What do you normally think when you get a sales call and the person on the other end says he is responding to a request you made online? Many people would respond that the person made a mistake, ask to be taken out of their database and forget about it. That’s what I did.
What if you got two similar calls in the same hour?
What if you received 32 such calls in a single day?
What if those calls continued day after day?
That happened to me. And that was only the beginning.
A slow beginning
On Saturday November 19, 2005 around 5:00pm I received two phone calls to my cell phone from companies that had received my name, address and phone number with a claim that I was interested in home and vehicle lending. At the time I thought it was an odd but simple mistake, let them know that I had not made any such requests and asked them to remove me from their databases.
When I arrived home I found 30 emails in my in box for things ranging from a membership to the Poet’s Workshop on through car loans and requests for contact lenses. It was clear that someone had used my personal information to subscribe me to a number of opt-in style mailing lists and service requests.
That evening and on Sunday November 20th I received 35 more spam emails similar to the first set and a few more sales calls on my home and cell phones.
Opening of the flood gates
On Monday November 21st things changed for the worse. At 9:00am I received the first of what quickly became a steady stream of phone calls on my work, home and cell lines and by 10:30am it was clear that I was going to have to spend a significant amount of time on the phone gathering information to track down who was doing this to me and to safeguard my credit account. I was receiving calls from questionable lending institutions, equally questionable universities, credit repair shops, diabetic supply houses. (Them: "we’d like to send you a free diabetic meter", me: "No thanks, I’m not diabetic. Where did you get my contact information?") And so on and on.
I went home and proceeded to answer call after call and question each person so that I could find out as much information as possible about the person that signed me up for these products and services. I also spent time searching the Internet for information on the companies involved as I found out about them and eventually identified LowerMyBills, CoolSavings and ZipSearch as the sources of most of the calls.
IP address identification
Luckily for me some of the companies were willing to help track the person responsible and halfway through the day I had an IP address of the user (67.164.xx.190) and the time of day the fraudulent requests were made to a few of the companies.
With the IP address in hand I set about finding as much information as I could about the person and what I should do in response. Tracing the IP address revealed the user was a Comcast customer in Oregon and thanks to my Google Desktop cache I found that I had contact with that IP address several times in the last two months.
IP address contacts
There were several emails I had received, blog comments posted to my site and web log entries which were traced back the IP address and are described below.
- Sept 12, 2005 23:04 – The IP address was found in a comment posted to my blog from "Dr. Steve Prescott at steve…hotmail.com." The content of the posting was:
"Thank you for sharing your experience Michael. I found to be an interesting read. I also purchased a long life battery from batterygeek.net however my experience was quite different than yours. The battery I purchased from them gave my laptop an additional 12 hours of run time per charge which far exceeded my expectations. Additionally, the battery I received is very small in size and durable which makes it ideal for my frequent travels. They also included some extra nifty free gifts which I thought added a nice touch. My experience of the customer service level at batterygeek was quite different from yours. I found the customer service that I received from both Sean and Melissa at batterygeek.net to be exceptionally good. They both responded very fast to all my questions and concerns on three seperate occassions and I also received amazingly fast same day shipping. Personally, I would not hesitate to refer this company and thier products to anyone. Cheers, Dr. Steve Prescott."
I attempted to contact him via email on Nov 23, 2005 2:50pm and the email was returned undeliverable.
- Sept 15, 2005 1:04 through Sept 23, 2005 14:19 – The IP address was found in the headers of seven emails from Sean Murray of BatteryGeek.
His initial email was sent to me in response to my first review of the BatteryGeek battery pack that I bought last June and some additional reviews I had posted to other sites on the web such as Amazon.com. The general content of other emails is covered in my follow-up review.
- Oct 10, 2005 3:53 – The IP address was found in a comment posted to my blog from "Susan” at www.jensense.com. The content of the posting was:
"Your picture sure is ugly. LOL."
I contacted the owner of jensense.com on Nov 23, 2005 at 5:16pm and she confirmed that she did not post the comment.
- Oct 10, 2005 4:02 – The IP address was found in a comment posted to my blog from "Jenny” at www.jennycum.com. The content of the posting was:
“YOU SURE ARE UGLY."
A check of DNS records shows that the domain is bogus.
- November 19th at 12:08:19 -8:00gmt the user at the IP address came back and spent much of the day trolling dragonseye.com such as my blog and other personal pages. The user also downloaded a PDF copy of my resume which had my address, home phone number, company name and cell number. The user’s last access on the 19th is at 21:49:14 -8:00gmt.