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August 24, 2009

That Was Weird
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:20 PM *

I just got an unusual phone call. Caller ID said it was from Clearwater, Florida, and the number was 1-727-475-2550.

It went like this:

Ring ring ring

Me: Hello?

Caller: Mr. Macdonald?

Me: Yeah?

Caller: This is the Reader’s Digest Customer Satisfaction office. I’m calling about your subscription to Reader’s Digest.

(Note: I have never had a subscription to Reader’s Digest.)

Me: Tell me about my subscription to Reader’s Digest.

Caller: Are you still receiving it at [address]?

Me: Who are you, really?

Click. Bzzzzzz.

Comments on That Was Weird:
#1 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Gonna ring 'em back?

#2 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:34 PM:

Is there some sort of Scientology/Readers Digest consipiracy? Should there be?

#3 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:35 PM:

Fletcher, ensuring he has your right address for service of (abuse of) process?

#4 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:38 PM:

FWIW, Caller ID is trivially faked these days. The number may or may not exist, and may or may not have anything to do with where you were called from. Even if it's a real number and is associated with wherever that call came from, what with capabilities like call forwarding to VOIP numbers, the people answering the call could be anywhere in the world. (For example, somewhere without a cooperative law enforcement community. Yes, I'm assuming the end-game for this call is most likely either identity theft or credit card number theft.)

#5 ::: Fuzzy ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:42 PM:

Was [address] your current (or a former) address?

#6 ::: Julie ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:42 PM:

I'm with Clifton Royston @#4. Probably an ID theft ruse. They chose the wrong house to call, didn't they?

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:45 PM:

#5 Fuzzy -- I'm not going to answer that, because why should I give them the information they were looking for?

It could be that the next line was going to be that the person was going to offer to extend my subscription for a ridiculously low rate, and (my lucky day!) he could do it right over the phone.

#8 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:46 PM:

Oh, duh, Fletcher. Also very possible. I'd forgotten the Florida connection until I saw it mentioned in the other post just now.

#9 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:48 PM:

Caller: Oh, you don't subscribe/your subscription has expired? We have a subscription special offer running now. Just give us your credit card information ...

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:49 PM:

Land line, Florida. Carrier is Level 3 Communications, LLC.

#11 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:51 PM:

What's even weirder is that Reader's Digest just filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:54 PM:

Janet: I know. Whoever it is probably figures Reader's Digest is too busy right now to pay attention to them.

#13 ::: Adrienne Martini ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 01:59 PM:

Or perhaps it's the future robot overlords making sure that you were still in the place they thought you were. Robot overlords are real suspenders-and-a-belt types when planning a revolution.

I've said too much.

#14 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 02:06 PM:

"Who are you, really?"

I hear Bill Cosby as Noah in that question.

#15 ::: Julie ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 02:27 PM:

Speaking of phone scams, I got a blocked call from someone claiming to be from the collection unit of a charge card I have, looking for a Julia with my last name. He got real huffy and asked for all sorts of information which I refused to hand over. I told him I thought it was odd that I hadn't had a written notice in accordance with the law, and if he wanted to contact me he could do it in writing. He decided I wasn't the sucker, I mean, Julia, he was looking for. But I kept him busy for a few minutes. ;-)

#16 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 02:35 PM:

Maybe it was Jim calling himself from the Future and trying to change History by selling him a sub to Reader's Digest.

#17 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 02:39 PM:

Linkmeister @ 14

I didn't but I do now! Hysterical.

#18 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 02:47 PM:

Janet, #11: Well, that's a bit of schadenfreude. I used to subscribe to RD, but I let my subscription lapse sometime in the late 80s when I got tired of their support for the shrillest of the right-wing screeds. In recent years they seem to have moved away from that stance somewhat, but it's too little, too late.

#19 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 02:49 PM:

"I just wanted to be sure you were there. I thought you would be. You're right in the groove, kid, right in the groove."

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 02:55 PM:

"There was this guy, and he was always requesting shows that had already played. Yes. No. You have to tell her before. He couldn't quite grasp the idea that the charge nurse couldn't make it be yesterday. She couldn't turn back time, thank you, Einstein! Now, he was nuts! He was a fruitcake, Jim!"
- Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys

#21 ::: Spherical Time ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 03:13 PM:

JMD @ 7: #5 Fuzzy -- I'm not going to answer that, because why should I give them the information they were looking for?

I think Fuzzy was wondering if they had actual information about you. Since it wasn't Reader's Digest, it could have been someone calling to confirm their information via deception as Clifton @ 4 suggested.

#22 ::: Marc Moskowitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 03:14 PM:

"This is the hand. The hand that takes."

#23 ::: moe99 ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 03:24 PM:

As someone who went to the college that DeWitt Wallace funded for many years, the Reader's Digest was a bit of a joke. The college grew more liberal than he could stand and he cut the college off. Took years to get back in his good graces and then after he died, it took Elliott Spitzer as NYAG to threaten to sue the trustees of the grandiose funds set up in his will, to release the assets set aside to benefit many large NY charities and this one, small liberal arts college, so that they could diversify and not just take earnings from Reader's Digest stock. For which, as an alum, I shall be forever grateful to Mr. Spitzer.

#24 ::: Duncan Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 03:25 PM:

Teresa @ 10

Level-3 is a major player (right up there with AT&T) in providing backbone network services. They are strong into the VoIP arena, and provide neraly all the e911 service nationwide.

Having the number come back to Level-3 means that it was a VoIP call (.99 probability) and nothing more.

#25 ::: Duncan Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 03:27 PM:

Teresa @ 10

Level-3 is a major player (right up there with AT&T) in providing backbone network services. They are strong into the VoIP arena, and provide neraly all the e911 service nationwide.

Having the number come back to Level-3 means that it was a VoIP call (.99 probability) and nothing more.

#26 ::: Lon ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 03:33 PM:

The conspiracy minded would perhaps see some nefarious connection between it and this very recent article.

#27 ::: Duncan J Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 03:44 PM:

DJM @24/25

Serendipity.

Singularity.

Schadenfreude.

That double-post _was_ weird.

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 04:11 PM:

If you want to multiply your conspiracy theories, you could work in the fact that Absolute Write has gone down.

#29 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 04:12 PM:

Lon #26: From that article: "According to Fletcher, his company has published more than 1,000 authors and sold 50,000 books...."

Which works out to fifty copies (or less) per author. That puts him right there in PublishAmerica territory.

#30 ::: Fuzzy ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 05:09 PM:

Sorry -- not trying to aid the scammers. I was curious whether it was "how do you have so much information on me?"-weird or just "man, you're really fishing"-weird. I suppose it's all the same weirdness in the end.

#31 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 05:19 PM:

Maybe there's another James MacDonald at that address, and now he's going to die from a humor-deficiency because you hosed his access to "Laughter, the Best Medicine."

#32 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 05:20 PM:

Spherical Time: And Jim was probably making sure that, if it's someone more nefarious than the run of the mill social engineering phisher, they can't use this post to verify the information they have.

#33 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 05:25 PM:

....Clearwater, Florida...

Ring ring ring

Me: Hello?

Caller: Mr. Macdonald?

Me: Yeah?

Caller: Candygram!

#34 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 05:36 PM:

Jim @ #26 - I wonder how many tens of books were sold outside the circle of those poor authors themselves?

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 05:53 PM:

I Am Jim's Paranoia Gland

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 05:57 PM:

Jim @29:

Lon #26: From that article: "According to Fletcher, his company has published more than 1,000 authors and sold 50,000 books...."

Which works out to fifty copies (or less) per author. That puts him right there in PublishAmerica territory.

Have PA's per-author sales declined? I thought their average title sold 72-73 copies.

Not that that's not the same territory: down in the double digits, with almost all the copies sold to the author or to the author's friends and relations.

#37 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 09:53 PM:

If it's really coming from Clearwater, it's quite possible that the Church of Scientology is trying to expand its mailing list in its usual ham-handed way. Simply buying a mass marketing list like normal people would not occur to your average Operating Thetan.

#38 ::: Lawrence ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2009, 10:10 PM:

A little quick check shows that number as a landline in the Clearwater area, but I'd need to pay the reverse-directory folks to get more details than that.

Telemarketers for Reader's Digest or the like almost always show up on sites complaining about them; this one doesn't. It does show up on a list of "suspicious" numbers.

Interesting.

#39 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 01:12 AM:

Any outfit that is set up to do outbound telemarketing can set any number they please to show up as where the call is coming from. The number that you're hunting down might be entirely innocent of any connection to the jerks making that call. The phone company can tell where the call actually came from, but I don't think they're very excited to hunt that sort of thing down for their customers.

#40 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 03:21 AM:

janetl #39: Any outfit that is set up to do outbound telemarketing can set any number they please to show up as where the call is coming from.

It sounds to me like it should be illegal to do that. Deceptive trade practices.

Ah, here we go: DMA Statement Caller-ID Falsification

#41 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 06:28 AM:

Caller-ID has never been good enough for critical applications. This doesn't stop people relying on it and others exploiting their reliance.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 06:50 AM:

My office phone regularly gets robo-calls offering me assistance with the credit-card debt I do not have, the auto insurance I do not have, or the mortgage I definitely don't have on that address.

#43 ::: Sarah W ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 09:25 AM:

Lawrence @ #38:

I just ran the number through RefUSA here at work. It doesn't come up in the residential or business databases, which could mean:

a) it's a brand new number
b) it's a cell phone number
c) it's not a main\registered number on a phone system
d) it's unlisted
e)RefUSA missed it

I use reverse directories all the time---usually for historic research--but modern tech has rendered the most current ones hit-or-miss for phone numbers.

#44 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 01:17 PM:

#42 Fragano: I work in a lab that has emergency phones--you pick them up and they immediately connect to the local dispatch. No keypad or anything.

I was working in the lab once, and one of them rang. I thought it was possible that the local emergency folks were calling to alert us to something, so I picked it up. Robocall. I hadn't even known that the phone had a *number*.

#45 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 01:59 PM:

TChem@44: Ouch. I don't think I want to work with stuff where it's felt that my lab needs a direct phone line to emergency dispatch (where I'm not expected to have time to dial "911", or where the time it would take me to dial it is considered crucial).

You be careful in there!

#46 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 03:17 PM:

@44: I used to spend a lot of time in a building whose elevator emergency intercoms were ... telephones. The old-fashoned wall phone kind, with the handset and everything. But no dial; I assume that, like your lab, they were hardwired to call 911.

And one time, one of them rang, too. I didn't answer it, because opening the little cupboard door in front of the phone would set off the local elevator alarm (like hitting the emergency stop button), but I would bet it was a robocall.

I suspect at the time these elevators were installed, there was no such thing as a phone with no number.

#47 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 04:26 PM:
I didn't answer it, because opening the little cupboard door in front of the phone would set off the local elevator alarm (like hitting the emergency stop button), but I would bet it was a robocall.

Or Laurence Fishburne.

#48 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 06:15 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden @ 36:
almost all the copies sold to the author or to the author's friends and relations

I guess Piglet hasn't tried to publish through PA; 72 copies would never have been enough.

#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 06:22 PM:

And his uncle Trespassers W would have taken several.

#50 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 09:22 PM:

Bruce -- I thought Piglet was an orphan (Kanga tried to ~adopt him once); Rabbit (as expectable) was the one with all the friends and relations. (It's amazing what sticks in the mind....)

#51 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 09:56 PM:

It is worth noting that this morning's paper had news that Readers Digest has declared bankruptcy.

#52 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2009, 10:05 PM:

#40 - it probably is illegal to fake caller-id for commercial purposes. The problem is that it's technically trivial, and virtually required. The ISDN PRI (Primary Rate Interface) protocol was invented for trunking - linking telephone switching offices together. Each call carries its outgoing caller-id - but the system is utterly trusting. You can put anything in the fields and it will be delivered.

Given the nature of trunk telephony, it's hard to see how you could engineer this property out.

A few jobs ago, back before the tech crunch, we had a "product" that gave away free long distance calls. (You can give away any amount of long distance ... but the business model's not too obvious.) This used PRI trunking. We set up the first leg calling the "originator" - needed to put something in the caller-id, so we used the "originator" number. Your phone showed that you were calling yourself. Then we used the same caller-id to set up the other leg, and the recipient had a normal experience.

I think SIP/VoIP gateways are similarly trusting, for the same reasons, that validating the purported originating number is very hard to do even when it is legitimate; so the door is left wide open.

There is another layer of the system where it is possible to get more real identity - this is the one used for charging. It's called ANI - Automatic Number Identification. But it's specifically for the telco charging model, so it identifies the trunk, and only the trunk.

There's an analogy to email spam, in that the protocol was designed in an entirely different model than the one it's deployed in today. PRI makes perfect sense for a world of interlocking monopoly PTTs (Post, Telegraph, Telephone) - but by the time it was widely deployed, there were few PTTs and more and more commercial competitors.

#53 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2009, 07:03 PM:

CHip @ 50:

Rats, you're right. Now why was I thinking of Piglet? Odd chain of association just prior to writing that comment: Joan Baez -> Mimi Baez -> Richard Fariña -> "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me" -> Piglet. Just call me Scatterbrain.

#54 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2009, 07:18 PM:

Now, now, Bruce, Rabbit and Piglet can both have relations...but that would be rishathra.

#55 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2009, 08:01 PM:

Bruce @ #53, um, how do you get from Fariña's book title to Piglet? I recognize the chain up to that point, but then it breaks for me.

#56 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2009, 09:22 PM:

As everyone here knows, but it wouldn't hurt to reiterate: a typical strategy of magazine subscription sales is to send a notice "Please Renew Your Subscription To [title]," when you don't even have a subscription to this title. They also send individual renewal notices bundled with the issues your workplace subscribes to when your workplace obtains a group subscription from a jobber. I had to tell the secretary to throw these away.

Magazine subscription sales are one notch above Nigerian 419 scammers, except the former are legal for some reason. They rely on people being too dim or too intimidated by the scary letters to throw them away. I picture some old guy or lady with Alzheimer's expiring under the weight of 1000 pounds of multiple copies of the same magazine.

#57 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2009, 01:31 PM:

Clearwater, Florida, you say?

That might have been my grandmother. She's a crazy bitch.

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