The View from Landmark

Trends and issues in personal computing from Bud Stolker, a long-time PC consultant. The View from Landmark features tips and techniques to make time spent with your computer more productive and rewarding, commentary on new personal computer policies and trends, plain-English explanations of new hardware, software, and network designs and their relevance to you, and answers to common questions. There may be personal material interspersed if Bud believes it is of general interest.

Monday, March 28, 2005

India Calling (I)

This week I received several calls from an Indian call center claiming to represent Dun & Bradstreet.

The calls began with the urgent news that someone had attempted to access my D&B credit report, and that D&B needed to update my information. When I voiced my concern about the legitimacy of the request, the caller in each case became increasingly strident, argumentative, and belligerent. And because each rep had an unmistakable Indian accent, I figured these calls were outsourced at best, and bogus at worst.

When I asked to speak to a supervisor, those supervisors were equally argumentative and insistent. When I demanded in no uncertain terms to be removed from D&B's list for such calls, I was refused.

In one case, when I asked the rep to verify that this was really D&B calling, "Bob Simpson" retorted that he could not be sure that I am really Bud Stolker. (The fact that HE called ME, not vice versa, seemed lost on him in the heat of argument.)

I especially doubted the authenticity of these calls since I had received a call from D&B for routine updates to my file just two weeks earlier. At that time I gladly confirmed the information on file.

I called D&B Customer Service and learned that the calls were indeed sales calls, and that D&B did indeed sponsor them.

They came from an Indian call center in a technology park in Gujarat, “where azure seas meet sparkling sands, blushing sunsets embrace rosy dawns, where lions prowl and flamingoes preen”, according to the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd.

The call center manager responded promptly to my complaint by firing one rep and suspending another. But it was a wakeup call in terms of giving out privileged information by phone. Until this week I have always trusted callers claiming to be from Dun & Bradstreet. D&B still actively solicits confidential business information by phone. Yet this latest round of callers had no clue about customer relations, and sounded for all the world like sleazy condominium salesmen calling from a boiler room operation. I wouldn’t trust them with my company data for all the tea in . . . uh . . . India.

Several things worth learning from this incident:

1. Call centers may be recording your conversation without your knowledge. Effective Teleservices records every D&B-sponsored call. In this case the call center manager was able to play back the conversations and determine that his reps had violated company policy. In fact, he sent me copies of the recordings. (Listen to these calls: See "India Calling (II)", below, or click here.)

2. D&B has no way to absolutely verify authenticity of their telephone representatives. Nor does any company which does not use a confidential PIN number or equivalent. D&B Customer Service advises small businesses to check your own company report frequently if you don’t wish to deal with telephone calls from the company. If you’re a small business and you have a D-U-N-S® Number, you can check and update your info by using D&B’s eUpdate service. (You may need to obtain a password from D&B Customer Service at; call them at 800-333-0505.)

3. Even the largest, most prestigious companies are not above hooking you with a phony sense of urgency. The fact that someone bought access to Landmark’s business credit rating should not have triggered an urgent sales call. I had updated my company info just two weeks prior to these calls. There was no need to worry me on a false pretense. Though D&B has been around for 160 years and Landmark for only 24, D&B still needs to look at how it communicates with its customers.

You won’t much much mention of Dun & Bradstreet on its corporate Web site. In October 2001 the company officially changed its name to D&B. The intent of the new branding, according to a press release, was to show “an intense focus on enabling customers to make better, more confident business decisions.”

Decide this: Don’t give business or personal information away by phone, even if the caller swears he is legit. (What else would he swear?)

Want to know more about Landmark Computer Labs' financials? Go to D&B's Web site and key in “Landmark Computer Laboratories, Inc.” in Virginia for what D&B calls “a meticulously researched and continually updated report that provides an informative, in-depth evaluation of a company's financial stability”. Cost: $121.99. (Wow -- At these prices why do they have to outsource to India?)

India Calling (II)

I have now received recordings of the phone calls I mentioned in India Calling (I).

It’s a bit frightening that sales calls can be recorded without disclosure, but we’re living in the 21st Century and that’s the way it is. (My brother, a strong privacy advocate, might point out that that’s not the way it HAS to be.)

Now that Effective Teleservices Inc. has kindly forwarded me the calls, you can judge for yourself whether Dunn & Bradstreet’s latest sales push works for them.

Note: These transcripts have been condensed. Caller identities were confirmed by the call center manager, who apologized profusely. He fired Mrigank and suspended Mrigank's buddy Dharam. There’s much more on the recordings.

.wav fileCall number 1: March 22, 2005
(785K wave file | length 12:33. Note: mild profanity!)

(phone rings)

Bud: Landmark Labs, Bud Stolker.

Mrigank (heavy Indian accent): This was in regard to your business credit file with Dun & Bradstreet.

How do I know you're with Dun & Bradstreet?

There has been some activity over your business credit file, so I need to discuss credit options regarding that.

Now how do I know you're with Dun & Bradstreet?

I am having a snapshot of your company.

Can you give me some particular information about my company, so I know you're looking at that?

Well, what I can say is that you started your business in 1982 (actually my D-U-N-S® report shows the year as 1981), and right now you are having an inquiry over your business.

So again, how do I know you're with Dun & Bradstreet? What assurance do I have? Surely you have a way of proving this. If you can't answer this question, I can't talk with you.

Okay, I can give you your D-U-N-S® Number, which no one else can give you.

But isn't that public information?

No, this is your unique identification number.

But if someone does a D-U-N-S® on me, they'll get my ID number, right?


(more discussion)

I would feel much more comfortable if we conducted this conversation by email or by regular mail.

Let me tell you, I don't need any information. I was here to provide you with something. I was here to tell you something about your company -- about what is happening in your business credit file. If you are not comfortable over the phone, I can send you this information via email.

Okay, that's fine.

Your email address, please?

Don't you have it there?

No. I don't have your email address.

You should. I do have an email address that Dun & Bradstreet has on file.

Bud, I am having a snapshot of your company. I don't an email ID because email IDs keep on changing.

So I still have no assurance that you are from Dun & Bradstreet.
What is it that you need?

My concern of calling you is that we have identified businesses like you who are having an inquiry over that. What it shows is that somebody has requested information about your business credit. They are looking into your business credit files with Dun & Bradstreet, and moreover, we have noticed that you are not checking your business credit files frequently. Am I right?

So you're selling me a service, is that it?


No, I don't want the service. This is not really a legitimate inquiry. All of this is a sales call, is that right?

Well, it's a consultation call with Dun & Bradstreet. If you sign up for the service, I will be happy to do that for you.

You're really a piece of work. Take me off the list for calls like this from Dun & Bradstreet or whoever you are.

(arguing ensues, interspersed with sales pitch)

Before we go any further -- I would like to talk to your supervisor, please.

(Note: What follows is Bud's explanation to supervisor “Kevin” – actually Dharam, a wise-mouthed smart-alec impersonating the supervisor, according to the apologetic call center manager when he explained the situation. Dharam has been suspended for this incident. Listen to the recording!)

(more arguing ensues)

Before you get off the line, what I want from you is an assurance that I'll be taken off the Dun & Bradstreet calling list for calls like this. It's very important to me that you do that.

And furthermore, I want a confirmation by US mail that I've been taken off the list.

"Kevin" (actually Dharam): Well, I can put you off this system, but someone might . . .

(more argument)

You won't be able to do that? For all its power, Dun & Bradstreet cannot drop a note in the mail that says you're off our calling list for sales calls?

No, we won't be able to put you off the calling list.

Okay, I'm gonna get off the phone. This is absolutely pointless. I don't believe for a minute that you're Dun & Bradstreet. If you are, you're doing a terrible job of representing them -- a terrible job. That's it. Goodbye.

Anything else, Bud?


.wav fileCall number 2: March 25, 2005
(256K wave file | length 4:05)

(phone rings)

Bud: Landmark Labs, Bud Stolker.

"Bob” (heavy Indian accent): Bud, my name is Bob – Bob Simpson. I’m calling from Dun & Bradstreet. The reason for my call is to tell you that there has been an inquiry on your company’s credit report. Are you aware of that inquiry?

Bud: Bob. How do I know you're from Dun & Bradstreet?

You can call me at 1-866-353-7667.

And how do I know that's Dun & Bradstreet?

You can go on our Web site. Now you dial this number and I'll pick up the phone. Or somebody else will pick up the phone and they will call me.

That's very strange. That doesn't sound like Dun & Bradstreet.

Then, how do I make sure that I am talking with Bud Stolker?

You dialed my number! You wanted to reach me!

(argument ensues)

Let me talk to your supervisor.

There is no supervisor here.

There is no supervisor! And you're Dun & Bradstreet and you're just sitting in an office in India calling me and asking me to give you company information. That's just great. You must be very proud.

Let me ask you one thing, sir. Do you have any problems if I call you, like, I'm an Indian. Do you have any problems if I call you?


What! Do you have any problems with Indians?

No. I have problems with Dun & Bradstreet -- supposedly Dun & Bradstreet -- calling me and milking me for company information.

But we are giving you this call to . . . we are not here to earn money.

This is a sales call, Bob, is it not?

It is a sales call, sir.

Take me off the calling list for all of Dun & Bradsteet -- for all sales calls. Now surely you can do that.

I can do that, sir, but let me tell you one thing. It is ME who can do that -- not other persons.

I'll tell you what I'd like from you, and surely you can give this to me. Give me a number or an address of someone at Dun & Bradstreet that can verify that this is a legitimate call. Not calling you back -- calling someone at Dun & Bradstreet who can say "Yes, we have a call center in India that is doing sales calls and they are authorized to call you".

Why should I give you the information?

Because if you don't, I'm going to climb through the phone line and I'm gonna strangle you, Bob! Do you understand that?

Goodbye, sir.


.wav fileCall number 3: March 25, 2005
(30K wave file | length 0:29)

(phone rings)

Bud: Landmark Labs, Bud Stolker.

Dharam (heavy Indian accent): May I be connected to Bud?

This is Bud.

Hi, Bud. How are you?

Who is this?

Well, Bud, okay. Now, if I tell you, you would be angry.
Yes, who is this?
(long pause)

How can I help you?

Yes, who's this, Bud?

(Bud hangs up)

.wav fileCall number 4: March 25, 2005
(236K wave file | length 3:46)

(phone rings)

Bud: Landmark Labs, Bud Stolker.

Dharam: This is Kevin and I'm calling from Dun & Bradstreet.

Oh, sure you are.

I am the supervisor on the floor. How may I help you?


Did our agent try to harass you? To abuse you?


Okay. Now let me tell you. Do you know that Dun & Bradstreet is in 120 countries?

I am going to call Dun & Bradstreet Business Solutions and ask them if they have any affiliations with Indian call centers. I need to verify that you're legitimate.

And so, please tell me, after you have called someone and if you feel that we are legitimate, will you call us back?

Probably not. Why should I?

Okay, Bud, before you end this conversation, the only reason -- I would like to tell you is, first of all -- this is not a sales call. -- and Bud -- I would need to know -- are you recently using any services from Dun & Bradstreet?

This is a sales call!

I'm just asking you, Bud!

I cannot believe that D&B hires people as obnoxious as you. I am going to call and see if in fact they are. And if they are, I'm going to suggest that they terminate the service, because I've spoken with three, maybe four people from your organization, and you're just as obnoxious and as pressing and as unhelpful as you can possibly be.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Verizon DSL Ups Its Speed

Most clients know that I've been a strong advocate of Verizon DSL for home and small business broadband service. They had a shaky start a few years ago and created ill feelings when their service was unreliable and their support structure was worse, but they've come a long way.

Now, in the face of competition -- mostly from Comcast cable -- Verizon is doubling its download speed at no charge.

The problem is, they haven't publicized this, as far as I can tell.

I learned about this from a client who switched his primary voice service to Vonage, a VOIP (Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol) phone company. (He's very pleased with the service, which costs $24.95/month for unlimited calls in the US and Canada, includes lots of features, and lets him use his standard telephones.)

Then I heard about it again while talking to a DSL technician who was fixing a glitch in my service. He volunteered that I'm "eligible" for a speed boost from 768 kilobits per second to 1.5 Megabits per second.

Verizon is raising its price in March -- from $34.95 to $37.95 per month. But if you commit to a one-year contract, Verizon drops the price to $29.95 -- and that includes the higher speed.

I wanted to make sure the higher speed works before committing, so I called Verizon's billing office (1-877-483-5898 in northern Virginia, Maryland, and DC) and asked for the higher speed. Lo, and behold, they said the increase will take effect within "20 minutes to 24 hours".

I'm still waiting, but wanted to share the news.

By the way, the higher download speed -- 1.5 Mbps -- is still only half that of Comcast (who has announced even higher speeds). For most homes and small businesses, considering the price, it's probably fast enough. Upload speed is still limited to 384 kbps, slow enough that you wouldn't be tempted to run a server over DSL.