As Marshall MacLuhan tried patiently to explain, new technologies quickly assume a life of their own, exerting a powerful and sometimes unexpected influence on the the modes of human communication and behaviour they facilitate and encourage. We see this all too clearly in the way the internet has seamlessly empowered criminal activity on a scale pre-digital mafias could only dream about.

But even the humble telephone, once linked to time-and-rate based billing systems, creates abundant opportunities for enterprising businesspersons, outright criminals and everyone in between. Fraud is as prolific over the phone as anywhere, with approximately 80% of calls received on the present author’s home line currently of a blatantly fraudulent nature (“it’s about your bank account/your Windows computer/your recently deceased Nigerian uncle”) or related to a prospective PI or PPI claim (which amounts to much the same thing in Bankstone News’ book).

Even where outright wickedness is not directly implicated, punters seem strangely willing to fork out vast sums for the privilege of using their phones to enter “exciting” competitions, “flirt “with “beautiful girls”, vote for their favourite contestant in some tawdry talent competition, or to save themselves the bother of looking up a phone number or address.

But premium rate numbers, it seems, can also earn big bucks for fraudsters who trick the gullible and unsuspecting into calling them back on one and then keeping them talking for as long as they possibly can.

It is a well known fact that insurance firms are a favourite target for fraudsters everywhere. The latest instance of this – highlighted this week by the very regulator that allows this sort of thing to happen in the first place (i.e. PhonepainPlus) – involves scammers phoning insurance brokers and requesting a callback to discuss their insurance needs. To anything other than a trained eye, the 070 numbers on which they request a callback look like standard mobile numbers.

Having hooked an unsuspecting broker – eager to secure the custom of the high net worth individual with such extensive and complicated home and motor insurance requirements – fraudsters can rack up close to £100 per hour by the simple expedient of keeping the broker representative on the line. This may require posing a series of increasingly far-fetched questions, queries and inquiries, but clearly beats working for a living.

Imagine the wicked smirks with which such scammers, weary of their own fib spinning, welcome the familiar request: “is it OK if I put you on hold for a moment?” At £1.50 per minute, even endlessly repeated plays of Greensleeves, Moby or the dreaded Michael Booblay could start to sound palatable to the feckless work shy perpetrators of such shamelessly mendacious duplicities.

Is nothing what it seems these days?



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