We start our story how all good stories should start; with deception, greed, lies and the underlining sense that the person on the other end of a phone call has no clue what they are in for. Before I started college, I worked as Technical Support for the Xbox3601. Maybe you’ve heard of it? I was the guy you would call if you had issues with online connectivity, billing, hardware malfunction, etc. I would fix it as best I could over the phone. There was something else that I got on the phones sometimes, “Phishers”2. A Phisher, as defined by FreeDictionary.com, is someone who requests confidential information over the Internet under false pretenses in order to fraudulently obtain credit card numbers, passwords, or other personal data. These people who call in trying to get me to slip up and tell them the smallest amount of information they could use to later call back and get access to the account with. This is a story of one of those incidences my friends and I have labeled “The TRON story”.
In case some people don’t know, TRON3 is a cult classic from 1982 featuring some of the first instances of computer-generated imagery, also known as “CGI”4. The movie, about a computer programmer/hacker accidently gets himself stuck in a computer world called “The Grid” and he’s forced to play gladiator like games in order to continue living, was critically panned and a box office failure, but like other stinky cheeses, aged well and picked up a strong cult following that allowed it a sequel called Tron: Legacy set for release in late 2010, which is where this story officially begins.
My phone beeps, indicating I am about to receive a call from some I’ve likely never talked to before, and will never talk to again. The automated voice announces the category of the customer’s problem before I actually start talking with them. *BEEP* “Xbox Live—Billing” *BEEP* the cold, synthetic woman’s voice announces. I begin my greeting: “Thank you for calling Xbox Customer Support, my name is ReverEND, what can I do for you today.” The voice on the other end of the line replies nervously: “Yeah, I need some help getting into my account; I think a friend changed the password, can you help?” I can tell he’s in his teens, possibly younger, because his voice doesn’t sound fully developed and he has no sense of ownership of the situation at hand. “Of course I can” I replied with confidence. “Can I get your Gamertag5 from you and I’ll be happy to assist!” His response will echo in my mind for eternity. “Yeah, it’s TRON.” The instant that word left his side of the phone and entered my headset I knew there was something going on here, but to be professional I continue. “OK, can I get the name on the account?” His response to that question affirmed my conclusion that something was awry. “Oh, I think my friend changed everything when he took my account and my phone’s battery is about to die, if you can just give me a Reference Number6 so I don’t have to go through all this when I call back that would be great because I have to go!” I physically dropped my head in embarrassment at what this kid was trying to attempt. A week before the release of Tron: Legacy and he’s trying to steal TRON from me, from ME! I made this personal. “Absolutely,” I happily respond, “do you mind if I place you on hold for a moment while I look over the information and generate your reference number?” He begrudgingly agreed, reminding me about his phone. I press hold, almost unable to contain my laughter as I waved for my cube mates to come listen what I am about to drop on them. “Guys, this guy is trying to phish the TRON account.” All stare at me in wonder at his level of incompetence. “You’re kidding right? How do you know he doesn’t ACTUALLY own it?” I open the account on the screen to find it’s connected to one of the developers of the first Xbox7 console from 2001. The account actually pre-dates that systems release, impossible for anyone but its creators. At that point, we all agree that this is obviously not that person. We also agree that we can’t simply give him the typical rehearsed line about “Being unable to assist further” and disconnecting the call. For his actions, he must pay. At this point, the “customer” is on hold for about 8minutes. Over the hold time we are graded on, but this is the first of many he will be placed in. “Thank you so much for holding and I apologize for the time that took, before we continue, can I get that account one more time, I seem to have lost it.” I ask sheepishly. “Yeah, it’s TRON… Tee, Are, Owe, En, and please hurry, I think the friend that took my account is coming through the door so if I can just get that reference number that would be great.” He replies, noting once again that he wants a Reference Number. “Ooooh, Tee are OWE En.. I put in Tee are ZERO en. That’s probably why I wasn’t getting the account again. You’re very lucky getting that Gamertag, I would have assumed it was taken long ago!” I state, in full knowing as to when it was first used. His response drives home the fact that he is not the owner of the account. “Oh, yeah I got lucky… I just started the account a couple years ago and it wasn’t taken.” I think to myself: “a couple plus a few more, before the original Xbox was even released to the public?” I let him know that I need to reboot the system because I am still not able to get into the account and ask if I can place him on hold one more time. Again, he states his phone is about to die, his friend is coming through the door and to hurry so he can have that reference number. I place him on hold and chuckle. “Ok guys, what do I do with this guy, seriously.” A cube mate, Ben, decides it’s his turn to talk to him. Something we are never supposed to do, but with the circumstances how they are, I let him get on the line. “Thank you so much for holding, so, got the system all back online and ready for that account again, what was the name.” Ben spills out with confidences and purpose. “Uh huh, ok… and can I get your name?” He asks with a slight amount of a patronizing tone. “Ooh that’s right, your friend changed it. Well, that is against the T.O.U.8 so here is what needs to happen. He need to lock this account, we are going to do a full investigation into how he was able to obtain it and we will be contacting the original owner, presumably you…right?.. Right! Contacting you with our findings. This will require a Supervisor though, let me get him on the line. Please hold” Ben places him on hold and hands back the headset. Holding back tears of laughter, I wait for him to disconnect. Any normal person trying to steal something would hear Supervisor, investigation, account lock and assume they’ve been had, right? 6 minutes rolls passed, then 8, then 10. He isn’t going to hang up. I get back on the line with him to finally let him go. “Thank you for holding I—“ he interrupts with “This is really bad customer service, I’m just trying to get my account back and have been on hold a lot.. I don’t want you guys to lock it ok, I’ll just talk to my friend, I mean, you don’t have to go through all that ok?.. just, give me a reference number that is attached to that account and I’ll call again later.” There it was again, wanting that number, I knew what he was going to do with it and I wasn’t going to allow that. “Ok sir, have a pen ready?” I quickly close the account and open a window that contains no account. I enter notes at the bottom of the reference to let the next customer agent he talks to what his true intentions are. I write “This person is not the original owner of this account, he asked repeatedly for a reference number to the TRON account of which he would not even attempt to verify ownership of, the only bit of information he gave me was completely wrong and set in stone. He is phishing.” I thank the customer for waiting and give him this reference number. He again asks “Now, this number is connected to the TRON account, right?” “Of course it is, sir.” I respond with a heavy hint of sarcasm. He disconnects finally, thanking me for the number. I log off of my phone and go home, 15 minutes past my shift, but well worth the overtime.
1.) Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is the second generation “Xbox” gaming device. More information can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xbox_360
2.) More information about phishing can be found here: http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/phishing
3.) Information about the movie TRON http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084827/
4.) More details on Computer generated imagery. http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/c/computer-generated_imagery.htm
5.) Gamertag is the name you are given or choose yourself when creating an Xbox Live account. It’s a way to distinguish yourself from the others online. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FtmjLxkq98&feature=player_profilepage
6.) A Reference number was our internal way of tracking calls and a way for customers to quickly get back to their account information if they needed to call us back. This system was used for several services: Zune, Xbox Live, OneCare, etc. Xbox Live was VERY thorough with security, but if someone had received a reference number from Xbox Live Technical Support and then called Zune, they would not ask for verification to give you information about the account! Sorry, I could not find any reputable sites that displayed this information, only shady hacking based websites.
7.) Microsoft released the first xbox in November of 2001. The xbox360 is its successor, released in November of 2005