Recent catfishing scandals such as the highly publicized Manti Te’o incident have led many sports organizations to implement new social media training programs to keep their stars and themselves out of the limelight. The latest news from the NFL suggests franchises would be wise to reevaluate their telephone communications as well.

One day before the start of NFL free agency, a pair of 20-year-old pranksters duped two of the league’s general managers into talking shop on a merged conference call that was recorded without their knowledge.

The tricksters were able to reach Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix through a publicly listed number by claiming to be Tampa Bay Bucs GM Mark Dominick. Shocked by their success, they panicked and hung up when Nix answered. But the Buffalo GM called back, incessantly, and the prank callers decided to send the two GMs on a game of phone tag.

Then, while on the line with Dominik’s secretary, Nix called yet again. Taking advantage of the uncanny timing, the two placed the call on speaker, recorded it from a second phone and listened in. Nix and Dominick traded secrets about their impending free agents and frustrations with their teams, unaware of the eavesdroppers.

Luckily for the two GMs involved, nothing too sensitive was revealed. But the incident certainly shed light on the importance of communications training at all levels of a public-facing organization.  It also underscored the value which experienced PR professionals can provide as gatekeepers.

Whether on the telephone or online, people are often not who they seem, so public figures must be more careful than ever.

All organizations benefit immensely when they employ savvy communications experts (in-house or as consultants) who can help facilitate public access to senior executives while also looking out for their best interests.  By having the proper procedures in place, companies can save immeasurable time, money and frustration by proactively preventing such crises rather than trying to repair them once they have occurred.