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I suppose many are familiar with the situation, when you receive a cold call from someone very enthusiastic to recommend you a "great financial offer" and starts talking endless marketese, and if I ask a few direct questions it is revealed that they call from a bank (usually a small and not well-known one) and they just want me to open an account, take a loan, or subscribe for a credit card.

However, lately it seems that they have at least some information about my financial status. A couple years ago, when I wasn't standing well financially, the offers were usually about loans and credit cards. Now that I have a relatively good job and also some savings, the offers are about making a savings account, investing, or stock trade.

How do they do it?

I'm generally self-conscious about my privacy, I don't give personal information to strangers, don't say anything other to telemarketers than "sorry, I'm not interested", and I have only one main bank account with any significant activity for now at a fairly large and well-known bank. Should I suspect my bank that they give away information about my account to other banks?

They might take a look at my credit rating, I guess they can obtain that information legally, but I never ever had a credit card and never took a loan, so this shouldn't provide them with any information.

While I try to take good care of my privacy, I know that a detective could gather information about where and how I live, where do I work, how much do I spend, etc, but I'm sure that banking telemarketers call a lot of people and don't spend huge amounts of time and money in researching individuals.

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    Read the privacy disclosures from your service providers. You'd be surprised to know what you're allowing them to do with your information. – littleadv Jun 28 '15 at 4:42
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    Also, much of this is driven by credit ratings, which already gather information about your economic status. Here in the US it's possible to tell the rating agencies not to provide info to folks trying to sell you financial products; I have no idea what controls may be available elsewhere. – keshlam Jun 28 '15 at 5:26
  • This means that in the credit rating there is much more information than just how much debt someone has and how many payments they missed? – vsz Jun 28 '15 at 8:58
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    My guess, judging from the junk mail I get (I don't get telemarketing calls) is that they don't actually know anything about you personally. They just have a script that they think will fit most of their mailing/calling list. So I get offers for absolutely ridiculous things, like life insurance, 'cause they don't check to see whether I'm single. – jamesqf Jun 29 '15 at 17:45
  • Go to annualcreditreport.com and download your credit reports. At the bottom, there will be a section for "hard" credit inquiries (which you approved), and "soft" credit inquiries, which you may or may not have approved. For the Transunion report, this reads "Promotional Inquiries: The companies listed below received your name, address and other limited information about you so they could make a firm offer of credit or insurance. They did not receive your full credit report. These inquiries are not seen by anyone but you and do not affect your score." – barrycarter Jul 3 '15 at 3:22
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The cold caller is just a different way to contact you compared to the junk mail that they send.

The business gets information from the credit rating companies for households that meet a specific set of criteria. It could be town, age, home ownership, low credit utilization...Or the exact opposite depending on what they are selling.

Some business do sell your data. Grocery store know who buys certain products: parents buying diapers may want to start saving for college; ones buying acne medicine may want to talk about lower rates for car insurance.

When they call via phone they have a different success rate compared to junk mail, but for that business that may be acceptable for their needs.

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There are multiple social engineering ways.

  • Resume / Job sites where you put up quite a few details give an indication
  • Any large purchases you make, there are store employees that pass on such info
  • Activity on social site like facebook, linkedin etc
  • General area / locality where one lives
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    ... and making general statements, then persuading you to fill in the gaps. Mentalists have been doing that on stage for centuries; salesmen have been doing it off-stage forever. – keshlam Jul 29 '15 at 21:44
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Just a note about cold callers: I own a phone which I use solely for software development purposes. It has a SIM card that I bought for £0.99 on eBay (needed to activate the phone). Nobody knows that there is any relationship between me and that phone or it's phone number. I have never paid any phone charges, and I cannot make phone calls with that phone. As I said, it is just used for software development purposes.

I get phone calls from cold callers on that phone. Not only do they not know anything about my financial situation, they know nothing and cannot know anything about who I am. They tell me that I was recently involved in an accident and I am likely to get compensation. Yet they don't know my name, my address, anything. Lucky enough, my real business mobile phone is so far not on their radar.

It is most likely that they know absolutely nothing about you, but have a lot of practice in being convincing if they get you to talk to them.

  • I take it you weren't actually involved in an accident? – jamesqf Jun 30 '15 at 23:56
  • Do they know anything about the guy who sold you the SIM card? Maybe he was in an accident and had to sell absolutely everything including a 0.99 sim card to pay the hospital bill. Poor guy! I should call him and ask how he's making out. Maybe he's handing out his old number for marketing freebies... – user662852 Jul 29 '15 at 21:33
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    I wasn't involved in an accident. However, I was involved in an accident "according to their records". I once let it go further to get a call from an actual human, just out of curiosity, and these records do not exist, and he did not know who I was. It's fun seeing how they try to find out who you are when you say "but that's in your records. You told me your records show that I was involved in an accident, so you must know who I am and what accident I was involved in". – gnasher729 Jul 30 '15 at 13:03
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    @gnasher729 the other day I had nothing better to do and engaged a PPI caller in a pleasant conversation. I managed to keep him on the phone for fifteen minutes, and he hung up on me! I felt so proud thinking of all the other people whose time I saved that day... – AakashM Jul 31 '15 at 14:26

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