From the "Things I Didn't Expect to be Sharing This Week" file...
I got an email yesterday, the sender line of which said Dolly Parton. I'm not on Dolly's email list, so I thought it a little odd. Then I saw the subject line: "LOVELY TAGGED CONTENT YOU HAVE ON YOUR INSTAGRAM PAGE."
Well, if you follow the Great Song Podcast Instagram feed, you may have seen that last week or so I did indeed post a picture in front of the Dolly Parton mural in downtown Ringgold, Georgia, and I tagged Queen Dolly in it because of course I did.
At this point, I am both 100% certain this is a scam, and simultaneously just curious enough to open the email. Because...what if, y'know?
So I open the email and read it:
Immediate red flags include a couple of random capital letters, and a couple of grammar things, and of course the offer of a "Fan Membership." I'm certain this is a phishing scam.
But...there's no link to click, no actionable offer made, and any good scammer would not expect me to take the next step on my own; they'd have put it in the email, right? Plus, the email is just stilted enough that I might actually believe it came from a 77-year-old.
And why would a scammer have me verify the email address's authenticity?
So naturally my next step is to check the sender address. I click the sender name, and I see the address: email@example.com.
Ok, so obviously this is totally fake, and I give them credit for taking me this far--and at least creating a decently believable fake address. But of course when I go to Dolly's official Instagram account and click on the Email contact icon, I see that the real address associated with her Instagram account is...
(Insert "Law and Order" Dum-dummmm here.)
Okay, okay, Monsieur Pirate, you made me clutch my pearls for a second. Good job. But you know and I know that at least one of those lower-case L's is really an upper-case i.
So after a quick visual check and a side-by-side copy/paste, I determine that they look the same to me. But I am not to be trusted, because I am drawn in by the intoxication of maybe having an email from the queen of all Southern pop culture.
So I search for a judgement online, and I find www.iorl.org, whose God-blessed sole purpose is to tell me in no uncertain terms what each letter in the sender's address and the Instagram contact address are.
Gang, they matched. (Are you gasping yet?)
I'm officially confused. And intrigued. Is there the remotest chance this email is legitimate? No way! But at this point, I don't know any other way to verify it myself.
So I paid a whole US dollar (insert Patreon invite here) to sign up for a week's worth of searches on BeenVerified, a website used to verify identities, email addresses, and phone numbers which has been used by no less than MTV's Catfish to identify phishers and hackers.
I run the sender address through their system, allowing "high-confidence" results only.
Potential Owner: Dolly Parton. Social media imprint: Dolly's Instagram Page, Dolly's "Jolene" video with Pentatonix, and Dolly's Linktree.
I'm stumped, guys. I know in my heart this email didn't come from Dolly. There's literally no way, I get that. But I also don't know (a)how it got pulled off, and (b)what the point was if it's a phishing scam.
So I replied.
What do I have to lose? They don't have any more of my info than they had before, and on the .000000001% chance it's real, I want to engage. For the first time in my life, I'm an email rube. I know it!
I also send an email to Dolly's Instagram account address that basically says, "I think there's someone using your address somehow for maybe ill purposes, but honestly I have no idea how."
And that's the end. I never heard back from OH WAIT I DID.
Today, I see a reply from "Dolly." Okay, here we go, here's the rub. Lay it on me--you need my Instagram login to gain access to my tagged photo, right? My Social Security number to get your Fan Membership going? I see you, buddy.
WHAT GAME IS THIS?? I don't understand at all what is happening here, except that fake Dolly is trying to slowly gain my trust, until I eventually invite her onto the show so she can yell "Ba-ba-booey" and hang up.
I don't understand, gang. Maybe one of you is a cybersecurity expert who can help me out here. Obviously Dolly Parton isn't emailing me. Truly, I understand that. But I need Sherlock Holmes to tell me how this is happening, and why a catfisher would really go all the way up the ladder to Dolly Rebecca Parton to try and pull a scam. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not an idiot.
If anything else develops, you better believe I'll keep you updated. See you February 7 when we return from break!