How do you pass an act of Congress through a deeply divided government?

You inundate politicians with robocalls.

In a rare instance of bipartisanship, a bill flew through the U.S. Senate on May 23 aimed at cracking down on the swarm of nuisance calls.

I’ve often wondered whether people really fall for these calls. For me, the barrage has helped develop a quickened ability to say “no,” and I’ve learned how to hang up on people without feeling too bad – important life skills.

Not making as many headlines, but possibly more dangerous than the robocalls, is the tried and true email phishing scheme. It is also on the rise – more personal and targeted than ever.

Just the other week – unbeknownst to me – I sent out a request for “a quick favor.” You might have gotten it, although I suspect it was cleverly targeted at the El Paso Inc. staff.

A few colleagues bit and asked me what I needed.

The response, supposedly from me, was a convoluted request to go buy a whole bunch of Google Play gift cards, then scratch off their pins and email it all back to a criminal faking my email.

This is the modern version of the Nigerian wire transfer request.

As far as cons go, this seems like a lot of work for a piddly return. How many bootlegged gift cards do you need to sell on the black market to make it worthwhile? It requires a remarkable level of organization, attention to detail and fantastic follow up. Imagine if you put that work ethic into a real job!

But, the numbers add up. The Federal Trade Commission reported in February that imposter scams topped the list of consumer complaints reported in 2018. The total amount paid on the gift or reload card scam nearly doubled last year to $78 million, and that’s just what was reported.

While my example seems simple, it was more calculated than I realized. Most of these imposter scenarios start with a request from the boss or someone in authority so the recipient’s natural response is to comply. Behind the scenes, someone is doing a little homework to figure out which individual the request should come from, and who they should send it to.

Other efforts are extraordinarily sophisticated, probably when the stakes are a lot higher than Google Play gift cards. Do you remember when the El Paso streetcar project got swindled for $1.3 million in 2016?

The scammer will do some serious research on the target, going through anything available online. That includes current business dealings or social media accounts to identify behavior, opinions, affiliations, interest groups and relationships.

So what do we do? Be suspicious. Be aware. Be vigilant.

In a recent report focused on the health care industry, security experts recommended running phishing simulations to train and prepare staff.

A top El Paso health care executive told me it’s true. He said his company contracts secret shoppers to test employee gullibility. He was relieved to have passed the last test, but admitted it might have been by coincidence. His inbox was backlogged.

Lucky for me, the first whiff of my scam was an early morning phone call from my Dad, El Paso Inc. founder Tom Fenton.

“Hiya kiddo. What do you need?”

“You tell me! Why are you calling so early?” I responded.

Aha! Scam uncovered. Always the investigative journalist, Dad was compelled to take the bait to see what would happen. Now you know.

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