July 16, 2020

#164 Long Distance: The Real Alex Martin

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

Three years after Alex Goldman traveled to India to investigate a scammy call center, he gets a tip that makes him question everything he learned in his first trip.

Long Distance Part I

Long Distance Part II

Akash's YouTube

Akash's podcast episode


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

PJ VOGT: And I’m PJ Vogt.

ALEX: So PJ, there’s a reason that I wanted to talk to you and it is because I have to make a correction.


PJ: What is your correction?

ALEX: Do you, do you remember the story "Long Distance"?

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: Uh- 

PJ: How long ago was that?

ALEX: Three years now. And before we get started I should say that this is going to have a LOT of spoilers for those episodes, so if you haven't listened to them go back and listen to episodes 102 and 103. But basically, a couple of years ago I did this story about my relationship with a tech support scammer in India, and it all began when I got this robocall saying that my iCloud might be compromised. So I decided to call the number back.

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]


ALEX MARTIN: Thank you for calling online support. You're 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: That's...oh, you go by Alex. Okay, Alex. How can I help you?

This guy tells me his name was “Alex Martin.” And at first he’s just doing like your standard, tech support phone call like “oh you have a virus, pay us, blah blah blah.” But when I make it clear I know this is a scam, he drops the facade in the craziest way possible.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I'm looking up this phone number online. It does not say that is any—it's related to Apple in any way. So I'm trying to figure out who you are. 

ALEX MARTIN: We are anonymous. We are legion. Expect us.

ALEX GOLDMAN: You’re--oh, you’re anonymous, you’re legion, expect you?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Are you come (laugh)-- Are you coming for me?

ALEX MARTIN: We will be demolishing all of your social identities.


So eventually he admits he’s not part of Anonymous, that he’s just your average, everyday telephone scammer, but then he was like talking to me about being a telephone scammer in this way that was completely shameless.

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 MARTIN: You guys have a lot of money that needs to be spent.

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."

So I stayed on the phone with this guy for about 20 minutes. And I just thought this guy was fascinating and I had the call center’s number and just kept calling back, and I would always get super excited when I got this guy.


ALEX MARTIN: This the same Alex Martin. So 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...

ALEX: If you remember, I really liked him 


PJ: Yes I do. 


ALEX: I think what I liked about him is I feel like we’re cut from the same cloth, like I would say obnoxious and chatty are two words you could use to describe me.


PJ: (laughs)


ALEX: And that’s how I would also describe Alex Martin. Like after I talked to him I was just like I just want to like give this guy my gamer tag and make him like hang out and TeamSpeak the whole night, you know? And like I called back enough that he eventually gave me his cellphone number.


ALEX: And he told me his real name with is Kamal, he says he’s the manager at the call center which is called accostings, and instead of talking to him in the office, I was talking to him at his house like in the middle of the night

ALEX MARTIN: Anytime, whenever you come to India, you have to call me ok?


ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh I might...


ALEX MARTIN: If you visit New Delhi. Yeah, just come for two or three days and I’ll make you visit places like Taj...

And in those phone calls he sounded very subdued, very quiet, not quite as jokey. And we kinda debated in the office like, is this the same guy? But I was pretty sure it was, I just figured he maybe sounded a little different bc of the change in setting. And eventually, he invited me to India and I was like, of course I’m gonna go! Like I get to hang out with the guy who like worked at the call center and who would answer all my questions.


But when I got to India, he was like a completely different person. Was not fun to be around, seemed like he was just barely putting up with me, rather than enjoying my company. And like I left India feeling like that, it was kind of a bust. We didn’t learn what we had—


PJ: You felt a little jilted. 


ALEX: Yeah a little bit.


PJ: Cause it was like, you got this, you thought you were going to Alex Martin your friend but instead you got this dude who was cold and angry and was behaving way more the way you would expect a guy who runs a scammy call center to behave when a journalist—


ALEX: (laughs) Well when you put it that way yes. Yes. But then, after we put the story out, -- and this is the correction I wanted to tell you -- uh one of the people from the call center who I'd spoken to for the story got in touch with me and was like ‘hey — Kamal, the guy you met in India, he is not Alex Martin. Alex Martin is someone else. Those are two different people.’ 

I’m pretty sure what happened is that at one point Kamal had taken over a call from Alex Martin without me realizing and basically to keep me from ever calling the call center back, he gave his cell phone number. And that’s how I ended up talking to him when he was at home.


PJ: That makes way more sense. So you talked to one person on the phone, you went to India, you met another person. You never actually got to have the experience you thought you were gonna have. You never got to go see your friend.


ALEX: That's true. I never got to go see my friend. But the same source who said they were two different people pointed me to the real Alex Martin. They sent me his facebook profile and after a decent amount of harganguing I actually managed to get him on the phone. 

AKASH: Hey Alex, how are you?

ALEX: I'm good. How are you? What's going on?

AKASH: I'm doing great. Thanks for asking, man. It's been a long time.

ALEX: It has been a long time. It has—

And this time, he actually tells me his real name… 

AKASH: Oh yeah, it's Akash. Akash Sharma. That's my name.


ALEX: So Akash and I started talking and I’m very stoked to finally be talking to this guy that I’d basically wanted to since the beginning of the Long Distance saga… but pretty much immediately the Reply All team falls into the same debate that we were having during the original Long Distance because Sruthi was like, ‘Alex, are you sure this is really Alex Martin ? 

Like, she said that guy who answered the phone when I first called Accostings, he sounds like someone she went to high school with and this guy that I’m talking to now has a different accent.


So we decided to call him up.


SRUTHI: Hello. Is this Akash?

AKASH: Uh yeah. Hi. Who is this?

SRUTHI: Hi. Akash, this is uh Sruthi Pinnamaneni. I work at Reply All.

ALEX: Hey Akash.

AKASH: Oh, ok. Hey, Alex. How are you?

SRUTHI: Hey, Alex is on the phone too. So Akash. I’m sorry to call you so late. I wanted to say I heard your interview with Alex. And—


SRUTHI: You don't sound like Alex Martin to me.

AKASH: Okay.

SRUTHI: So I wanted to ask who you are. 

AKASH: Alright. So you’re saying that I don’t sound like Alex Martin, right?

SRUTHI: Yeah. The guy who picks up and who says ‘I'm Anonymous. I'm Legion.’ You don't sound like him 

AKASH: Well, that wasn't me, to be honest.


ALEX: Alright so PJ this is, now I have to issue a second correction because—


PJ: Ok.


ALEX: Akash told me that Alex Martin was not one person. 


PJ: Woah


ALEX: Yeah. It was a name everyone in the office would use when they knew I was calling. 


AKASH: like everybody knows, okay, Alex Goldman calls in and he just, you know, just boasts about some stuff and just waste time. So everybody started to, you know, just use it as a bait. Okay, fine. You're calling me? I am Alex. Or anybody XYZ is taking up the call, he becomes Alex. So that was kind of an activity that you know, just have—they just made it up for fun, I guess.

ALEX: Akash told me that he was not the first Alex Martin that I spoke to but he was one of the Alex Martins that I spoke to.

PJ: Oh my god! So you’re saying apparently because you are not very good at telling Indian men apart... It’s like you made a strong connection with what you thought was one person but it was a composite. And although that kinda stung… you still want to hangout with your composite friend… 

ALEX: So you’re saying like I got catfished and I’m wounded by it.

PJ: A little bit, yeah. 

ALEX: I don’t know, yeah. I wanted to be his pal. I liked him, I thought he was funny. It just turns out there were many of him.

So anyway, Sruthi devised this test to confirm that he was like one of the Alex Martins that I wanted to be friends with which was to grab a transcript of the episode, from the original episode, and to have us re-create it on the phone to make sure he was who he said he was. 

ALEX: So, Akash, I just sent you a very long—I just sent you a very long-- I just sent you a very long message on WhatsApp. And Sruthi was wondering if you could—if you could read some of the sections from it. The, the Alex Martin sections, like the part where you say, say like “You’re a famous personality on Google” or, or—

SRUTHI: In fact—in fact, we could recreate the conversation. 

ALEX: Oh I could totally do it.

SRUTHI: Alex, you read your parts, Alex Martin, you read your parts.

AKASH: Okay, sounds fun. Alright. Alright. Okay. (throat clear)

PJ: So which one did you pick, which phone call?

ALEX: So the call that Akash said was him in the original episode, it’s about 14 minutes in and it was one of the most memorable calls for me, because it’s like very quintessential Alex Martin. Like he, he you know he plays all the hits, he is kind of an asshole, he makes fun of me, he is pretty charming, he seems like he’s having a lot of fun and he stays on the phone for way longer than you’d imagine him to.

PJ: So how’d it go?

ALEX: We had him read a bunch of moments from that call, but I'm gonna play you a couple. Ok here’s a clip from 2017: 

AKASH: 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: Oh yeah I do—

AKASH: looking gay—

ALEX: I do have a weird smile.

AKASH: Is that you?

And here's 2020 Akash: 

AKASH: Yeah. You're a famous personality on Google, you know? You just Google your name and you got a..silly looking guy have half bald hairs. Big, fat, and wearing a spectacles. Wearing this weird smile.

ALEX: And then here’s another clip from 2017--

PJ: But that is, it’s sounding like him.

ALEX: Yes, it is sounding like him.

PJ: Can I just point out that what you guys have done is, you’ve taken a person whose initial job was to call you and read from a script but who was bad at that job because he couldn’t stick to that script, you’ve now taken, made a script of that conversation and you’re having him call you and read from that.

ALEX: (laughs) I guess I’d never thought about it like that but yeah! Uh, anyway, here's the next clip from the original episode:

AKASH: What do I play? Uh Counter-Strike? 

ALEX: Ooh.

AKASH: Warcraft. 

ALEX: Are you good at Counter-Strike?

AKASH: Pretty good? I’m hella good.

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

AKASH: You suck it? Why? C’mon!

OK, here is the Akash 2020 script read: 

AKASH: Um, what do I play? Uh Counter-Strike? 

ALEX: Ooh.

PJ: (laughs) Your read of you is pretty good...

AKASH: Yeah, Warcraft. 

ALEX: Are you good at Counter-Strike?

AKASH: Pretty good? I’m hella good.

ALEX: (laughing) I suck at that game. I suck at that game.

AKASH: I remember this—I remember this one, yeah.

You suck it? Why? C’mon!

ALEX: Uh… Sruthi?

SRUTHI: Akash, thank you so much for doing that. Okay. I think that was you. 

PJ: So Sruthi’s convinced.

ALEX: Yeah, she’s convinced. 

SRUTHI: Can I ask—can I ask, Akash, like, how does it feel for you to read those words that you said um years ago? Like does it feel like you recognize the person who said them?

AKASH: Sruthi, I will, I will swear on this one. I am really embarrassed right now for the kind of things I said because I today I know the person I am. I would never—I mean, it's really weird. I can't even imitate this as we imitate this again. I can’t say these things. I don't why I said that. 

ALEX: So when I’d been talking to Akash 3 years ago, there were a lot of things I wanted to know about his life & the call center. but when I’d got to India, the person who was playing Alex Martin at the time was actually Akash’s scary intimidating boss who wanted me to stop reporting the story.

So It's like now, finally, i get to ask Akash my questions

PJ: Cool.

ALEX: After the break, Akash’s story.


ALEX: Welcome back to the show. So at this point I knew that I had an actual Alex Martin who’d worked at Accostings, and so I wanted to ask him all the questions that I had asked the wrong guy 3 years ago -- like how does someone end up working at an Indian scam call center, and like what is that job like?

PJ: So what did you learn about Akash?

ALEX: So Akash grew up in Mumbai, he moved to Delhi with his family when he was like 7 or 8 years old. He was like really into sports when he was in high school, had no idea what he wanted to do with his life really and he told me that at the time he started at Accostings, he had just gotten out of high school, there was—

PJ: Oh he was young.

ALEX: He was very young. And at the time like his dad, who owned a business, his business wasn’t doing very well. His mom wasn’t working. And so he needed to get a job.

PJ: Did he know what he was signing up for? 

ALEX: he totally didn’t know what he was signing up for. 

PJ: Sighs

ALEX: Um, when you interviewed, were you nervous?

AKASH: Oh, yes. 

ALEX: What were you nervous about?

AKASH: I was...I was nervous about it because I really wanted a job, because I left the previous one because I was not paid enough. So, I went there. It was the afternoon time, if I remember it well. It was almost 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. 

ALEX: And what did you wear to your interview?

AKASH: I was, I was dressed formal. I mean, yeah. I don't remember exactly what I was wearing, but yes. I was formally dressed. 




AKASH: FYI, I look good in formals, okay?


ALEX: [laughs] Okay. Well, that makes one of us. 


AKASH: I look great. 

ALEX: [laughs]

AKASH: Yeah.

ALEX: Did you get an idea of sort of what they were looking for? Was it more people who were techy, or was it more people who spoke good English and could communicate well? What was the-


AKASH: NoI'll tell you. I used to sell people solar in Australia. That's what I used to do. I did that job for six months. So, I had a good accent, sort of a good accent, and I knew how to deal with customers who are, you know, because Australian people are said to be stereotypically angry and rude. 


ALEX: [laughs] Is that true?

AKASH: Yeah, I know. I don't know. That's a stereotype I have heard a lot of times, but I find them really good. 


ALEX: Oh, okay. 


AKASH: So, that was a plus point in my resume at that time that they find that, okay, he had dealt with the Australian people. He might good, do good with the US people as well. 


ALEX: So, Akash gets this gig at Accostings. He starts going to work at the same building that Damiano and I eventually visited, right above Headphones, the Headphone club. Um...

PJ: Mm-hmm. That’s the place where you listen to music on—you can dance, but with headphones, so no one can hear the music you’re dancing to. So, dancing can be more ridiculous and embarrassing than it already is.

ALEX: But the way it worked is that like, his shift started at night, because they needed to call people in the US during the middle of their day 

PJ: Mm-hmm.

ALEX: So, he would wake up in the evening. He’d buy himself a juice. Accostings actually sent a cab to pick him up every night.

PJ: That’s very fancy.

ALEX: I thought so too but I actually found out that's like very standard for companies that do night shift calls to the US. So he would take the elevator to the fourth floor. And he would hand his phone to the security guard at the door.

AKASH: So when you enter, you submit the phone. All right? Because you’re not allowed any of your devices in there because then you can steal information of the customers or their credentials, like card information and stuff. So they used to keep the phone outside with the guard. You usually get a token against it. That way, when we leave, we can take it back. 

ALEX: Um. Did they, did they lock you in? ‘Cause when I went there, they had the, the shutters down.  

AKASH: No, no, no. I, I, I don't remember, like, anything like this. They, they might have done that because you came in so that you cannot see or talk to any of them. 

ALEX: Probably.

AKASH: And yeah, probably that was the reason. Because as far as I remember, nothing like that happened. 

ALEX: Akash told me the office was actually pretty nice — it was air conditioned, the seats were comfy. And at first he was actually doing legitimate calls. He was calling people in the UK about phone bills or something. He can't exactly remember what he was doing.

But what catches his attention is that there’s another group of people on the same call floor that have kind of like a rarefied air about them. They're doing something that he heard was Microsoft technical support. They seemed like they’re getting paid more. They’re like, having more fun. They seem cooler. It was like, the cool—it was like the cool kids’ table at lunch, you know?

PJ: It’s so funny that the workplace was set up as temptation, you know what I mean? [ALEX: laughing] It’s like, the, the straight and narrow job, that’s boring, that doesn’t pay, is like, sitting across the room from like, [ALEX: laughing] illegal job that’s fun and exciting and pays tons of money. And it’s just like, how long until you crack?

ALEX: Yeah. I mean, but the thing is, they weren’t like—that’s not how they framed it. They didn’t tell him that those people were scamming. They were just making more money.

PJ: Right.

ALEX: And really the centerpiece for that group was this giant whiteboard where they marked down their sales. Akash would always notice people going up to it and ostentatiously writing big numbers on it.

AKASH: And I used to see, like, people are making $1000, $500. And I was like, "Damn, that's a lot of money." You know? Because I was getting my regular salary. There was no incentives. And I got to know that these tech support people are getting incentives out of it. I was like, "Shit."

ALEX: By incentives, he just means sales commissions.

AKASH: And, uh, then I asked the management that, yes, I wanted to get shifted to technical support instead of this UK customer support service. So, yeah. That's how it all started. 

ALEX: Akash really needed the money because his family had taken out a loan to pay for his college — he was taking classes during the day. And so, the bosses start letting him work on the other team, this team with the whiteboard. And at first, he’s just training, so he just listens in to other people’s calls. But all they're only letting him listen to is the beginning of the calls, like the part where people call in and say, “Hey, I got a message that I was hacked.”

AKASH: So, I didn't really know what happens next because they just transfer the call to a senior, what happens next. That's what I didn't deal with—


ALEX: So they would keep the actual scam component from you.


AKASH: Yeah, exactly, I was having a perception that they might actually connect with the Microsoft support team after this.


ALEX: Oh, you thought that they might connect them,


AKASH: I actually had an impression for a few days that they do this, and that's how they get the incentive.

ALEX: But, finally, one day, they let him hear the second half of the call. And what he hears is not a senior technician passing the customer off to Microsoft. Instead the senior technician told the caller that for like 400 dollars, Accostings would provide some technical support for them. And Akash knew that that service did not exist.  

ALEX: When you realized that it was a scam, like, when you realized that you were scamming people, what-


AKASH: Mm-hmm. 


ALEX: … what did you—was your first impulse to be likeuh, to like, to let people know? Or was your first impulse to just be like, "Well, okay. This is a good way to make money!"


AKASH: When I first got to know, I was surprised. Not okay. All of a sudden $400 in the pocket. Damn. I was really happy. Okay, I'm going back home with $400, yay. 

ALEX: So he decides at this point like, "Okay, I'm gonna be rich. So maybe I can ignore my guilt for a little while."  

AKASH: But then I got to know at the end of the day, you only getused to get the equivalent in the rupees. So, if you made a $400 sale, you’d get 400 rupees. 


ALEX: Oh, okay. 


AKASH: And I was like, what the eff. 


ALEX: I mean 400 rupee is $5.40 in the U.S. right now, so.


AKASH: Yeah. If I go to KFC now, I spend more than that. 

 ALEX: [laughing] Right. 

AKASH: The whiteboard used to tell you a very different story. 

ALEX: It hadn't occurred to Akash before this moment that the scammy company, that he worked for, would also scam him. Which like of course they would. But even though he's pissed, the money he was making was really helping, so he decides to stick it out.

PJ: Got it.

ALEX: And when, uh, and when people asked him about his new job, he’d be—just be like, “Oh, I work for Microsoft.” 

PJ: So, he felt a little bit ashamed.

ALEX: Totally. 

And so he was doing this job he was feeling kind of bad about and then this other thing started happening at work which is that I started calling. And Akash told me that like even though they were doing the Alex Martin role-play game with me, the bosses did not find my presence funny at all. 

AKASH: I’ll tell you. They used to hate you. Hate you a lot. 

[Alex laughing]


PJ: Were they like, discussing you in like, staff meetings?

ALEX: Apparently. Apparently, I was enough—I mean, I called every day—

PJ Right.

ALEX: Sometimes several times a day.

PJ: Right.

ALEX: So it was like "never talk to Alex Goldman," but Akash was like "but that's the only fun thing that ever happens on this job."

PJ: That's so weird and sweet. It's so the decision making of like, someone in their late teens, [laughs] where you're just like, I don't know. 

ALEX: Yeah...and he told me that right around that time, it was getting more and more stressful to work there, because the bosses were really breathing down their necks to bring in tons of money every day. There was an office sales goal. 

AKASH: So, $10,000 was the target at least we had to made it.

ALEX: Wow, $10,000 a day. That’s a lot. 

AKASH: $10,000 a day is a lot lot, Alex. It's a lot.

ALEX: What happened if you didn't make $10,000 a day? What would they do?

AKASH: [laughs] They—we knew at like, at the end of the day, uh, the—you know, the administrator is going to come and he's gonna yell at us, like we're not cracking sales. And we used get ultimatums that you might be getting notice period, you have to improve the performance. I got used to it after a few time. After getting it for a few time, I just got used to it. 

ALEX: Did people—was there like, a lot of yelling from the bosses? Did they come out and berate you a lot? Or was it only-

AKASH: Initially, there was none, in-initially, there was none, because it was really good times in the initial times. Like, we're making good sales. And, uh, later on, things got worse. 

ALEX: The people that they were calling were just starting to get wise to the whole tech support scam. And that actually brought out scam baiters, people who try and tie up the line for as long as possible. And so, Akash and his coworkers were having a lot of trouble hitting their daily goals, and their bosses in turn were getting way more stressed out, and according to Akash they started to actually get violent with people who worked there.

AKASH: I'll tell you something. Iwell, it was my third month in that place, right? I saw somebody being thrashed on the floor, from the bosses—

ALEX: Oh my God.

AKASH: And, you know, they was thrashing that guy so bad. And that actually terrified me so badly. I was like, damn, I got to leave this shit as soon as possible. 

ALEX: What did everybody else in the room do when this was happening? Did anyone try to help him? Did anybody do anything? 

AKASH: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Everybody was just sticking their ass in the chair. Because obviously, everybody was scared of the same thing happening to them, so nobody just raised a voice against it. And I was reallyI was hella scared. [laughs] 

ALEX: Akash says he wanted to quit, but he’d rationalized the choice to stay partly because of how payment worked at Accostings. because he would get his paycheck on the 7th of every month, but he would get his commissions ten days later. So if he quits right after he gets his paycheck he doesn't get his commissions. And if he quits after he gets his commissions, he loses all the money he made in those last 10 days.

And then, Akash says, the decision was basically made for him — because this rumor started about him, which is a rumor that he denies, that he was trying to steal contacts from Accostings to start his own company.

And when Akash told me this it made me realize actually one of the most memorable weirdest things that happened in India - I’d completely misunderstood.

So one point while I was in India, I’d met up for dinner with Kamal and the boss of Accostings, this guy named Deepak. And Deepak was a very imposing and frightening guy, and basically everything that he said to me the whole time we were there I think he was lying, but at one point during our dinner, we were asking him about the call center, and we were asking him about Alex Martin and he lifted his hand up and he was like “do you see this?” and he had this like bruise on his pinky. And he was like, he said, “Fuck him. I got that from smacking him because he tried to steal from us.”

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: And I figured he was just trying to scare me. 

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: But after the episode came out, I spoke to someone who’d worked at Accostings who said they heard Akash really WAS beaten up…

PJ: Woah

ALEX: And when I asked Akash about it, he confirmed it but he didn’t want to go into detail.

AKASH: All that I will say, all- all that I will say wasis that “hit” is a very small word. Okay? 

ALEX: Oh man, I'm really sorry. 

ALEX: So Akash left that job 3 years ago, he heard the original long distance episodes. But he hadn’t reached out to tell us what he knew because he was still really scared of the Accostings people. Even just to arrange our first phone call took a lot of back and forth. Because he knew that by deciding to talk to me, he might be putting himself at risk. But eventually, he decided that it was worth it, even if it meant that he's going to be looking over his shoulder for a little while. 


AKASH: If- if they do listen to this, they might laugh at it that I'm still scared of them. But yes, that's all right. No problem. 

ALEX: So, you have, you have concerns that if they hear this, they mightthat- that you- you're slightly scared. 

AKASH: Definitely, they will not like it. Definitely, they will not like it. But here, what I, what I'm saying, I want you to put this in the recording, especially what I'm gonna say now, that whatever I'm saying is true. Okay? There's nothing wrong that I have mentioned in here. And if it is hurting you, it is because it is wrong, and you know it. It's better that you leave that shit and do something good with all the money that you got. 

ALEX: It's been about three years now since Akash left Accostings. And fortunately, it sounds like he's in a pretty good place right now. I mean, he teaches classes about hacking and cyber security. And um, he actually tried making an episode of a podcast..

CLIP: Hackers are inevitable… Security’s a delusion… an attack is a surprise … the attacker likes it and the victim doesn’t…

PJ: It’s funny that like, he has ended up, at this point in his journey, having a job that is like, more like yours than it was when he started.

ALEX: Uh, yes. [laughs]


PJ: I feel like what you’ve ended up with is such a perfect like, internet relationship story because it’s like, you met this person, it was really exciting, but you were like projecting pretty wildly onto them and then like, you meet them in person, it’s disappointing, you like know that some of the things they’re telling you are true, some might not be...it just, it just sort of lives in this weird space between real and not real that feels actually really familiar to me.

ALEX: I mean, that, yes, that is exactly what it feels like. He did say a few months back before, before the coronavirus stuff set in in earnest that—

PJ: (laughs) Did he invite you to India?

ALEX: No! He said he was actually coming to Sacramento to do a talk. 

PJ: Uh huh.

ALEX: And I was like, ‘Well, we should meet up.’ The talk got cancelled but um, you know, if there—

PJ: You were gonna fly to California to see him?

ALEX: Yeah! Are you, are you implying that I’ve learned nothing?

PJ: I think the human heart is resilient and adorable.

ALEX: (laughs)


ALEX: Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt and me, Alex Goldman. Our show was produced this week by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Emmanuel Dzotsi,. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Lisa Wang. Additional music production by Mari Romano.

Special thanks this week to Snigda Poonam, Neep Scambaiting and all the Accostings employees who talked to me for this story and Catalin Grigoras and Cole Whitecotton from the National Center for Media Forensics at the University of Colorado Denver.

Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder.


Matt Lieber is a cool breeze on a humid day. 

You can listen to our show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you in two weeks.