#103 Long Distance, Part II
August 3, 2017
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Snigdha Poonam's story on tech support scams in the Hindustan Times
If you suspect you are a victim of a tech support scammer, you see a suspicious pop-up, or get an unsolicited tech support email, you can make a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission by following this link, or by contacting the company that the call center was impersonating directly.
Microsoft did a global survey of tech support scams in 2016, and the results are pretty interesting. You can find it here.
PJ VOGT: Before we start the show, if you have not already listened to last week’s episode, #102 Long Distance, go listen to that first. This episode is the conclusion to that story.
ALEX GOLDMAN: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m Alex Goldman.
PJ: And I’m PJ Vogt.
DAMIANO MARCHETTI: We made it. We're here.
ALEX: Yeah, how you feeling?
DAMIANO: Good. Mmm. The air's different.
ALEX: So PJ, uh me and Damiano--we landed in Delhi on a Monday evening. Uh, this was about a month ago, around early July.
PJ: And what--like what did--what were you guys hoping for?
ALEX: So Kamal told me that he would answer all of my questions about this call center if I came to visit him. So, I was there to see if he would answer all my questions. And if he wouldn’t, I was going to find the answers for myself.
DAMIANO: Alright, Jaswinder says he's by gate number five.
ALEX: So we met up with our driver, we got a driver, his name is Jaswinder.
PJ: Uh huh.
DAMIANO: Hey man, how's it going?
JASWINDER: I'm just fine.
ALEX: He takes us to our hotel.
DAMIANO: I think that's it, right there.
ALEX: That's it. P5, Haveli. That's it. [Get out of car]
VOICEMAIL: The Magic Jack customer you have called is unavailable to take your call. [beep]
ALEX: Hey, Kamal, it's Alex Goldman, um--are you planning on coming in tomorrow? We want to meet you. Um, yeah, I'll give you a call tomorrow morning. Take it easy. Bye.
DAMIANO: So, we wake up the next day.
ALEX: And Kamal still hasn’t called us back. Which is fine, because that’s sort of what Kamal always does. He disappears and reappears, sort of on his whim. So we do what we always do when he disappears, which is investigate Accostings more.
ALEX: And here’s our plan: We want to find the call center. At the very least, we want to know exactly where it is, and from there, we can figure out what to do next.
DAMIANO: Good morning, Jaswinder.
JASWINDER: Good morning, boss.
DAMIANO: (laughs) How are you?
DAMIANO: So I tell Jaswinder to take us to this neighborhood called Punjabi Bagh. We want to go to main drag there. It’s called Club Road.
DAMIANO: Ok, uh, anywhere around here. Like here is good.
[Door opens and closes. Sounds of a busy street.]
DAMIANO: Goddamn it's hot out. There's not really a sidewalk here so we're just in the middle of--
ALEX: Yeah there’s no sidewalks.
DAMIANO: --oncoming traffic.
DAMIANO: So we have two addresses for Accostings and they’re both on this road.
DAMIANO: Lot of businesses, crammed signs. Chara Shawarma...
ALEX: There’s a salon called Headlocks.
DAMIANO: This guy is carrying ... a lot of bamboo.
PJ: And do you know anything about the neighborhood? Is it like scam city?
ALEX: The neighborhood is actually pretty residential, and there are other call centers there, but we’re pretty sure that they’re all legit.
ALEX: The first place we go--
PJ: Can I tell you where I would go first?
PJ: I would go to the bar they hang out at.
ALEX: Ding ding ding ding ding!
ALEX: So I think this is it.
ALEX: So the first place we go is Chug It.
PJ: CHUG IT! That’s so funny.
DAMIANO: Yeah, so Chug It, it's on Club Road and it’s in between these two addresses we have.
DAMIANO: So how do we get up there?
ALEX: So, on this building there’s a staircase that’s actually outside the building. And on each floor, there’s a landing, which has the entrance to the business on that floor. And we go up three flights to where Chug It is, and there’s a guy standing out in front of the bar.
MALE VOICE: Hello.
DAMIANO: Hi. Are you guys open right now?
MALE VOICE: No, but usually a group or--?
DAMIANO: No, we're not with the group.
ALEX: But the this guy explained to me that Chug It actually shut down. This isn’t Chug It anymore.
DAMIANO: What happened?
MALE VOICE: Well, it's been taken over by the--by different owners actually. So they've changed the name to Headphones. Yeah.
DAMIANO: Oh it--
MALE VOICE: It’s a trial open today.
ALEX: Oh, i's not open!
DAMIANO: It hasn't even opened yet?
ALEX: There were doing a soft launch--
PJ: They don't have the headphones yet, that's why the music’s so loud.
ALEX: Funny you should mention that, because it's one of those headphone bars.
PJ: That's a thing?
ALEX: You never heard of headphone clubs where like, DJs play music, but there's no sound over the speakers and people wear headphones and listen to it and dance--?
PJ: That is so embarrassing. Just the, the image of people dancing to music you can't hear in a club, it’s the only thing that could make dancing in a club less comfortable.
DAMIANO: No, PJ, picture this: Three DJs. Three different kinds of music. Pick your channel!
MALE VOICE: Well, it's not being open, so it's about to in three or four days.
[Music comes on in the background]
DAMIANO: But do you know, know guys that come here from a call center close by, on Club Road?
MALE VOICE: There's, there's a call center upstairs as well.
DAMIANO: There is? What's the name of the call center?
MALE VOICE: They're a domestic call center, too.
DAMIANO: Domestic call center. So you don't know any guys who come in here from an international call center?
MALE VOICE: Not yet, because it's not been opened yet for the public.
ALEX: So we go downstairs, and we're like, let's try the first address we have for Accostings, and the address is 1 Club Road.
DAMIANO: Hi--sorry, do you live here?
DAMIANO: We actually talked to a guy there who was really sweet.
DAMIANO: It says Accostings Infotech Limited is renting the third floor.
MALE VOICE: No, no, no it’s an NGO--it’s for relaxing, for the mind.
DAMIANO: It’s a meditation center. He’s like, “I’m really sorry. I don’t know anything about a call center.”
DAMIANO: That leaves us with the other address that we had, which is 26 Club Road. And 26 Club Road is the address that Accostings has on the map on their website.
ALEX: So then we walk, I would say it's probably half a mile, three quarters of a mile to the--to 26.
PJ: And it was hot out, right?
ALEX: It was truly a nightmare. I could only--
PJ: Was Alex--was Alex stoic and cool about physical discomfort?
DAMIANO: (laughs) He would like, so there was like a cafe--there was a Starbucks on the block.
ALEX: There was a Starbucks on the block.
DAMIANO: So like pretty much Alex could only be outside for 30 minutes at a time, then we'd have to go and sit in Starbucks (laughs). Because he would overheat. And Alex--
PJ: (laughs) He's like the--he’s like the gentleman reporter. He's like so frail.
DAMIANO: He also like, he just like--I don't--maybe I haven't spent a lot of time walking around with you, but you just like fall and stumble a lot.
PJ: Oh, constantly. Constantly.
DAMIANO: He like--do you know when you like, uh, fall asleep on your arm and you wake and like, you can't really move it? Those are all of his limbs.
PJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah!
DAMIANO: And he's just like, stumbling around and falling--
ALEX: What the f--what is going on in this studio right now!?
DAMIANO: He literally--
PJ: I'm trying to know what happened in Delhi--
DAMIANO: He, he almost fell in the sewer.
DAMIANO: (singing) We're on the side of the road.
ALEX: What? (stumbles)
DAMIANO: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.
ALEX: Oh, I almost fell down a hole.
DAMIANO: Jesus Christ, Alex.
ALEX: (laughs) I'm alright, everything's fine.
PJ: So--so--so you guys are--you'll walk couple feet, Alex will go inside and put ice all over himself--
PJ: And then he falls in a sewer.
PJ: And you have to bring him out.
PJ: But eventually, like three days later, you make your way down the street from 1 Club Road to 26 Club Road?
ALEX: We get to 26 Club Road:
DAMIANO: That one.
DAMIANO: So it's this building?
ALEX: According to my--thing.
DAMIANO: This is a fancy building!
ALEX: And it looked much more like a possible candidate. So, on the first floor of this building there’s a bar. There’s a business on the second floor and then the third floor had no markings and was all tinted windows.
DAMIANO: Should we ask the security guard if he knows Accostings?
ALEX: We could.
DAMIANO: Hello sir, how are you? Is there a call center, Accostings, in this building? A call center. Accostings? Accostings?
ALEX: This security guard does not speak English. And we can’t really understand each other. But, here’s the thing: We know that Accostings is supposed to be on the third floor of the building that it’s in, and this really just feels like it could be the place. And, if it is Accostings, at 6PM, like an hour from now, right when people in the U.S. are waking up, there’s gonna be a stream of young call center workers heading into this building. So we decide to stake it out.
ALEX: I’ve got my eyes peeled for any faces that I recognize. None so far.
DAMIANO: So we’re waiting. We’re waiting. And by 7:30 no one has shown up.
ALEX: (sighs) There’s nothing going on at this address.
DAMIANO: This just can’t be the place.
ALEX: So now what?
DAMIANO: (sighs) I don’t know, you tell me.
ALEX: We’re started to feel a little bit desperate, and even though he’s been dodging us, I send Kamal a text message.
ALEX: I said, "Hey Kamal, what's the address of Accostings? I know it's on Club Road, I'm just trying to find the exact address."
ALEX: And Kamal writes back:
ALEX: He says, "Yeah, it was. I left and it's no more in operation for the time being."
DAMIANO: Dude--I'm freaked out a little bit!
ALEX: (off-mic) Why?
DAMIANO: What if they closed down?
ALEX: Come on. They closed down two days ago?
DAMIANO: It's possible.
DAMIANO: We like, sit down on a stoop on the side of the road, and I--I think literally have my head in my hands and I’m just like, “Oh, my god. We flew all the way here to find this call center and now we have no idea where it is and like, no real way of figuring it out.”
DAMIANO: I have a huge knot in my stomach (sighs).
ALEX: And then after a day chock full of disappointments, Kamal delivers us one piece of hope. He texts me again and says, “Let’s meet up for dinner.”
ALEX: He said, "I'll pick you up, and then we can go somewhere good-good--somewhere good for a night out."
ALEX: Yeah, sounds good.
ALEX: So, we head to this area called Cyberhub, which is just south of Delhi, and Kamal tells us to meet him at this wine bar there.
DAMIANO: ...I just got nervous, officially…
[Get out of the car]
DAMIANO: So we get there, and it’s like this big huge American-looking mall. Um, and the bar--the wine bar was in this mall, it’s like near the entrance.
[Music at the wine bar]
ALEX: We pull out our recorders again.
SECURITY GUARD: Yeah, no allowed.
ALEX: The security guards immediately tell us to put them away.
[TAPE CUTS OUT]
ALEX: So we take out our iPhones.
[iPhone tape of background noise]
PJ: And record with your iPhones.
ALEX: And record with our iPhones.
ALEX: Do you think that's just a stray dog?
DAMIANO: Stray dog is chilling.
ALEX: How does a stray dog get into a place with like security like this?
ALEX: We wander around for awhile, waiting for Kamal, and then he says, "Hey I'm in the wine bar, come meet me." So, then Kamal comes out of the bar and I recognize him immediately.
[Loud music playing]
KAMAL: Hi Alex. How are you?
ALEX: Good! Nice to meet you, man.
ALEX: We give each other a very awkward hug. Kamal kind of turns sideways.
DAMIANO: Kamal does one of those one-arm things, he tries to like, deflect.
PJ: You hate hugs.
ALEX: I know.
[Loud music playing]
ALEX: How are you?
KAMAL: Good, good, good.
DAMIANO: Do you mind if we go somewhere a little quieter?
ALEX: It's very loud.
DAMIANO: It's a little loud.
KAMAL: No, inside it's not that loud.
ALEX: Oh, it isn’t?
KAMAL: Let's, let's try it.
PJ: So, what does he look like?
ALEX: He's much smaller than I imagine him to be. Because he looks big, stocky in the photos that we have of him.
PJ: Yeah, he does.
ALEX: And he’s smiling and he’s friendly, but he really wants us to go in the bar. He says, “I’ve got a friend with me.”
PJ: “I've got a friend with me?”
ALEX: So we go inside--
DAMIANO: This person has their back to us. And you can see from the back, he's wearing sort of like a tight, black shirt.
ALEX: (at the same time) Black t-shirt. His hair slicked back.
DAMIANO: He's like a big beefy dude.
ALEX: And, we get around to the other side of the table and we face him, and immediately, we realize.
DEEPAK: Hey, Alex.
ALEX: Deepak, nice to meet you!
ALEX: It's Deepak Verma, the owner of Accostings.
PJ: That's crazy!
PJ: Also, what a villainous reveal!
ALEX: Yeah, totally.
DAMIANO: And we're both like--
ALEX: We're both like--well, we have no--we're not prepared for this. (laughs).
[Extremely loud music plays]
ALEX: [difficult to hear] How you guys doing? Thanks so much for meeting us guys! I can’t believe we’re actually meeting face to face. This is crazy!
ALEX: So obviously it’s very hard to understand this audio--it was very hard to understand them in this very loud bar that they insisted on meeting us in. I thought, "I'm gonna try and roll with this." Damiano thought, "I'm gonna throw up."
PJ: Why did you want to throw up?
DAMIANO: The whole time we’d been talking to Kamal, we thought that we were sneaky, and that we were talking to someone who was trying to either keep us a secret, or who was like, sort of, doing his own thing, going rogue--
PJ: Right. It's like, this guy used to be in the mob, he's out of the mob, he's going to tell us about the mob, he tells you to come meet, and then the GODFATHER is at the table, right?
DAMIANO: Right. So I lean over and I whisper in Alex’s ear and I say, “Don’t ask any big questions. Let’s just watch them and try to figure out what’s going on.” And then I turn to Deepak:
DAMIANO: You guys grew up in Del--you grew up in Chandigarh, did you grow up in Delhi?
DEEPAK: Born in Delhi.
DAMIANO: You were born in Delhi.
DEEPAK: Born, born.
DAMIANO: So, we try to make awkward small talk. But Deepak has one question he keeps asking:
DEEPAK: What's the plan when you're here?
DAMIANO: We're just gonna hang out.
DAMIANO: What is your plan?
DEEPAK: Oh, so what's your day like, what's your whole day like?
DAMIANO: I don’t know yet, we’re playing it by ear...
ALEX: Kamal on the other hand is leaned back in his chair, he’s barely saying a word, he’s constantly referring to Deepak as like, “Sir” and “Boss.”
DAMIANO: And he’s become so sort of meek, that you kind of like--
PJ: Like he's trapped underneath something.
ALEX: Yeah. And at one point during dinner, I ask Kamal, "So, six months ago, did you ever expect that we'd be sitting across from one another?" And before he can even answer, Deepak immediately launches into what sees like a scripted response to any question we might have about the validity of their business.
DAMIANO: Yeah, it’s basically like how the call center never did anything wrong, and like the scam call that we got was just like this funny, weird mix-up. And anyway Accostings is like shut down now, so don’t even worry about it.
ALEX: So, I asked Deepak, like, "What are you doing now that you’ve shut the call center down?"
PJ: Uh huh.
ALEX: And he said, "Oh--I got--I'm in construction now."
ALEX: So um, we continue eating dinner.
ALEX: He's not hungry.
DAMIANO: I don't know what to tell you man--
ALEX: Damiano's too stressed to eat anything.
DAMIANO: --first day in Delhi, my body is like freaking out.
DAMIANO: Yeah. (laughs)
ALEX: But they keep ordering stuff, and I'm not going to be rude, so I'm just like, romp, romp, romp, romp, romp--chomping away.
ALEX: Fine. I'll get some chicken tikka. You guys...
DAMIANO: Every time I thought this meal might finally be over, Alex was like, "I'll take some chicken tikka!"
DEEPAK: You want it spicy, or a little spicy?
WAITER: For the chicken tikka.
ALEX: Let's try spicy. Find out what happens.
DAMIANO: Meanwhile, my stomach is like fucking cirque du soleil.
DAMIANO: Let me tell you another reason why I was so nervous.
DAMIANO: At one point, Alex just like tells them where we are staying, tells them the name of our hotel, which was Haveli House.
PJ: Did you?
PJ: What an--why?
ALEX: I don't know.
DAMIANO: So, I suffer through the rest of the meal, and then we finally call it a night.
DEEPAK: So, nice meeting you guys.
DAMIANO: Nice meeting you guys. I'll see you again.
DAMIANO: Kamal-final--nice to finally meet you.
ALEX: Yeah, we'll talk to you tomorrow.
DEEPAK: Just talk to Kamal and let me know what's the plan for you guys have tomorrow.
DAMIANO: Goodnight Deepak, goodnight Kamal.
ALEX: Goodnight guys!
ALEX: Weirdest two hours of my fucking life (laughs).
DAMIANO: Oh my god. Ohhhhhhh.
ALEX: We leave. And then we go to bed.
So the next day, Wednesday, primarily what we do is move hotels.
ALEX: Thursday morning comes, and we’re honestly starting to panic a little bit, because the clock is ticking--we have two days left in India, and we have gotten nowhere with these guys. And then, in the early afternoon, my phone rings.
ALEX: Hey Kamal?
KAMAL: Hey Alex. How are you?
ALEX: Good. What--uh, what are you up to?
KAMAL: So we can meet in one hour, in next one hour we can meet at Connaught Place, I’ll message you the restaurant.
KAMAL: Perfect. See you, Alex.
ALEX: So the first time we met with Kamal, we were totally caught off-guard because we did not expect Deepak to be there.
ALEX: And we also kind of wanted to feel them out a little bit before we started hitting them with tough questions. (laughs) But this time, we were thinking, “Ok, we’re going into this, we’re gonna be prepared, we’re gonna ask them really direct questions about Accostings.”
PJ: So what you’re describing is your plan was to interview him in the manner of a journalist?
DAMIANO: So, the place that we’re supposed to meet them is a bar called Tourist Lounge. We get there early.
[In the restaurant]
DAMIANO: We bribe the waiter to turn down the music in our section.
DAMIANO: We get our recorders out.
DAMIANO: Hi, my name is Damiano Marchetti.
DAMIANO: We test the sound.
ALEX: Check one, check two.
DAMIANO: And we’re just like, sitting there at the table ready for them when they show up.
ALEX: And then…
ALEX: They’re here?
ALEX: ...Deepak and Kamal arrive. And things immediately start going off the rails. It’s clear that they know everybody in this bar.
DAMIANO: The waiter that I had bribed like snaps to attention.
ALEX: They say hi to the manager.
[Loud music plays]
DEEPAK: Come sit down, come on!
DAMIANO: How was your day?
ALEX: Yeah, what have you guys been up to?
DEEPAK: Oh, hectic.
ALEX: What’d you do?
ALEX: And once they see the microphone…
DEEPAK: Are you doing me?
ALEX: Yeah, I'm recording.
DEEPAK: Well, don't record anything, I'm not able to interview. Ok?
ALEX: But … I travelled halfway across the world to talk to you guys. I have so many questions for you.
DEEPAK: You have so many questions, then sit down and ask me anything, but don’t record. It’s not--it’s not allowed.
ALEX: Why is it not allowed?
DEEPAK: It’s not allowed to record anything without my, you know.
ALEX: Well I mean I’m not hiding it from you, I’m talking to you right now, I’m letting you know that I’m recording it.
DEEPAK: [speaks in Hindi]
DAMIANO: Deepak steps away from the table to talk to the waiter, and Kamal sits down.
DAMIANO: Kamal, how you doing man?
KAMAL: We’re not here for the interview. Why are you asking this? I just came because we are friends.
ALEX: I know, but like--I mean I’m not trying--I’m just like--so, look. I mean I have so many questions about Accostings, you know. We are working on a story about it. And I think it would be worthwhile to have you guys talk.
KAMAL: But we are not available for story. No, we are not available. I think--
DAMIANO: Kamal, there is a story. The story is already happening.
DAMIANO: The story is happening whether you want to or not.
KAMAL: Then it’s fine, no problem. Go ahead. But we are not going to say anything about all these things. We are just here for you Alex, nothing else. Not for the [unintelligible]. You understand.
ALEX: I understand.
KAMAL: Leave it. Just close it…
ALEX: Deepak keeps saying “Why are you sticking this microphone in my face? Turn it off. Turn it off right now.”
DAMIANO: And then he waves--he sort of like waves the waiter over.
PJ: Uh huh.
DAMIANO: And the waiter kind of leans over our table…
ALEX: And he says, “Do you want me to call the authorities?”
ALEX: And we say, “No, we don’t want you to call the authorities.”
DEEPAK: You cannot insist us to say anything or you cannot--
ALEX: I’m not insisting anybody do anything. Alright. [MIC SHUTS OFF]
DAMIANO: We put the recorder away.
ALEX: No one says anything. Deepak is looking off to the side. He just pulls out a cigarette and starts to smoke.
DAMIANO: But like the waiter’s still there and Deepak is talking--keeps saying something in Hindi to the waiter. So I’m sitting there, and I’m just like waiting for the cops to show up. Everything in my body’s telling me, like, we need to get out of here. And then the waiter comes over and puts like a full bottle of whiskey on the table. Deepak pours himself a drink of whiskey.
PJ: Like just whiskey?
DAMIANO: Whiskey and Coke, that’s his drink. And drinks it. Then he pours himself another and drinks it.
ALEX: And he is pouring sweat. Every couple of minutes, he would take his napkin and just wipe his face down because he was sweating so badly.
DAMIANO: This is like a guy who feels cornered by us, I think.
DAMIANO: And, I ask Kamal about Alex Martin. I’m like, “Remember that first call you had with us?” And Kamal he completely denies that he was ever Alex Martin and, more than that, he says he fired Alex Martin. He was like, “That guy was a troublemaker that I used to--that used to work for me. I fired him.” And what Kamal is really saying is that like, anything you think you know about me being Alex Martin, or really anything, it’s a lie. Period. And then he turns to Deepak.
PJ: Uh huh.
DAMIANO: ...and they speak in Hindi for a second.
DAMIANO: And then Deepak says, "Alex Martin? Fuck that guy.” And then he pulls out his right hand, and his pinkie’s sort of like gnarled, it’s got like this bruise on it. He says, “You know how I got this? This happened when I slapped the shit out of that guy.”
DAMIANO: And so, at that point, I was just like, I'm done with these guys. Like, there is no reason for us to talk to them anymore.
ALEX: So me and Damiano left the bar, and left Deepak and Kamal there.
ALEX: You alright?
DAMIANO: I have no words. This world is so insane.
ALEX: That night, I was having a very hard time sleeping. So in the middle of the night I just picked up my phone and called--I didn't record it--I just picked up my phone and called the call center.
And I was like, "Let me talk to Kamal and Deepak.” And the person on the other end kept--just kept saying to me, "Who are you? Who are you? What do you want from us? Who are you? Why do you want to talk to them?"
And I was like, "But Kamal and Deepak do work there, right?" And they were like, "Who are you?" And I was like—it still exists. It has to still exist.
ALEX: So Friday morning we wake up, and we’re feeling at this point, confronting these guys isn’t going to make any difference. If we want to get anywhere while we’re here, the only thing we can do is find that call center.
DAMIANO: The only problem is, we have no idea where it is. And we only have one day left in India.
ALEX: So, we decided to find Accostings. But we had no idea where to start. So we went back to Punjabi Bagh, we went back to our Starbucks, and we met up with this reporter named Snigdha Poonam.
ALEX: Hey! How are you?
SNIGDHA: Good, how are you?
DAMIANO: It was actually someone that we had been in touch with before, we talked to her a lot when we were in the US.
ALEX: She works for the Hindustan Times and she did sort of the defining, gigantic feature story--Indian feature story, about call center scams. She spent months running after these guys:
SNIGDHA: … we were was always like, showing up somewhere and figuring out that--thank you--that, that the place didn't exist there and then we would like, spend days finding out where the place actually was.
ALEX: Basically what she has learned is that this is a problem of epidemic proportions. There are call centers of maybe 10 to 15 people, there’s call centers of like 400 to 500 people. An--and almost all of these call center scams that hit the U.S. come from India. Like, close to 90 percent.
PJ: And why can’t they just arrest everybody?
ALEX: Um. It’s really hard for Indian authorities to stop these places because new ones are starting up every day. And as soon as you take one out, it’ll pop up somewhere else under a different name. But Snigdha has found a way to always find these call centers.
PJ: Which is what?
ALEX: Even scammy call centers post their job listings online.
SNIGDHA: These people are desperate for employees all the time, so like, they won't give you a fake address, like not if you were coming to interview. We should call--I should call Accostings saying that I have an appointment and I can't find the address and to give me the address. Do you have the number?
SNIGDHA: Hello. [Speaking Hindi]
ALEX: Very quickly, she’s like, “Yes, I speak English.”
SNIGDHA: ...and I've done some call center work. You know, I mean, I'm looking to work at a place like Accostings where there's uh, more opportunities for growth. And, um, and to-to--to further improve my communication skills. Today, what time? 7 o'clock. Um, okay, I'll come, but can you send me the address, please? Punjabi--? Club Road? Why don't you just text me the entire address, and I'll come to the--I'll come to the building. Thanks, thanks a lot. Ok. Bye.
DAMIANO: So what did she say?
SNIGDHA: She said to come for the interview immediately.
ALEX: Did she give you the address?
SNIGDHA: No, she's--she’s going to text me the address.
ALEX: And, maybe fifteen minutes later, we get the address.
PJ: What’s the address?
ALEX: So, uh, it’s 1 Club Road.
PJ: Wait, but 1 Club Road was the meditation center.
ALEX: Uh, yeah, that was 1 Club Road, but this is:
1 Club Road, Plot #1, Third floor, Punjabi Bagh Extension, New Delhi, opposite the 24/7 Store, and above Figaro Salon.
PJ: (laughs) Ok.
ALEX: So we go outside, we start wandering around.
DAMIANO: It's supposed to be on the other side of the street. [horns honking] Well, now we must have passed it, no?
DAMIANO: Snigdha’s asking people. Like, “Figaro Salon? Figaro Salon?”
DAMIANO: She's walking up in the middle of the street, she just walks in the middle of the street with such grace and dignity.
ALEX: And I see Figaro Salon. And then I realize--oh my god, I know where the call center is.
ALEX: You're not going to fucking believe this.
ALEX: It's the place right above Headphones.
DAMIANO: Shut the fuck up.
ALEX: Yeah, it's the place right above Headphones.
DAMIANO: OH MY GOD.
ALEX: Accostings is above Headphones, the bar that we visited the first day we were here.
PJ: Whoa. So wh--when they were going to Chug It, it was in the building.
PJ: So you guys were right beneath them.
ALEX: It's--it’s the place right above Headphones, it's been that--it's been right above it all along.
DAMIANO: So crazy, Alex.
ALEX: We were there on the first day.
ALEX: So we’re like, “Listen, we wanna go up there and see if we can talk to anybody.”
ALEX: And Snigdha says, “It’s probably not a great idea for two white guys with microphones to go blundering into this call center that they’ve spent six months harassing. So, look. Why don’t I go up there, do the job interview, we’ll get a lay of the land and see if it’s safe for you to go up there?”
SNIGDHA: I’ve done this sort of interview like now--like ten times? I just hope that really nothing goes wrong but I can’t tell any any reason they would like, suspect me of sh--shady stuff.
ALEX: So Snigdha says, "If I'm not out in ten minutes, call me. If I don't answer, call the police.”
ALEX: So we post up across the street. And Snigdha heads into the building.
ALEX: I look at my phone. It’s 7:02 pm. She needs to be out of Accostings by 7:12.
DAMIANO: So we're kind of looking down at the entrance of Headphones.
[Silence, sound of cars honking]
ALEX: How long’s she been up there?
DAMIANO: I don't know. [pause] Oh! [pause] No that’s not her. Another woman. Come on, Snigdha. [pause] Call her. Call her, call her.
ALEX: Here she comes.
DAMIANO: Here she comes?
ALEX: She comes across to us and we go back to our Starbucks to regroup.
ALEX: Ok. Uh. So…
SNIGDHA: It’s like a really weird, it’s like--no way to guess this structure.
ALEX: Snigdha gets a napkin, and she starts to draw a layout of the inside of Accostings.
SNIGDHA: This is the staircase...
ALEX: First she says, “Take the stairs to the third floor. There’s a glass door, and in front of that door is a security guard.”
SNIGDHA: …this young guy who's just sitting there with a--with a notebook outside the doors...
ALEX: “Once you go through that door, the calling floor, the place where they’re actually making the calls, is on your left.”
PJ: And how many people?
ALEX: She says, “Well more than 40 people.”
DAMIANO: So Snigdha says there’s these rows of desks...
SNIGDHA: ...and there's this aisle, and this like, tall muscular man stands here, like, literally tall muscular man stands here looking menacing, to his left and to his right. Just making sure that people are working I guess. It was really weird. But I--you can see it through the door.
DAMIANO: What did he look like?
SNIGDHA: Not like any of these--he was a floor manager.
ALEX: So, we want to go up there--
ALEX: -- just to see if we can get into the call center, see if we can talk to anybody, basically how far we can get. But he problem is, (laughing) we obviously can’t go in if Deepak and Kamal are there.
DAMIANO: Because we don’t want to have a confrontation, we don’t want to have a fight. So here’s what we do.
ALEX: Hi Kamal.
ALEX: I call Kamal.
ALEX: Can we meet later this evening?
ALEX: And I make plans to meet up with him way across town, like an hour from now. But we are going to go to the call center.
PJ: You guys are finally getting some leverage on these guys.
DAMIANO: Ok, we'll call you--if we're not, if we don’t call you in...
SNIGDHA: I'll give you 10 minutes.
ALEX: So, at this point the sun’s gone down. Snigdha leaves us across the street.
DAMIANO: Ok, crossing the street.
ALEX: We go into the building...
DAMIANO: Take the stairs.
ALEX: … we go up to the first floor...
DAMIANO: Here’s Figaro Salon.
ALEX: ...the second floor...
DAMIANO: Here’s the soon-to-be-opened Headphones bar.
ALEX: ...third floor.
DAMIANO: Ok, now we're approaching Accostings. Walking up to Accostings.
ALEX: So, when we get to the front door of Accostings, there’s nothing there.
ALEX: That’s it. That’s it.
DAMIANO: Look. The gate is closed for some reason.
ALEX: There’s a grate pulled down over the door, there’s no security guard.
DAMIANO: There’s an empty--like where she said there would be, where she said there would be security, the chair’s empty.
ALEX: There’s no markings saying that it’s Accostings. All that’s there is a security camera. Snigdha was here 10 minutes ago, and now it’s completely shut down.
ALEX: (whispering) I think there's someone right behind the door.
DAMIANO: Hello? (knocks)
ALEX: Just wait. It’s padlocked from the outside…
ALEX: So we’re standing there waiting. Occasionally knocking on the grate. But we’re not getting any answer. And we just don’t really have any idea what to do.
ALEX: Suddenly, we see Snigdha coming up the stairs.
DAMIANO: We had forgotten to like text her or call her or anything, and so she's super freaked out. She doesn't know what's going on. She's like, coming to the building to see what the deal is.
ALEX: So we tell her, “The grate on the front door is closed.” And Snigdha seems really rattled.
SNIGDHA: So this is what happened, I think. It’s because like that’s how everyone thinks it’s a domestic call center, they pull down the shutters and then they do their scam shift. So…
DAMIANO: So, that they look like a closed business.
SNIGDHA: This is like a proper crime set up.
ALEX: Snigdha's found a million shady call centers before, and she says that even the sketchiest ones leave their door open to give it the patina of respectability.
ALEX: And the fact that Accostings has their door shut, and they're trying to look like they don't exist, is just very worrisome. These are bad dudes.
And then she says basically, “Look, if you guys want to continue pursuing this, that’s fine. But the fact that these people are hiding the fact that this call center even exists makes them seem a lot more dangerous to me. It’s up to you.”
But, we are standing at the front door of the call center. We’re not just going to walk away.
DAMIANO: So, Snigdha calls the woman who had originally given her the address. And the woman says, "Oh, if the front grate is closed, just go upstairs, there are some security guards. They'll let you in."
ALEX: So Snigdha leaves, and we go up to the roof.
[WALKING TO ROOF]
ALEX: It's dark up on the roof. To the right of us, there's this shack, and there's two guys sitting under a light, just a couple of feet away.
ALEX: Excuse me. Third floor?
MAN: Third floor is there.
ALEX: Gate is locked.
MAN: Gate is locked?
ALEX: And then one of the guys at the top of the stairs shouts at these two other guys that are on our left that we hadn’t even seen. They’re completely shrouded in darkness.
MAN: [speaking Hindi]
OTHER MAN: Yeah, it’s closed now.
DAMIANO: It is closed? So no one can open the door?
OTHER MAN: I think nobody’s here.
DAMIANO: Huh, it looks like there's lights on in there.
DAMIANO: And, the guy calls back over to the dudes that are in the shadows. I don't know what those guys say, but this guys responds, he's like, "It's. Closed."
ALEX: So we go back downstairs, but we feel like our time in this building is limited. We have just alerted Accostings security guards to the fact that we’re trying to get into their company. But we want Kamal to know that we were there.
So I pull out my phone, I stand in front of Accostings’ door, and I make a little video to send to him.
ALEX: Can I--can I have the?
ALEX: Here. Yeah. So that’s, that’s the door. The grate behind me is--
PJ: You’re wearing a hat, and smirking before the video even starts.
DAMIANO: And there’s like, the-the--the--
ALEX: There’s a little garland across the top, which is--
PJ: It looks like Christmas lights.
ALEX: It’s, um, it’s actually um--mango leaves? Mango leaves are, like, a traditional Hindu thing where you hang them to ward off of bad karma, evil spirits.
PJ: Alex Goldman. Sounds right.
ALEX: Alex Goldmans. Basically.
PJ: American podcasters. Ok.
ALEX: So this is what I said:
ALEX: Hey, Kamal, it's Alex. Um, sorry I missed you. Um, I went to the call center to see if you were there so we could hang out but um, maybe next time I guess? Uh, I'll be in touch. Uh, it's been fun hanging out this week, I'll talk to you soon. Bye.
PJ: You rude little scamp. You're just smirking. So, what happened?
ALEX: So, we go back downstairs, we meet up with Snigdha at the Starbucks again.
ALEX: And, we haven’t even sent Kamal this video yet.
ALEX: Hello? Hello--
KAMAL: Yes, Alex.
ALEX: Hey, what’s up?
ALEX: And I get a call from Kamal.
ALEX: Um, and I assumed it was going to be like, "Hey where are you guys? Let's meet at--what's it called--bar!"
ALEX: What’s going on, what can I do for you?
KAMAL: Yeah Alex, tell me--, you sound like you went to Punjabi Bagh or something? I want to tell you one thing, ok. Listen. I’m telling you you're not welcome in office. Ok?
ALEX: I thought the--I thought the call center was closed down.
KAMAL: Without telling me what you want.
ALEX: I thought the call center was closed down.
KAMAL: Listen, you want to come to office again, or what?
ALEX: I thought the call center was closed down.
KAMAL: (pauses) None of your business, Alex. None of your business.
ALEX: You've lied to me this whole time.
KAMAL: Hardly matters. I lie to everyone. Doesn't make any difference. You're not a god. What do you want? What's next? Why can you meet, tell me where you can meet now?
ALEX: I don't want to meet you right now. You guys know, you guys know where I stand, and you lied to me, so why--why should I meet you right now? You're not going to tell me the truth.
KAMAL: I'll come and see you in Haveli, ok? Just wait for me there.
ALEX: What? You're going to see me where?
KAMAL: I'll see you in Haveli, ok?
ALEX: Which is the--
PJ: Hotel, where you told him you were staying.
ALEX: The hotel where I told him we were staying.
ALEX: And I said, "You know what? Go for it."
ALEX: Come to Haveli whenever you want. But this sounds like a threat to me. Are you threatening me?
KAMAL: I don't want to threat, I am not saying threat, okay?
ALEX: Can you admit to me that you're a scammer please?
KAMAL: Forget about it, ok, fuck you, just tell me what do you want, that is the bottom line, Alex?
ALEX: What do I want? I know everything I want. Listen to me. I know about Neha, I know about Usman, I know about Streetwise Marketeer. I know about everything that has to do with your business. I know where your front door--
KAMAL: Listen, it doesn't make any difference if you know about anyone.
ALEX: I know where your front door is.
KAMAL: What do you want?
ALEX: I wanted to know who was the person who called me and tried to scam me. And I figured it out. And I--
KAMAL: No I don't about him
ALEX: Don't bullshit me, Kamal. It was Accostings, and I know it was Accostings.
KAMAL: So what--what exactly do you want from me? That's what I'm asking you, Alex.
ALEX: I want you to admit that you guys are scammers and that you steal money from people.
KAMAL: No, that is not going to happen, don't worry. That is not going to happen.
ALEX: Then I think that we don't have anything else to talk about.
ALEX: Are you there?
DAMIANO: Let's get out of this neighborhood.
[Mic shuts off]
ALEX: He never called me again.
DAMIANO: Um. So now we’re going to the airport.
JASWINDER: Your story’s complete here?
DAMIANO: I think so.
ALEX: Yeah, I think--I think it is. I think we’re all done.
JASWINDER: So boss, we are reaching Delhi airport.
PJ: Do you feel like you guys got what you went there for?
ALEX: You know it, this is--this is sort of--the reversal that I wanted to feel is this. I think that everyone--I think there's been a crazy uptick in fraudulent calls in the US.
ALEX: It’s--it's not even something that's really under discussion. And it feels like a gamble any time you pick up a number you don't recognize. It sucks. It's like a--it's like a feeling that feels like it has no control--there's no control. And all I wanted was, for once, to express that, to like reverse that feeling. To make those people feel like, "Oh!"
PJ: They don't know what's going to happen either.
ALEX: “Oh! We're playing with a loaded gun if we call people.” And I happen to be the bullet in that gun. (laughs)
PJ: A very sweaty, clumsy bullet.
ALEX: Shut the fuck up!
PJ: That loves to eat delicious Indian food.
ALEX: I'm not going to say no to Indian food!
PJ: Stays in a hotel and gives you the address, um, and ultimately sends you a video of itself. That's the way it kills you.
[MUSIC PLAYS OUT]
PJ: Reply All is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. The show is produced this week by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, and Austin Mitchell. Our editor is Tim Howard. More editorial help this week from Jorge Just. Production assistance from Sherina Ong. This is Sherina’s last week. She has been amazing. Sherina, thank you for everything. We were mixed by Rick Kwan and Matthew Boll.
Special thanks to Willard Foxton.
Matt Lieber is a bonfire on a beach.
Reply All is now available on Spotify, so go check us out there. You can also listen to the show on Google Play, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen.
And one more thing, don’t ever let anybody remotely connect to your computer. Just because I did it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
We’re going to be running some of your favorite episodes over the month of August, but we’ll be back in September.
Thanks for listening, you’ll be hearing from us very soon.