May I Ask YOU A Question Or Two…?

The iPhone5 launch is very exciting for many people, and I have to admit myself included. Whatever your opinion of that particular can of worms, one thing is for sure, and that is many people will be parting with a lot of money in the next week or two in order to get hold of the latest piece of geek chic.

When there is a likelihood of a money changing hands, scammers and criminals will never be far behind.

I took a phone call (from a UK 0845 number) on my mobile phone on Saturday from someone claiming to be from O2, with an offer to get the new iPhone5 on the day of release without having to queue for hours at my local O2 store. They would even honour the lower retail store price compared to the order online price; on my tariff that meant £70 for the handset rather than £100 because I was a good customer (which I am). What an offer!

Without thinking, I confirmed the first line of my address… and then thought “Oh crap, shouldn’t have done that”; I got a bit carried away. They had called me, not the other way around, I really had no idea who they were!

Cast your mind back a few years ago, and there was a semi legal scam whereby people would take calls from “a representative from <insert mobile provider here>”. They would entice the individual with early upgrades and a new phone, get the verbal agreement, and then shift the contract to a new, third party provider. The downside was that this provider had many hidden charges and an average £25 bill would become £125 overnight partnered with a legally binding contract. This was soon clamped down upon, but this example starting to ring through my mind!

It was at this point that I had verbally agreed that I wanted the new iPhone delivered to my door on a new and cheaper contract this coming Friday… Oh dear God, Have I just committed professional suicide here?!

I turned on my professional brain, and then asked the person at the end if she really was from O2, and obviously she replied “yes!”. So I asked her if she would mind if I asked her a few security questions “of course not, I would do the same!”. i logged onto my O2 account and asked her for my account number, last bill amount and how long I had been a customer. She had all of the information to hand, I was happy, and I am now looking forward to a new phone on Friday (either that or this blog will be closed down on Saturday!).

It did occur to me however that I felt a little awkward asking these questions. How many other people in a similar position, offered an enticing deal would do the same thing? And how often would someone be ripped off as a result. We receive phone calls all the time from our service providers, and very often just asking for innocent information or making sure you are happy with their current deal, but sometimes the first question they ask is a “security” question to confirm you are the correct person. This normal procedure is easily hijacked by social engineers who could over the course of a few months gather a vast amount of information just from phoning you and asking you outright!

Has anybody else experienced this kind of thing? Have you missed some great deals because you missed the opportunity to grab it because you were too suspicious or have you thrown caution to wind only to regret it later, if only for a short period of time? How cautious do we need to be in these circumstances?

One thing I learnt however is that in the middle of a conversation, it is very easy to forget who called who; remembering that if you answer the call you haven’t confirmed their identity and therefore need to ask some security questions of your own is probably  the best way of keeping you out of trouble!

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About Thom Langford

An information security professional, award winning security blogger and industry commentator. Available as a speaking head and presenter on topics relating to information security, risk management and compliance.

One response to “May I Ask YOU A Question Or Two…?”

  1. Girish says :

    Nice article Thom. Brings into my mind how cautious a consumer should be even while he/she is attending a phone call. I believe that consumer consciousness needs to be taken to the next level where security advertisements should be pushed to users educating them about information security measures to be adapted. While banks and some other financial services organizations do it, it’s high time that security awareness be ingrained into our DNA. “An information security enlightment a day keeps the hacker away”

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