Famous Last Words: Gone Phishing
In the late 1960s and early 1970s I woke every morning at 5 a.m., wrote fiction for two hours and then went to work. Three novels were published. All three garnered a string of film options from major producers. No film was ever made.
During this past summer, it occurred to me that these novels still might make amusing films. Since my wonderful agent, Marvin Moss, died a decade ago, the only way to resurrect the novels would be to create a Web site that included first chapters, reviews, book covers, etc. If a producer became intrigued, I could be contacted for a reading copy. So I wrote and designed www.dennyhatch.com, a collection of everything I do and have done—fiction, nonfiction, marketing books and consulting services. Included are direct marketing checklists, a bibliography of marketing books and an offer of a free critique of your direct mail package or ad. More to the point, every screen on the Web site has an invitation to contact me—by letter, phone, fax or e-mail. I want to hear from interested people. I mean, nobody will ask for a reading copy or offer me a screen deal if they can’t reach me. Duh.
What prompted this column was the following e-mail from AOL with the subject line: “AOL billing update.”
“Dear AOL® valued member,
As part of our continuing commitment to protect your account, we are undertaking a period review of our member accounts.
It has come to our attention that your AOL account information needs to be updated.
You are requested to visit our site through the secure link mentioned below, and fill in the required information within 48 hours.
I clicked on the URL, and up came a questionnaire that told me my credit card had been refused last month and that AOL required updated information. The form reeked of AOL—logos and language and the actual AOL customer service phone number. What was I asked for? Name, address and phone number; mother’s maiden name; Social Security number; credit card number; credit card I.D. number; credit card PIN—everything needed to steal my identity. And all of it under the presumed and soothing aegis of AOL.
It was obviously a phishing scam. I wanted to report it to AOL, lest other unsuspecting members receive this shameful thing, fill it out and have their identities stolen to the tune of many thousands of dollars, thus destroying their credit and causing them months of angst.
Alas, nowhere could I find a place to contact a person at AOL to sound the alarm. In desperation, I called the 800 number on the phishing form and got Portia, who told me my credit card was up-to-date and no billing problem existed. “But what about this questionnaire?” I asked. “That is a scam,” she said matter-of-factly. “Disregard it.”
Portia had no interest in the very real threat that hundreds—maybe thousands—of AOL subscribers who received this thing were about to have their identities stolen. I was berserk.
The next day I received an e-mail from Joe Caliro, AOL’s “Director of Member Satisfaction,” asking me to fill out a questionnaire about Portia’s handling of my inquiry. “Aha!” I thought. “Somebody at AOL cares!” I clicked the reply button and wrote an urgent e-mail about how AOL members worldwide were about to have their identities stolen. When I clicked “send,” I got a little red STOP sign and the message:
“AOL Feedback - This member is currently not accepting e-mail from your account.”
Hatch’s new rule: A company that does not make it easy to hear directly and urgently from its customers and prospects is on a collision course with failure.
What’s going on? The techie hotshots who set up Internet protocols in the 1990s somehow had it in their heads that a Web site should never have the name of a person to e-mail. God forbid a hundred disgruntled customers bother the president of a company when anonymous customer service robots or an e-mail jail system could handle the complaints. In point of fact, the president of a company should damn well know when he has a hundred unhappy customers, because that probably is the tip of an iceberg that is about to rip the organization apart.
By contrast, give me a shout. Unlike AOL and legions of others, I look very forward to hearing from you!
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He is the author of three marketing books and three published novels. You are invited to visit him at www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.