back to article That call center tech scammer could be a human trafficking victim

Human trafficking for the purposes of populating cyber scam call centers is expanding beyond southeast Asia, where the crime was previously isolated. Interpol revealed this week that an ongoing investigation has discovered evidence of abuse emanating from South America and also the Middle East. Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar …

  1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    This is just the start

    It's clearly going to continue until international co-operation between governments and police forces is greater than international co-operation between criminal gang members. They'll continue to kidnap people while it makes economic sense to do so. So basically until AI gets effective enough to scam people. All you need is an AI voice to simulate a bad phone line and a poor English (or whatever) accent.

    On the other hand, if it became harder to scam people, things would change. This is the nub of the matter: the effort is minimal and the potential rewards are huge.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: This is just the start

      At the very least, the telcos could block so many more of these scam calls. Of the ones I get, the vast majority are presenting an obviously fake number, or a hijacked "local" number. The Telco knows this call came either from overseas or are injected into the PSTN from a VOIP provider. The telcos are not incentivised to block these calls because they get their cut of the cash in the termination fee.

      1. EricM

        Telcos have no incentive to do the decent thing? Then let's regulate them.

        Wiping out or at least limiting the variablity of fake caller IDs should be a manageable task.

        Always displaying a correct country code for example already would help a lot.

        My parents are both in their 80s and get harassed by those kind of calls multiple times a week from fake, presumably local numbers.

        Blocking numbers (basically the only available defense mechanism on fixed lines) is meaningless, as long as attackers are able to switch country/region/number with ease.

        Worse: Baisically telcos are acting as a partner in crime here. They earn money by carrying those fake calls.

        So they are not only not incentivized to stop this abuse - au contraire - the even profit from it.

        Looks like an regulation issue to me... which would finally result also in less human trafficking and abductions.

        There does not seem to be a downside besides less profits for Telcos.

      2. HereIAmJH

        Re: This is just the start

        At the very least, the telcos could block so many more of these scam calls.

        They could block just about all of them if they if enforced calling party authentication. The CND technology has been there for decades, but it costs money to update their systems/policies to police their own customers and set up trust relationships with peers. They should have been incentivized to do it because it's in their own best interest. Raise your hand if you still answer phone calls from people who aren't in your contacts list. If I don't recognize the number, you better plan on leaving voicemail. People have switched to texts, but I get enough unsolicited texts from people wanting to buy my house that it won't be too long before customers start demanding text filtering capability. The problem just follows from tech to tech because they never address the real problem, an unsecure network.

        Telcos thought LTE/5G was great, phone calls are just data and we can retire all those old, expensive call switching technologies. Now phones become just a handy mobile Internet terminal. So what do they do when some other internet provider decides to steal all their customers? For instance, Starlink. They missed the boat on Internet connected data centers and cloud computing. Will they finally innovate and find a reason for us to keep buying their services?

        1. Filippo Silver badge

          Re: This is just the start

          Yup. The only solution is to make proper caller identification compulsory. A telco must either show an authenticated caller ID, or the name of the non-compliant or foreign provider the call comes from. Give them a year or two to sort it out; after that, any telco that isn't doing this gets their license revoked.

          Another bit of policy I'd gladly support is a total ban on marketing calls. It has become obvious that the current consent-based legislation is unenforceable (even though it really shouldn't be), therefore the next best solution is to just throw it all out.

      3. Binraider Silver badge

        Re: This is just the start

        The telcos are hopeless on this front. I made some vociferous complaints to Vermin media about it; which given that these calls were almost the ONLY calls that ever came to my land line (and I suspect an awful lot of others) the list of excuses was rather feeble.

        What it boils down to is it is not worth the telcos effort to try and block unwanted traffic. Until the point that it is. (Thinking DDOS here).

        Police going after them offers similar returns : not worth the coppers effort. Though it seems the only thing that is worth their time are being traffic cops.

  2. train_wreck

    I worked at an IT service/sales store for a while and we somehow managed to get on every scam call lead list out there, we had multiple calls every day for years. I watch some scam baiters on YouTube/Twitch that are hilarious (Kitboga & Rinoa Poison are great.) But I’ve absolutely wondered how many were being forced against their will. I read about one in Vietnam recently that was like a gated compound where they kept the “workers”. Awful stuff.

    1. HereIAmJH
      Joke

      But I’ve absolutely wondered how many were being forced against their will.

      It's nice that the trafficked have options. Can't be a sex slave, have a seat in our call center. Isn't capitalism great?

    2. Andy Non Silver badge
      Trollface

      We never use our land line, which is TPS registered and only receives spam and scam calls. We went through a spate of calls pushing spray loft insulation, claiming that the British Lung Foundation had deemed normal fibreglass insulation harmful to health. They offered a free, no obligation survey of our property etc. I always hung up after their spiel. I'd heard of this scam before. They use high pressure sales tactics if you let them through the door. They spray some sort of foam in your loft and charge a small fortune for the treatment. It blocks damp into the property and causes mould and makes it very difficult to sell the property subsequently. Knocking thousands off the value of the property.

      One day feeling annoyed by their persistence I played along with the call centre droid and gave them a fake name and carefully selected non-existent address. I got a follow up call shortly afterwards from the company itself who arranged to visit on a particular day and time. They phoned on the morning of the visit to confirm. A few hours later there was an expletive laden message on my answering machine... they couldn't find my house... my house number didn't exist on the street address I'd given them.

  3. veti Silver badge

    I had my first ever spam call from an AI, this week. It said its name was "Chrissy" and it was doing some kind of survey, but it was definitely a robot, so I didn't feel bad about hanging up on it.

    Human trafficking is moderately risky and fairly expensive - at least, compared with robots. This is one problem that AI should be able to take care of, probably quicker than law enforcement could do it.

    1. Blank Reg

      I never feel bad about hanging up on them, though sometimes I don't bother, I just put the phone down walk away while they yammer on

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        An AI assistant that can keep yammering endlessly with scammers, and my mother, would be great.

        1. Yorick Hunt Silver badge

          Doesn't need to be AI - Lenny still does a great job; the longest my PBX has had a scammer running in circles with Lenny was just over 25 minutes ;-)

        2. efenjay

          The JollyRogerTelephone.com should just the site for you. Pity only available in US though.

          "We provide friendly, patient robots that talk to these rude telemarketers for you. They love to chit-chat, and will often keep nasty callers engaged for several minutes.

          By keeping the bad guys busy, you keep them from pestering other innocent people, and you hit them where it hurts most...their wallets...because no matter how hard they try, our robots won't ever buy anything.

          And best of all, you get recordings of each call, so you can hear them squirm and have a good laugh!"

        3. Fred Daggy Silver badge
          Trollface

          There is an excellent paragraph on how this can be managed without the complexity of computers, explanation for how to handle conversations with those we hold dear, but do not exercise their right to silence. Go (re-)read "The Fifth Elephant".

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whitelist your parents phone

    Add every contact number that you know is genuine; family, doctors, specialists, etc.

    Tell them to ignore calls that don’t have a “name”, like “Pam next door” or “hairdresser”.

    It’s a good start.

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: Whitelist your parents phone

      The problem there is the withheld numbers, I don't know if they are legit or not until I answer them, more often than not they are calls from the hospital about an appointment.

      1. Dr Paul Taylor

        NHS withholding numbers

        I almost missed seeing my Dad for the last time before he died because of this policy.

        I got a mobile call with number withheld when I was on a bus that would have taken me to the hospital (where he stayed three months).

        I didn't answer the call because at the time somebody else was harassing me and withholding their number.

        If the phone had simply shown the hospital switchboard number, to distinguish the call from the other person, I would have answered.

        It turns out that Dad had had a severe relapse, but he survived another two months. After he died, they took his brain out and sliced it up; he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia (whilst Mum had Alzheimers, at the same time).

        This is yet another case where Manglement makes decisions for "security" reasons, without thinking it through.

        Please can someone here who works for the NHS tell us whether this is still the policy.

        We are expected to talk with doctors (giving highly personal information and taking advice) without even the most basic confirmation that they are who they say they are. In line with this article, they could be scammers.

        1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

          Re: NHS withholding numbers

          This is shocking, yes. I have always thought the same thing, and in fact when I received a call from a doctor the other day which was withheld, I answered suspiciously, until they confirmed why they were phoning. I told them, as I always do, that the number was withheld so I assumed it was a scam. Hopefully they’ll feed that info back somehow. The odd thing is that some calls from my GP are withheld, and some aren’t. Mind you, they’re using a “Hi-Hi” phone system, so the scam’s on them.

          Seriously though, I cannot see a valid justification for this. The closest I got is someone who explained it to me once that it was so that relatives or other people who share a phone don’t know that it’s the doctor, to maintain privacy. But seeing as the only legitimate calls that are withheld are doctors or hospitals, and seeing as most people use their own mobile anyway, that justification is no longer valid.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: NHS withholding numbers

            > I cannot see a valid justification for this

            Career risk

            Somebody brings up 'security' at a meeting and gets a kindly smile from compliance = good

            Somebody says it's stupid, get frowny face from compliance = bad

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Whitelist your parents phone

        My hospitals and doctors have stopped using withheld numbers. Calls from individual clinicians have the relevant Switchboard/Reception as the caller ID.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Whitelist your parents phone

      This is SOP for me and anyone who will listen to me.

      Leave a message. Can't leave a message? Why not?

      But things have STILL gotten so bad I've actually had to turn the ringer off. Completely off.

      Just like the Internet in general, public comms system are being rendered useless by artificial noise.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm...

    If you call them out on the call from scamming, they are not trafficking victims. I have no sympathy for them - they are scamming elderly and non-technical people out of A LOT of money/pensions/savings.

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