The App-Phishing Hack: The Modern Day Form of Mugging

by Menzie Pittman • in
  • February 2019
  • Small Business Matters
• Created: February 18, 2019

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App Phishing is a very sophisticated operation that is currently making its way into people’s lives. Hosted by a well-organized team of people with several false fronts, this scam can dupe you into attempting to remove fraudulent charges on your cell phone account for apps you did not purchase.

These hackers are very clever. They hack away at their victims, slashing and hewing their targets for booty. I recently had an interaction with these modern pirates. They begin by posting a false charge on your account, and then they email you about the billing of it – exactly as the legit provider would. However, these hackers make you question your sanity right from day one. In the process of your getting the charge removed, the hacker times a customer service call almost to the second that you have reached out to your provider with your question about the false charge. One thing leads to another and, before you know it, you are ensnared in the scam.

‘I’m too smart to have that happen to me’

In truth, you want to believe you are too smart for that to happen to you; as a business leader, you think you are way too smart to fall for any kind of scam. You are someone who deals with problems all day long, every day – someone going a hundred miles an hour every single second. As that experienced entrepreneur, when you see a false charge on your own account, you want to resolve it. I had those thoughts about myself, so when I was confronted with the issue, I thought to myself, “I need to contact my phone provider and settle these fraudulent charges,” but that’s when the scam began to unravel its insidious tentacles and I found myself caught in the web of deceit.

I truly wish I knew how the false front is set up and how these hackers can ping off your request-call for service. I don’t, but I do know this: every action they take is the same as the true provider. They are that ingenious.

Whoever “they” are provide a false link to the manufacturer’s service page, and they ask the exact same questions as the provider would ask, and before you know it, you are doubting your very sanity trying to solve the problem. To understand the insanity of the hack, I had interacted the day before with the real provider who had said they would call back the next day. The next day I received a call, but unfortunately, the call was from the hacker, not my provider.

Trust is the heart of the issue

Even though I have endured several major disappointments from the human side of business, I remain a trusting person. It might be human nature to be so. After each disappointment, I have rallied and said, “I’ll know what to watch out for next time.” The only problem with that thinking is dishonesty changes masks with every new opportunity, and it never seems to rest. I believe the adage is, if criminals only worked half as hard at a job, they could have retired by now.

If we are unwilling to abandon trust, what’s the answer?

Step One: Stay vigilant. You must stay vigilant no matter what, and that means you must trust, but verify. It also means you can’t ever let your guard down – ever! In today’s world, many consider ethics to be inconvenient or immaterial, so that’s even more reason why you need to be alert.

Step Two: Embrace new knowledge. It is critical to stay sober to the truth that with every new technology or “thingamajig,” you must be willing to embrace it. This can feel exhausting since tech tools are changing faster than even the smartest people are willing to admit. Although it is an exhausting enterprise, keeping up with the new technology is only half of it. You also must keep up with new understandings of the latest bad behaviors, the scams, or as I like to say, today’s methods of mugging.

Step Three: Never lose your center. One of the guiding principles in martial arts is never to lose your center. When you are fooled or intentionally misguided, there is a natural tendency to engage in anger, guilt, or shame. While this may afford you a good pity session, it doesn’t help you grow in understanding but instead, distracts you from learning new defenses. What will serve you best is to embrace the understanding that even though you know it’s wrong, it is better not to dwell on your misfortune, but instead, grow though the knowledge gained in the experience.

Step Four: Admit to the changes. It’s healthy to admit that with all the changes in technology, entrepreneurs and customers have become extremely depend upon it. Yet, you likely stand a good chance of experiencing a devastating hack. Approach your probability of being hacked as you do your probability of an automobile accident. You buy an insurance policy; the auto insurance industry says every driver will have at least one major accident within his or her first 17 years of driving. Comforting, right? The point is this: as systems become more sophisticated, so do the opportunities for fraud. As the architecture of the bank evolves, so the architecture of the bank robber evolves. It’s that simple. You must be prepared.

In Closing

Ninety-five percent of tech products make life easier for us, and certainly the web and smart phones are now the great connectors. But these new “comforts” force us to consider different risks, exposures, dependencies, social behaviors, and maintenance costs. And with advanced technology, we must also consider whether our ethics have remained integral. Certainly, low tech is no longer viable by any standard, but here is the rub – I was web-stalked and techmugged, and while I take ease in the fact that I have a good tech team supporting my business, I think back to a discussion I had with the president of a major manufacturer in 2014. He shared with me that his company spent an average of $10K to $12K a month policing internet piracy. I wonder how much that cost has increased in the last five years, and how much it affects the pricing of his goods? With change there comes a cost. Ask yourself, what will this cost be?

Menzie Pittman is the owner and director of education at Contemporary Music Center in Virginia (CMC). Following a performance and teaching career spanning more than 32 years, he founded CMC in 1989 and continues to perform, teach, and oversee daily operations. He has 50 years of musical experience as a drummer and drum instructor. Menzie is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center, and a freelance writer for MMR’s “Small Business Matters” column.

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