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Actor / EntertainerWe are the hosts and staff of the Reply All podcast, and we flew to India to meet the owners of a call center who tried to run a tech support scam on us.

Aug 3rd 2017 by Replyallalex • 43 Questions • 1383 Points

Hi, my name is Alex Goldman, and I co-host the Reply All podcast with PJ Vogt. About six months ago a tech support phone scammer tried to tell me my iCloud had been compromised, my bank account had been hacked, and so on. And when I told him I knew it was a scam, rather than hang up on me, they actually started telling me about how their scam worked. So I called them relentlessly, found out the name of the call center, the people who ran the company, everything I could find. And then, last month, we went to India to meet the owner. You can hear this story below.

Long Distance, Part I

Long Distance, Part II

We learned a lot about what it's like to work in a company like this, how epidemic call support scams are, and a lot more. Ask us about tech support scams, our trip to india or just about Reply All/podcasting in general. I'll be answering most of the questions, but hopefully my co-host PJ Vogt (/u/pjvogt), executive producer Tim Howard (/u/timgimlet) and producer Damiano Marchetti will stop by and answer some questions as well!

(proof)

EDIT - we were working on the episode until @ 4AM last night, so if the other guys don't show up, don't get too mad at them.

Edit 2, 4:18 PM 8/3/17: Thanks for the excellent questions! I have to bail for a while, but I'll come back tonight and answer some more questions, so feel free to keep asking!

Q:

Is there any epilogue since you were over there?

Does the Indian law enforcement or government ever take action against these companies, and if so do they seem to be making any moves against Acostings?

Where's the best place to eat for cheap in Brooklyn?

PS, your podcast is my favorite thing and has been since TL;DR days. Thank you for weekly laughs!

A:

Many of their websites have shut down, Kamal deleted his facebook page, but as of this afternoon, I called a 1-800 number that goes to their call center and they picked up. Also, they changed the registration on one of their websites to my name and phone number. Sick troll, accostings.

Indian law enforcement does take action against these companies, but usually the bigger ones with hundreds of employees. Accostings is closer to @ 50 employees. I have no idea if law enforcement is going after them.

Yola's cafe on Metropolitan near Union St. has great cheap tamales.


Q:

Can you take over their website then if it's registered in your name?

Awesome episodes. I want to the see the video in front of Accostings!

A:

I just opened a complaint with their registrar and they changed it.


Q:

Hi Alex! Wonderful work on the last two episodes!

Did you genuinely feel Kamal was inviting you over as a friend? Or did you suspect it might be a trap?

A:

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure. He seemed like he was being candid in the run-up to going to India, but I was never 100% sure. But I never thought itwas a trap. I thought it was him trying to engage me personally and take my mind and attention away from the call center.


Q:

Hey! Did you genuinely ever feel like you were in physical danger while creating Long Distance?

A:

Yes. I would say once Deepak gloated about slapping Alex Martin, I thought "Oh, his intention in telling us this is very clearly to intimidate us. Or to threaten us." Also Kamal threaten to come to our hotel room didn't feel great. But we moved before that.


Q:

Piggybacking on this: have you ever felt like you were in physical danger during any other episodes? What about Sruthi or other producers?

A:

Any time I approach a weird situation (say a warehouse shipping stolen goods in NJ, or tresspassing in an abandoned building), I always imagine there's some world in which I might get harmed. But in the moment I assess the risk, and usually go for it anyway. Always go for it.

I dont know if anyone else has ever felt like they could be in danger!


Q:

Hi, I have detected that your computer has a virus and is being used in a bot-net, could I remote connect and install some anti-virus software?

A:

Sure. I have no problem with stranger remotely connecting with my computer


Q:

In the first part of the episode, you talked a lot with a certain "Alex Martin" but then he seems to disappear, and reappear later as Kamal (sorry if I mispell it). I noticed while listening to this episode that Kamal and the first Alex Martin didn't have the same voice. Plus, when you talk to Kamal about video games he didn't really seem to care.

Why do you think it was the same person all along?

They may have a "fake english-sounding names list" and pick one of them whenever someone calls.

Anyway, keep up the good work! I love those investingation episodes.

A:

This was a topic of discussion in the office. First of all, we listened to the tape a million times and I heard a similarity there. Secondly, he changed RIGHT AWAY in the middle of a phone call. ITs not like he said "hold on," and then another voice came on. It was like he changed on a dime. I can never know for sure, but I'm confident they were the same people.


Q:

Love the show, and loved TL;DR

How do you feel about the way TL:DR was handled after you left, and also about the discontinuation of the show after the controversy surrounding it?

edit* context

A:

I don't know much about what happened internally that led to it ending. I like Meredith a lot, and she is doing great work at Racked. We liked what she had done with the place and it was a shame to see it end so quickly


Q:

What do you think is Reply All's strongest episode to date?


Q:

Hi Alex! Is there any chance you can upload the video you took in front of Accostings’ door?

Great work. This was my favorite Reply All story yet.

A:

Maybe some day...


Q:

What are some episode ideas that you really like but never got through the pipeline for whatever reason? I mean, the idea of "I'll take LSD at work and not tell anyone" is pretty crazy on paper and I want to see what you decided didn't make the cut.

A:

Usually when things don't make it through, it's not because they're too crazy, but because they don't make good stories. I'd love to regale you with all the times we attempted repel off the roof of the Sears Tower, but it's the much more mundane stuff that actually doesn't turn into stories. It's sometimes hard to know what's a good story going into it.


Q:

Classic PJ to let you answer all kinds of questions from strangers, am I right?!

A:

absolutely.


Q:

You've now let multiple bad actors (including PJ) access your devices for episodes. What do you do to protect your information and accounts?

A:

Use password manager, change my passwords regularly, pray that I am safe, publicly acknowledge my terrible opsec


Q:

Hi Alex, has the CDC ever contacted you about how infectious PJ's laugh is?

A:

huehuehuehuehuehue


Q:

Hey guys I feel like you've kinda perfected the co-host dynamic that Radiolab sorta pioneered and I'm a huge fan. So since you guys work together and probably sir in porch meetings together and everything, how much of your on-tape reactions are genuine vs theatrical? I know that Jad and Robert have openly admitted that a lot of their reactions aren't always candid in the moment. I hope I'm not killing the magic for anybody haha

A:

It's genuine! Our editorial meetings involve a lot of one of us leaving so the other can pitch a story and then trading places. It's can be really annoying, but it's worth it for Tim to be the keeper of all knowledge so we can make our on tape exchanges more genuine.


Q:

How can I find the PJ to my Alex? All my friends are too nice to me.

A:

You want your friends to be meaner to you?


Q:

Did Snigdha Poonam experience any kind of retaliation for helping you guys?

A:

No. She had already done a lot of reporting on these call centers, and if you hadn't noticed, is much braver than us.


Q:

Do you have a set budget for podcasts? I'm always amazed when you buy GPS trackers on jump on a plane to India

How many staff are employed by gimlet?

A:

Gimlet has a lot of employees. Close to 90. We do have a budget, but we are afforded a lot of opportunities to try stuff by Gimlet and we really really appreciate it.


Q:

Why do you think they kept agreeing to meet with you?

A:

I think they wanted to throw me off the scent of the call center, and to some degree, the more time they spent with me, the less time I spent sniffing around.


Q:

What audio editing software do you guys use for the show and what do you recommend for beginners?

A:

We use Pro Tools, which is insanely expensive and not worth it. Audacity is free, but I find it very hard to use. A lot of very talented and brilliant producers that I know use Reaper, which is a lot cheaper than Pro Tools but is still really really versatile. It kind of depends on how serious you are about it as a beginner. Each piece of software has its own hot keys/quirks/learning curve, so switching from one to the other is totally possible, but can require a lot of ... kind of getting used to new interfaces and getting up to speed on how the program works.


Q:

If Kamal/Alex agreed to play video games with you, would you have done it?

A:

Hell yeah. I'd still do it.


Q:

Is Club Road just full of clubs? Did you guys secretly go to Headphones every night and silently dance your hearts out?

A:

Club road is named as such cuz there's a big country club on one side!


Q:

Alex, how do you come up with your genius tweets? Is PJ jealous that you are the superior tweeter?

A:

I apply my savage intellect to our crazy workaday world!


Q:

Before the trip, did you consider having a native speaker travel with you? It seems like things really started rolling once Snigdha helped out.

A:

We worked with some native speakers, but we didn't hire a fixer. Reasonable people may disagree with the wisdom of that decision!


Q:

How did you pass the time on the flights to and from India?

A:

Mostly slept. I also watched Logan like 3 times.


Q:

Big fan. I've enjoyed every episode of Reply All and TLDR before it. I think all of the segments are great, but I get super excited for every Yes Yes No. Will you please spin YYN off into it's own show with weekly episodes so I can get more YYN in my life without giving up other great Reply All content?

Also, since it seems every Gimlet show is being developed for TV, who would Alex cast as PJ and vice versa?

A:

I wanna be played by Wesley Snipes. PJ should be played by Ian Mckellan


Q:

I would watch Super Tech Support the show with Snipes solving people's problems and McKellen asking dumb questions.

A:

Oh my god me too


Q:

Love the show! I listen to it with my 13 yr old on the way to and from school. He thinks you guys are the coolest (me too!). What would you say to your 13 year old selves if you had the chance?

A:

Be less afraid of looking stupid. Take chances, because that's the only way to accomplish anything great.


Q:

Through all your interactions with Kamal, which one do you think was the "real" Kamal. Was it the fun laid back video game playing Alex or the stern right hand man to the boss?

Do you think he was being honest with you when he talked about quitting and moving back home and his personality changes when he's around Deepak?

A:

I think he was probably a funny, smart, opportunist who was also kind of a jerk and had a mean streak. I don't think for a second he quit and moved back home.


Q:

Y'all went the fuck off on these episodes. I love you guys and look forward to all your episodes! Did you get crazy adrenaline rushes while doing these episodes? I can't imagine

A:

Mostly incredible stress stomach cramps while we were in India.


Q:

What was your favorite episode to make?

A:

When it wasn't super stressful, this episode was a lot of fun to make. Zardulu was a ton of fun to make because it just felt like it came together in a really satisfying way very quickly


Q:

How has /u/pjvogt missed that Silent Discos have been a thing for over a decade now? When are you taking him to one?

How did Damiano hone his keen survival instinct?

(Also, thanks for great, interesting, funny episodes. You two make my favorite podcasts.)

A:

PJ doesn't dance or sing. So no clubs and no karaoke. Kind of a bummer honestly.

Damiano just doesn't have the complete lack of preservation instinct that I have. His survival instinct is that of a normal human


Q:

Hi guys! Reply All was the first Gimlet podcast I got into and now I'm fully down the rabbit hole with a ton of your other shows.

I love audio journalism, and I'm dead set on going into it after I graduate (I'm currently a sophomore history/journalism double major at Northwestern). Do you have any advice for those looking to enter the industry? It seems like it's good time to get into audio journalism as there are all these new opportunities, but I'm curious on your thoughts.

A:

Apply for a million internships. Every one of us, pretty much, started doing internships for shows you are familiar with. There's more opportunity in this field than ever, and a lot of bigger public radio stations pay their interns which is really cool (WNYC does now, didn't when I was an intern there), so yeah. Do an internship!


Q:

Can I get a rough estimate on how many times Alex has tripped in his life?

A:

under 50, over 20


Q:

Hey Alex and PJ! Huge fan of the show, Takeover is probably my favorite episode until now.

Were you and Damiano prepared before you went to India for any potentially dangerous situations? It seemed to really take you guys by surprise how jarred Snigdha was by the whole thing.

Also, PJ - why the fuck did Wikipedia say you were a fictional character?

Sneaky edit: Alex - how involved in Homecoming are you? I've loved the show since it was released and the second season is great so far!

A:

I knew it could be dangerous, but these guys had been so ... gregarious. The turns that they made as we got closer were surprising.

PJ is a fictional character invented by novelist Helen Dale. It's crazy but true.

I am 0 involved in Homecoming except that I'm emotionally involved in it because I really really like it.


Q:

I have to imagine that throughout the process of this story you had a wide range of different emotions. I know that just listening to the episode felt like a rollercoaster. What was it like making this story in regards to the twists and turns it ended up taking?

Also, I broke down laughing when he started reciting the anonymous slogan. That was where I became extremely interested in what happens next. These were a great two episodes, even if it ended up a little dissapointing.

A:

It was mostly really exciting when we were reporting in the united states. It felt like putting a puzzle together and slowly seeing the image appear. But once we were in India it became incredibly stressful. That me and Damiano even talk anymore is kind of a miracle.


Q:

One of the things I love most about your show is that you have this deep curiosity I find really rare these days, where you don't just stop at a funny headline or shocking story and start making jokes and spouting "takes". You guys hold off making conclusions or explaining "what this says about society today" (at least initially) and just dig and dig and dig and find all these things when so many other people would assume there's nothing more interesting to the story than the initial shocking headline. It's amazing to find that even in the most WTF headline stories, there are hidden stories behind them that are even more fascinating.

Do you guys ever feel bummed about how so many people out there just don't seem to have this curiosity? Not just that they don't "read past the headlines" but just the whole resignation to the idea there isn't anything behind the headlines to find? It's not a moral judgement about how everyone's so quick to judge but I feel like it makes the world feel emptier and less full of wonder. What can we do to get people to be more curious, just keep sharing Reply All style stories to let them know there's treasures to be found?

Thanks! Love the show!

A:

I love to be proven wrong in a story. It's humbling, it makes for great radio, it gives the story and me as a person in the story more depth. I like learning things too. I know so much more about the world now that I've been working on this show than I did before! I can't speak for others and I wouldn't want to. But I'm not interested in tearing people or ideas down before I give them an opportunity to show themselves. Does that even make sense?


Q:

What's the worst fight you and PJ have ever gotten into?

A:

A hugging contest.


Q:

Great episodes, I am not a screen writer but I think Long Distance could be turned into a movie. What are your thoughts if someone approached you and wanted to make a thriller called "Call Center" with some very similar plot points?

A:

They have my blessing, I guess? I don't know. It would be a trip to have someone make a movie based on one of my stories, but I would try not to get too attached. Generally the finished product looks nothing like the thing I made.


Q:

There's a ton of suspense built up in the first part and I was predicting what I thought would happen. On that note, I have two questions:

1) During the initial spam call, did you predict that it would be the topic of, seemingly, the most popular episode of your show thus far?

2) What did you think would happen when you went to India? Did your predictions come true?

There's always a lot of behind-the-scenes work that can be very surprising or interesting, but doesn't make the final cut of the show. Did anything like that happen throughout this story?

A:

1) Absolutely not. I thought I had just recorded a funny phone call. It was Tim Howard who was like "CALL BACK CALL BACK" 2) We were operating on the assumption that they found us annoying and not a threat. Naively we thought we might be able to get easily into the offices and chat with people there, maybe even make a call pretending to be them. We knew that there was a potential for violence, but we were just so naive. Our predictions definitely didn't make the final cut.


Q:

Love the show. I get a thrill when the notification pops on my phone.

How bummed will the office be if Coke Zero Sugar isn't as good as Coke Zero?

A:

Very bummed. PJ way more than me, but I'll still be really sad.


Q:

Absolutely LOVE the podcast and these last two episodes were both equally stressful and thrilling to listen to. Between this, your experience in the episode "Black Hole, NJ," and "Todays the Day," you guys have a habit of approaching buildings without knowing whats on the other side.

On to the questions, what made you and PJ want to get into audio/journalism to begin with? And Alex, what was the scariest and/or most stressful part of this entire experience?

A:

I think PJ would probably say the same thing as me - This American Life made me want to get into radio journalism. I was a journalism major in college, but mainly because I liked cultural criticism. I wanted to be a great culture critic. My interest in investigation came later.

And that second dinner -- or maybe the roof? Definitely the most stressful


Q:

Great job, loved the episode.

One thing I kept asking myself during the conclusion... what do you think kamal & co. Hoped to achieve by inviting you to India? It seemed very short sighted... were they expecting to scare two journalists into silence?? I imagine that if I ran a call center scam, I'd want to fly under the radar-- not invite journalists to my doorstep. What are your thoughts on this

Also- do you feel that your decision to leave a virtual bag of shit on their doorstep potentially endangered your fixer that got you the address in any way? Thanks and looking forward to hearing more episodes

Ps- love the outro of episode 2 lol

A:

Snigdha used a fake name to do the job interview, and has publicly called out call centers before, so I think she was not endangered. Also we asked her before using her name in the story.