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Private Investigations

What is Pretexting and Is it Legal?

So, you’ve heard about pretexting and are trying to figure out what exactly this term means. Or, maybe you’ve recently received a strange or disturbing phone call with someone on the other end asking you for some personal information. What gives? Was that person really from XYZ company – or a fraud?

So what, exactly, is pretexting? The short answer is that someone is pretending to be someone else in order to gain some sort of information from you. This information is usually private and can help the pretexter put pieces together to obtain information that identifies you. And create huge problems in your private life.

Pretexting is usually a nasty business used for nefarious reasons to rip someone off or create havoc. We’re going to look at how pretexting works, with examples, in order for you to become more diligent as to when and how you give out private information.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. Firstly – I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY! Pretexting laws differ by state. There are also Federal Laws. And let’s not forget the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

Secondly, the information that I’m about to discuss is for educational purposes only! Please, do not use any of the below examples of pretexting I’m going to go through to find that long-lost high school girlfriend or dig into your neighbor’s background and create havoc. That’s a no-no.

My purpose here is to give you a general idea of what pretexting is – and how you can recognize an attempt someone is making in trying to obtain your private information. That’s it. Do not use pretexting for nefarious reasons!

Yes, I know that that police and other law enforcement (TV is full of cop shows showing many examples), use pretexting, pass themselves off as a different person, and are allowed to lie to suspects and witnesses in order to gain information. You are not the police!

What is Pretexting?

Let’s first define pretexting. Part of the ‘Social Engineering’ family, pretexting involves a person (usually some sort of investigator or scammer), trying to gain private information about an individual using a false sense of trust. In other words, making you feel comfortable enough for you to give them information that you would normally not give out.

pretexting-papers

Pretexting is used to gain sensitive as well as non-sensitive information. Some people use pretexting methods simply to find old friends. Others use it to find out where someone banks.

There are many types of ‘social engineering’ like phishing, piggybacking, spoofing, baiting, and quid pro quo – but we’re going to concentrate strictly on pretexting here with some real examples of how scammers get YOU to give up private and confidential information. Specifically, the use of the telephone to gain information. For more information on social engineering, check out my article on Social Engineering – You’re Being Scammed.

Is Pretexting Legal?

The short answer is YES. Again, there are so many different variations of pretexting that it’s impossible to say here whether you have been a victim of illegal pretexting – or if you are breaking the law regarding pretexting.  Federal and state laws determine the legalities. For example, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act prohibits, generally speaking, and sort of pretexting to gain financial information.

In other cases, invading someone’s privacy can be illegal. My advise it to perform a thorough search on the internet regarding your specific state’s laws regarding pretexting. Again, it seems that the laws regarding pretexting change a on a daily basis. Consult a competent attorney.

Who is Pretexting?

Scammers are the biggest culprits; however, Law Enforcement, Private Investigators, Process Servers and others will use many of the same techniques. For our purposes, let’s assume that you don’t have any credit problems – or criminal problems.

That leaves us with the scammers. They want money. Period. And, they have hundreds of ways to gain important pieces of your life and use that information gain even more information.

Who is Pretexting Used Against?

You. And financial institutions, employers, your family – literally anyone with a pulse. Keep in mind that it’s not just you that these scammers are calling. They’re calling anyone you may be associated with to gather information ON YOU!

The reason’s are numerous. They can be trying to find your address, your date of birth – they’re even using YOU to find out some information on someone you know. Be alert!

Examples of Pretexting

legal document

Let’s look at a couple of the most common examples here. We’ll examine the process that pretext experts use in trying to obtain your physical location and your place of employment.

It’s important to note that the following examples are fairly basic. Many investigators or scammers will combine methods, use variations – and even call your relatives or friends to reach their goals. Scary. Let’s take a closer look at the two common pretexting scams below:

  1. Find Out Where You Live
  2. Find Your Place of Employment

Pretexting to Find Your Home Address

The pretext below is used all the time – because it’s simple and very effective. The caller is simply trying to find your home address. This is usually because they wish to send a Process Server your way with legal documents (a possible lawsuit against you), or they’re just trying to get ONE PIECE of your identity to use in a further scam. Here are the details:

This scam is effective because the scammer already has some of your information. They may have your old address, phones, etc. They probably also have a few of your relative’s names.

The scammer will probably have a paid version of Classmates.com.  And, yes, Classsmates.com is still very popular. Even if you never signed up for an account – most of the people you know will have at least heard of them and know that it’s a legitimate company. First, they’ll see if you are listed. They’ also check Facebook and other Social Media platforms to see what additional information they can gather.

Then, they’ll estimate when you graduated from High School and find out where you were living around the age of 18 – using the time frame and MapQuest or something similar to narrow down the area. This is where their knowledge of your relatives comes in handy.

Then, they call one of your relative’s and say that they are on the reunion committee for a class reunion INCLUDING SURROUNDING HIGH SCHOOLS AND 2-5 YEARS WORTH OF GRADUATING CLASSES.  “Do you have John’s address so we can send him the reunion information?” Relatives will usually give you their current address.

Again, this simple pretext has so many different variations of the above pretext – I just want to make you aware of how simple some cons are. In fact, some of the best pretexts are extremely simple.

Pretexting to Find Where You Work

The below pretext has been around for awhile. In fact, it’s so effective and popular (because it works!), that just about every year you’ll find a brand-new article on the internet saying that someone got scammed by this method. There are many variations of this con, so beware! Notice that, in this particular case, the sole purpose is to find out where you work – most likely so that they can garnish your wages.

Notice that the caller has already done some preliminary work: They know your name and address. They probably know your full (or partial) date of birth and social security number. And notice the first few questions that lend legitimacy to the questions. Here we go….

Hello?
May I speak to ____________ _______________?
Who’s this?
This is James (I’m really trying to find out where you work!) Bond from the Jury Selection Committee. Is _______there?
This is ____________.
Hi ______. The reason I’m calling is that we sent you a jury questionnaire about 4 or 5 weeks ago and we haven’t received it back yet. Do you recall getting that in the mail?
Jury Duty? I haven’t received anything about jury duty.
Well, our records show that the questionnaire was mailed out some time ago. Let’s see if we have the right address. You live at ______________________. Is that correct?
Yes.
Well, I don’t know why you wouldn’t have received it. Hmmm….I guess we’ll have to do this on the phone. Do you have a couple of minutes?
I guess so. Do you mean to tell me that I have to be on jury duty?
No, don’t panic. It just means that the jury pool is low and we’re pre-qualifying people. It’s still a 1 in 500 chance that you’ll be selected.
OK
Are you an American citizen?
Yes
Have you served on jury duty in the last 12 months?
No
Are you handicapped in any way and, if so, would you require special services?
Well, my wife says I am – but no, I don’t have any disability.
Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Sorry, but we have to ask that – if you were convicted of a felony you would be immediately disqualified for jury service.
No, I’ve never been in trouble.
If you were selected and had to spend one week or more on jury duty would your employer pay your wages during this time?
Yes, he probably would.
Good! We may have to verify that. Where are you employed?
Imverygullible Paving and Grooving Co.
I see. Do you have the address and phone number? I need this to complete the questionnaire.
OK, here it is:_______________
Great. Now remember, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been selected. Let me just verify again your name and address and we’re done.
OK, it’s ________________
Thanks again for your time, and if by any chance you get another questionnaire in the mail, you don’t have to respond. We may have already sent out another one. Go ahead and look at it – it has the same information/questions that I just asked you.

Pretty simple, huh? Surprisingly, too many people fall for this scam. They may figure it out after 25% of their pay is deducted on the next pay cycle due to a wage garnishment.

How Can I Prevent Being a Victim of Pretexting?

Don’t be a victim! There are some basic rules you need to follow in order to prevent someone from gaining your personal, sensitive information. Among them:

  • Always verify the identity of anyone you are speaking with
  • Get their name and phone number – then call back using the company’s main line (found on the internet or in the Yellow Pages)
  • NEVER give out your Social Security Number or Date of Birth (Even partials!)
  • And by the way – NEVER confirm on the phone that you’re OK with them recording the conversation!

Actually, it’s quite simple. If you did not initiate the call – treat it like you would a scam or a telemarketing scheme. Give them nothing, and hang up. The IRS, banks and other financial institutions, the Social Security Administration, etc., never call people.

If you believe that it may be legitimate – hang up and call the place directly. It’s my guess that they’ll tell you they never contact people by phone and you were probably the victim of a “phishing” incident.

Final Thoughts on Pretexting

The above three examples are for entertainment purposes only. Please – do not try using these pretexts for illegal means. Keep in mind that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of scams out there. And new ones being dreamed up on a daily basis.

Different types of pretexting may or may not be illegal. When in doubt – don’t do it! And, if you’re using pretexting techniques to gain information on someone who owes you money – be very careful as you may very well be breaking the law.

It simply amazes me when I hear of someone being scammed. Their bank account was drained. Or they wired money to Bangladesh. Ouch. Don’t be a victim! Believe me, as a business owner with multiple phone lines, I get a TON of scammers calling. If I’m not in the mood to mess with them – I simply hang up.

Related Pretexting Topics

Has anyone gone to jail for pretexting? Yes! A simple internet search will reveal many investigators and regular people who have ended up in jail for illegally pretexting. Don’t take the chance! Consult an Attorney, do your own research, and obey the laws! Remember that watching the police on TV is NOT an accurate depiction of what you can and cannot do!

Do I have any recourse if I have been scammed? Of course you do. The problem is, most scammers are using fake names, addresses, and phone numbers. Their bank account is probably overseas. You should contact your State’s Attorney General, of course, but I really don’t have any good news here. NEVER GIVE OUT ANY INFORMATION OVER THE PHONE!