A Quick Case Study

My sister requested I investigate somebody somebody.

She was looking to rent a house in Philadelphia, and she happened upon a deal that looked too good to be true. She contacted the potential landlord, who responded to her, described the house, and provided a bit of biographical information about his work as a missionary, and even what church he preached at. After texting, he gave her his email address, and then they further discussed the house over the phone.

First, I used Twilio’s number lookup tools. I have a script I wrote on my laptop that automates the request, and includes a couple of addons. It told me immediately that the phone was registered through TextNow, a popular VoIP phone option. A peculiar choice for an older missionary, but not yet incriminating.

Incidentally, Twilio’s lookup tool is likely the best for this purpose. TextNow and many other “burner” providers are actually using Twilio behind the scenes, and so Twilio has a unique collection of information to pull from. There are other number lookup tools that have varying degrees of utility here, ranging from people search websites (such as WhitePages.com), and services like WhoseNum.com that use crowd-sourced data. The goal here was simply to see if the number was likely a burner or not.

I looked up his email address at EmailRep.io (you can also check HaveIBeenPwned.com). Nearly any email that’s been around any length of time has been through a breach, so if the emailĀ hasn’t been through a breach, it probably has a very low reputation. It appears to have been used almost nowhere on the Internet, with EmailRepo.io seeing only a Twitter account (and an empty one) associated with it.

His name did not show up in any people searches, even looking state-wide. This also, is suspicious, an combines with the two previous data points to create a profile of somebody either honest but very paranoid, or very dishonest.

However, I do know one thing about him: The house that he’s offering to rent.

An address lookup turned up two owners: A husband and wife who had both lived in the house since 2001. I was even able to score a landline they’d had for the duration of time they’d owned the house. A lookup on Twilio confirmed this was a landline registered to their names. This offered a perfect chance to call directly into the building that was purportedly for rent.

They were not at all surprised to hear from us. Their house is not for rent, and they’ve reported this scam artist to the police multiple times, but nobody has yet found him.

It’s unfortunate that, but you really can’t trust anyone who contacts you without vetting and confirming on your own, even a missionary. For the moment, this is the world we live in, so the best thing you can do is educate yourself and take proactive action to defend yourself.

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