedin or Facebook —

[Phone Rings]

Yes, who is this?

DAMIANO: Almost everyone we interviewed said, “I’ll talk, but please don’t use my name.”

DAMIANO: When was it that you worked there?

EMPLOYEE 1: I worked there for two years, uh-working as a service person

DAMIANO: Mhm..

EMPLOYEE 1: ..between 2009 to 2011.

DAMIANO: So this guy explained to me that when Alex and I are calling Accostings, most of the people that we’re talking to are super young. Like, this is probably their first job.

EMPLOYEE 1: Most of them are students who belongs to, uh, Eastern, Northeastern part of India, like — you know? They have a–sound knowledge of English. Like uh.. –if compare with any other part of India.

DAMIANO: Ohhh…

EMPLOYEE 1: Like their accent is quite, uh, understandable I guess so..

DAMIANO: Is it like a poorer part of India, too? And that’s-so it’s easier to recruit people?

EMPLOYEE 1: Yes. Yes. Yes. It is.

DAMIANO: So what happens is like, these kids, they come from these like small rural towns a lot of the time. They get to the big city, and they get what they think is just like a normal, honest job.

EMPLOYEE 2: When I was hired with them, they told me they had a legitimate process with them.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, when you started they said, “We have a legitimate process with Apple.”

EMPLOYEE 2: That’s right, but, uh, sooner and later, I got to know that this was something, you know, fishy going on.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Did anybody that you worked with- Was anybody that you worked with open about the fact that they were committing fraud, or was everybody–Did everybody just pretend like that wasn’t happening?

EMPLOYEE 2: No there were people who know that this is not good happening, but it’s just that there was no other option to –survive. They have to do it.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Right.

EMPLOYEE 2: Because if they-if they will not do it, then they will have to go back to their hometown — there an- There is no job there.

EMPLOYEE 3: I-I’ll tell you- I’ll tell you the main reason, I mean, the reason why I left that company, because there was a fight for- They were like delaying my salary again and again.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Really? They weren’t paying you?

EMPLOYEE 3: Yeah, this is how–I mean, it’s not with me, it’s–like, they were doing with everybody.

EMPLOYEE 4: The same thing happened with me as well. I did not receive my money. When I asked- I asked them that they, uh, they owe my money and they need to pay me. But they completely say no, that they cannot pay.

EMPLOYEE 2: Man, I can give you all this information but make sure you don’t, you know, disclose my name because, you know, they would be after me if they get to know that, you know, I give you all this information.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Ok, I can keep you anonymous.

EMPLOYEE 2: What I realized later on, you know, when I was in the company for two months, you know, I realized because these guys are–earning good amount of money, okay? So you know, so they can—-you, in terms of, if you go against them or if you tell them, “This is what is going on,” you know? They can really do something harmful against you. —

ALEX GOLDMAN: What do you mean? What-what–What kind of threats did they-they give you?

EMPLOYEE 2: If they get to know, you know, they know that I had given you my information, they have my resume, my home address, –everything. They have my phone number and everything. So, you know, they might, you know, send cops to my place and tell them that I have, you know, stolen their data or their company information and all that stuff.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I see.

ALEX: So, Accostings seems like a pretty precarious place to work. Um, people told us that turnover there’s super high. People are quitting or getting fired all the time. Which explains something that I had been wondering about for a while. Which was Alex Martin, the first guy that we talked to, he had just completely vanished. And, it seemed likely to me that he probably quit or got fired.

DAMIANO: And we learned something else really interesting. Which was that, Accostings, it didn’t start out this way, like it didn’t always-it wasn’t always so sketchy. They actually started the company as like a real tech support company. And they were helping people with their problems, and then like a couple years in it seems like what happened is that they were like, “You know what would be a better way of getting business?” Instead of calling people-like cold calling people and saying, “Hey, maybe you’ll get a virus some time in the future…”

PJ: Say, “You have a virus right now.”

DAMIANO: -Exactly. And, “Pay us $300. Once you pay us to get rid of the virus you supposedly have on your computer, we’ll also support you in the future and be your tech support company.”

PJ: So they are lying, but they are still selling a real product.

DAMIANO: They’re lying- Exactly. It’s just a way of drumming up business.

PJ: –You go from being, like, the local security guard company, to being the guy who is like, “It’d be a shame if anything happened here.”

DAMIANO: -Exactly…

ALEX GOLDMAN: -It’s- And you know the whole time we thought about this company as being very remote from us. Like a bunch of people in a room, trying to scam us, thousands of miles away. But, we talked to someone who used to work there who made us realize that their reach extends across the globe.

EMPLOYEE 2: So, what they told me that they were taking payments through check in US.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Huh..

EMPLOYEE 2: I know the name of the company on which they were taking these checks, as well. The name of the company is MSS Marketing LLC. And it’s in Pennsylvania.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I called the woman who runs it, and she said, “Yes, I used to take payments for Accostings,” but she claims that she shut MSS Marketing down months ago.

PJ: Interesting. So every time someone gets scammed on the phone by someone in another country, or not, maybe not every time. But basically, if someone tricks you on the phone an-and takes your credit card or whatever, they need to have a confederate who’s actually based in the country that you’re in.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Exactly. And this isn’t just happening in the US. We found these guys who live in Bradford, England who are setting up websites and companies so that they can process money for Accostings in the UK. And it seems like Accostings is making a ton of money. We don’t know exactly how much but based on what a former employee told me, probably in the realm of about two million dollars a year. And the people who are taking my calls, they’re being like intimidated by this company, they’re not making a lot of money, they’re being treated like crap. But, someone like Kamal is probably cleaning up.

PJ: So it’s like basically like every piece of information you learn just makes Kamal like more and more of a cartoon villain character basically, right? Like he is the big bad guy at this point.

ALEX: Exactly, which is why it was so frustrating that we couldn’t get him on the phone no matter how hard we tried. And then, um, executive producer Tim Howard came up with a crazy idea.

PJ: Um, can I tell you what my crazy idea would be?

ALEX GOLDMAN: What?

PJ: To call and just say “This is Kamal.”

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs) “Hi, this is Kamal, do I have any messages from Alex Goldman?”

PJ: (laughs) Yeahh! Was that Tim’s Idea?

ALEX GOLDMAN: -So- No.

PJ: What was Tim’s crazy idea?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Tim was like, “You need to throw these guys off-balance a little bit.” Like, “You’re just being too straightforward, they know what to expect from you, they can just hang up on you.”

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: “Why don’t you take one of the photos you found of them on Facebook, make it your desktop background, and then have them connect to your computer?”

PJ: (laughing) That’s so creepy. That’s great!

ALEX GOLDMAN: -It’s- It’s nuts.

DAMIANO: Wait, so do you remember that — ? Okay.

PJ: -Yeah- So-So when they call, they like, remote in. And they do like the fake like, “You have bergs.” thing or whatever, “You’ve got a Trojan horse.” And so your plan is like, when they remote into your computer, they’re just gonna see like a smiling picture of themselves hanging out (laughing).

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, but not just a smiling picture of themselves. It’s a smiling picture of like, their bosses.

PJ: So, this is a very, very funny plan. So what happened?

ALEX GOLDMAN: -Uh- So I call up. And some guy I don’t recognize answers, and we just start going through the routine where he gets on my computer, you know?

MALE VOICE: Your Mac computer is going to connect to our secure server, and after that we are going to run a diagnose on that.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay. –A little box showed up in the lower right-hand corner. It says.

MALE VOICE: Yeah. Please, uh, join session. Click on..

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay!

MALE VOICE: Connect.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Here I go!

MALE VOICE: Yeah. Yes sir.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And then… I minimize everything on my screen, leaving only the picture on the desktop.

MALE VOICE: Now, we are well connected. Okay, Wait a second.

DAMIANO: (laughs) Is he still on your computer? (whispering)

ALEX GOLDMAN: I think he hung up.

DAMIANO: Hello?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Hello!?

MALE VOICE: Be on line, sir. Be on line.

OTHER MALE VOICE: [HINDI]

DAMIANO: (whispering) Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. What’s he doing on your computer?

MALE VOICE: Be on line. Be on line.

DAMIANO: What’s he doing? My heart is beating so fast.

ALEX MARTIN: –Thank you so much for being online, sir. This –Alexander Martin, How are you doing today?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Hey, Alex Martin! How’s it going?

ALEX MARTIN: I’m doing great, sir. How are you?

ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m good! What’s up?

ALEX MARTIN: I’m doing great, thanks a lot for asking. How is your day going, sir?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Pretty good, thanks!

ALEX MARTIN: Mmm, that’s good. That’s wonderful. —

ALEX GOLDMAN: Is this the Alex Martin that I talked to awhile back? This is Alex Goldman.

ALEX MARTIN: (laughs) Yeah, this is the same Alex Martin, sir. You remember me?

ALEX GOLDMAN: How’s it going, man?! I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for weeks!

ALEX MARTIN: My goodness, I was –out for a week. –I was on Thailand on my vacations.

ALEX GOLDMAN: What have you been up to? Did you- What did you think of my desktop background?

ALEX MARTIN: Oh, who are they? I don’t recognize them. Who are they?

ALEX GOLDMAN: G-Gimme a break. Come on man. I know better than that.

ALEX MARTIN: Seriously? –Like, are-are you one of them? Who are you?

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughing) So Alex. Dude. I’ve been trying to get in touch with you man. Uh. I’ve been learning a lot about Quick Pc Resolve and, uh, Accostings, InfoTech, and sort of like, people who work there, people who used to work there. But uh, I was worried that you might have gotten canned or something. It’s glad-I’m glad to hear your voice.

ALEX MARTIN: Mmm. So what exactly you want now?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, I just wanted to know how were doing first of all. Second of all-

ALEX MARTIN: Yeah, I’m very good.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Second of all– Um-

ALEX MARTIN: What about you, sir?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well the reason I was trying to reach you is cause I wanted- I wanted to see if you, uh.. You said you played Counter-Strike and you- and I was wondering if you were Steam. Cause if you were on Steam, I could give you my Steam ID. We could play some games together.

ALEX MARTIN: Mm. –No need. You don’t have any work to do, or what?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Up until this point, Alex Martin has always been like interested in me, he w-wants to talk about video games and stuff, and all of a sudden in this moment, he becomes really hostile. And honestly, it kind of threw me off-balance a little bit, like I didn’t know how to proceed.

ALEX GOLDMAN: This is my work! But I mean, you know, when you’re not at work, you said you liked to play video games. I was wondering if you wanted to play some games together.

ALEX MARTIN: What game you like?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, let’s see. What do I–Let me just-eh-Let me just bring up my Steam and see what I’ve got going on there.

ALEX MARTIN: Mmm.

ALEX GOLDMAN: You seem angry with me. Are you mad at me?

ALEX MARTIN: Me?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.

ALEX MARTIN: No, I’m not angry at all. I’m very calm, you know, very calm very cool.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Alright, what have I got here? Uh..

ALEX MARTIN: -The only thing is that I want to find out what exactly you want. That’s what I want to know.

ALEX GOLDMAN: -S- So, I’ve got, uh.. I’ve got Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike.

ALEX MARTIN: -No, you’re not coming to the point. You know what I’m asking you. I’m asking you what exactly you want.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, so, I got a call from this number awhile back. And..

ALEX MARTIN: -Yeah, that was ages before. Yeah, that was ages before.

ALEX: And the-the purpose of that call was to try and s- try and scam me out of money.

ALEX MARTIN: Mm, but you were not scammed, fortunately, yeah?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, but I know that a lot of other people probably are being scammed?

ALEX MARTIN: Mmm. So what? You are a social worker, or what?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well no. I’m a journalist.

ALEX MARTIN: Mmm. So, I mean, uh-you don’t have any other companies to find out that are they doing scam or not?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, (laughing) no other companies called me, man.

ALEX MARTIN: I’ll give you some names. You can write it down.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh, of other companies?

ALEX MARTIN: Yep.

ALEX GOLDMAN: –I mean, I- I’ll be–

ALEX MARTIN: —They’ll be bigger fishes for you, okay? Instead of coming to me, go for them. You’ll get more money from there. Because if you come to me you won’t get anything. So you’re wasting your time.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So he’s saying like, “If you come to me, you won’t get anything. I’m not giving you any money.” And, it, suddenly felt like I was talking to a boss? And then it hit me that I might actually be talking to the boss. Like, what if Alex Martin is Kamal?

PJ: Oh. That is nuts!

ALEX: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So is this Kamal that I’m talking to?

ALEX MARTIN: Yeah, this is Kamal.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Is it really?

ALEX MARTIN: So, you don’t recognize me, or what?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well how am I supposed to- E-Every time I call I get a different name. How am I supposed to know that this is Kamal?

ALEX MARTIN: Because you know when they came to know that you are the same guy with whom I have already spoken with. So they transferred the call to me, ya know?

ALEX GOLDMAN: And you know, as the conversation went on, he started to refer to things that only Kamal would know. Like.. a few weeks before we made this call, we had our coworker Sruthi try to friend him on Facebook and he brought that up. And I was like, “Oh, this guy that I’m talking to really is Kamal.”

PJ: That is nuts. I can’t even process that.

ALEX GOLDMAN: (laughs)

PJ: So the- Wow!

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. I must’ve gotten the floor manager the first time.

PJ: Oh my god.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah.

PJ: No wonder he sounds like so at ease with what he’s doing-you know what I mean?

ALEX GOLDMAN: — And Kamal basically said to me, Kam-Alex, Kamal said to me like, “Look, you need to stop calling during business hours and disrupting my techs. And I was like, “Well what do you want me to do?” And he gave me his number.

PJ: What?!

ALEX GOLDMAN: He gave me his email address.

PJ: What?!

ALEX GOLDMAN: And was like, call me back when you–like, call back my number instead of calling my technicians on the floor.

PJ: That’s so funny.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So at this point, it’s the end of March. It’s been about two months since the first call. And.. I started just calling Kamal pretty regularly over the next couple weeks.

[MUSIC]

[PHONE RING]

PJ: And would he pick up?

ALEX GOLDMAN: He would!

KAMAL: Hello?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Hey. Kamal? Kamalll… Hello?

KAMAL: Yes. Yes. Your voice is breaking.

PJ: And which Kamal would you get? Would you get the Kamal that’s like jeering at you for being a slovenly American? Would you get the nice Kamal that talks to you about how he’d like to play Counter-Strike?

ALEX GOLDMAN: I got- We got sort of like a laid back, kind of quiet Kamal. It was a very different Kamal then I was used to. He would just sort of answer my questions.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Did you grow up in Delhi?

ALEX MARTIN: No, not at all. Um. I belong to, uh, Punjab. I’m not from Delhi.

ALEX GOLDMAN: What made you move to Delhi in the first place?

ALEX MARTIN: I just want to see the Delhi life. That’s it. I just came here with –friend, and then I thought like, “Let me work here for a few years.” And I work and then I enjoy it and now…[FADES]

ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m honestly not learning that much from Kamal in these conversations, we’re just having sort of idle chit chat. But at the same time, me and Damiano are researching Accostings. And it’s during this time that we realize that Kamal is not actually the boss. Kamal is the boss’s right-hand man. So, here: lemme show you this photo. It’s of uh, them in their new office.

PJ: Oh there are so many employees at this company now.

DAMIANO: That’s the whole team yeah. And the guy at the center, that’s the top boss. It’s a guy named Deepak Verma.

PJ: So the guy who’s wearing like traditional garb?

ALEX: Yes.

DAMIANO: -An- And then I think like… literally.. Kamal is his right-hand man.

ALEX: -Yeah–Kamal is immediately to the right of him.

PJ: He’s-eh–He’s actually standing at his right hand.

DAMIANO: Yeah. And so, we start to think, maybe Kamal gave us his personal phone number because he doesn’t want his boss to know that he’s talking to us.

ALEX: And, um, I would say a couple weeks after he gave me his cell phone number, he started saying, “I think–you know I think my time at this company is about to near-is about to come to an end.”

ALEX: How you doing?

KAMAL: Well, not so good these days. I mean, even I’m–Everyone–now switching, you know. No one–So even I’m thinking, planning of doing my own. Thinking that I’ll do something for myself, you know? A small set up or something.

ALEX: Wait, wait. So you. Wait, you’re planning on leaving Accostings?

KAMAL: Yep, yep.

ALEX: And starting your own business..

KAMAL: Yep.

PJ: When he would say that, did it feel like he wanted to leave the company to go start another scam company? Or was it like I want to leave..maybe I don’t want to scam people anymore.

ALEX GOLDMAN: It never seemed like he didn’t- he had like a particular moral qualm about scamming.

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: But he did-did seem like he was kinda burnt out.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Why do you want to leave?

KAMAL: It’s just like that I don’t want to work anymore. That’s it. I just want to go village and stay in village. My father, they used to call me every other day. They’d, “Come back. Come back.”

ALEX GOLDMAN: And at first I wasn’t super convinced that he actually wanted to leave. I think he kinda wanted to throw me off the trail.

PJ: Mhm.

ALEX GOLDMAN: But then.. You know, I started–I kept calling the call center. And one day a couple months later…

[HOLD MUSIC]

ROBOT: Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and you’ll be transferred to the next available agent.

[BEEP]

MAN: Thank you for calling Premium Technical Support. My name is Eric. How can I help you today?

ALEX: Yeah. My name’s Alex Goldman. I’m trying to reach Kamal Verma. Is he there?

MAN: Sir, he left the job today.

ALEX: What do you mean he l-

MAN: I’m so sorry sir. He’s not available –actually. He left the job today, sir.

PJ: Huh.

ALEX: So I hung up and I immediately called Kamal and he said, “Yeah. I quit. I moved back in with my parents on their farm.” And he was like, “Look, I moved to the city to see what it was like, to try living a metropolitan life. And I decided that it’s not for me. And what could be better than just hanging out, waking up whenever I want, going to bed whenever I want, and not really having to work?

[MUSIC]

ALEX: Kamal said that he’d left Accostings on bad terms, which made me think a little differently about something he’d said to me a couple times on the phone.

KAMAL: Any–Anytime when-eh-whenever you come to India, let’s do call me okay.

ALEX: Uh, I might- I might come to-

KAMAL: –if you come-If you visit New Delhi. Yeah, just come- just come for two, three days, and, –I’ll make you visit places like Taj–You know Agra? Nice place to see.

ALEX: Six months ago, I got a phone call from someone pretending to be Apple Computers. And, just through sheer force of will, and I guess a lot of free time, me and Damiano managed to figure out a lot about these people. And now an ex-manager who’d parted on bad terms is inviting me to India. And I asked him, “Hey, now that you don’t work there anymore, will you tell me everything I want to know?” And he said, “Yes.”

AIRPLANE ANNOUNCEMENT: Please keep your seats in an upright position.

ALEX: I mean how could I not go?

[AIRPLANE TAKE-OFF SOUND]

[MUSIC]

PJ: Next time on Reply All, Alex and Damiano take a trip.

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