The Internet is great for buying and selling stuff at amazing prices. I don’t think that’s big news to anyone. But it’s also a riskier place to shop, especially when you’re dealing directly with other Netizens. Putting your name, email, or phone number onto the InterWebs may make it easy for your customers to reach you, but it also makes it easier for the Net’s less savory characters to harass you.
This is where ControlBox steps in. Simply put, ControlBox can act as a middleman in the transaction, shielding your identity from potential buyers (and scammers) until you reach out and make contact.
Last week I had a nice little chat with Steve McAuley, founder and CEO of ControlBox, which has developed technology to keep spammers and scammers from harvesting email addresses and phone numbers from AutoTrader.com, a site where some 16 million people buy and sell cars every month.
Sites where high-ticket items like cars are sold are particularly attractive to fraudsters, says McCauley. They’ll scrapes names and numbers from the site, plug them into robo-dialers, and run telemarketing scams on unsuspecting users. Instead of getting calls from people interested in buying your Chevy, you get calls from telemarketers trying to sell you a time share.
“The telemarketing problem had been really troubling for particular brands like AutoTrader,” he says. “Their users were getting slammed with these calls every day. The challenge was how to protect the personal information of sellers but still facilitate commerce for legitimate shoppers.”
ControlBox’s solution is pretty simple. Called Privacy Shield, it publishes a disposable phone number and email address that buyers on AutoTrader can use to contact sellers. All messages are routed through ControlBox’s servers and stored in a central voice and email inbox, where sellers can keep track of who called and what they said. Buyers’ identities are also shielded until the seller makes contact with them. Sellers can receive notifications on their phone or computer when someone is interested, then call them back with a click. And when the transaction is complete, your erstaz phone number and email address get flushed.
Of course, you can do something similar yourself using free Web phone services like Google Voice and disposable email addresses from folks like Guerilla Mail. What’s different about ControlBox is that it uses home-baked algorithms that can identify and block robocalls in real time, while letting normal buyers get through. If a scammer does manage to slip through, you can block them with a click. And if enough people block the same number, it gets added to ControlBox’s blacklist.
Right now, ControlBox is only in use at AutoTrader, but McAuley says the company is in discussions with other online marketplaces, as well as online dating sites. Eventually, he says, ControlBox hopes to roll out a consumer-centric service that lets anyone buy or sell anything with relative anonymity – and safety.
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