Robocalls

I’m in the bathroom, the phone rings and my wife is out picking up grandchildren from school. I open the door, run across the bedroom and grab the phone and blurt out, “Hello”? A voice answers, “This is Linda with Master Card/Discover credit card services …”

I’m driving in my car and my phone rings. I think it might be important so I pull over and find my phone. I press answer and hold it to my ear, “Hello?” I say. “Hi, this is Tony” says the voice on the other end, “with an important message about your credit …”

I’m in my recliner taking a nap when I am jarred awake by my phone ringing. The number on my caller I.D. is a local exchange so I figure it’s someone I know. I don’t recognize the number but I haven’t memorized everyone’s phone number. I say hello and a voice on the other end states “This is the IRS. You have a judgment against you, and you have three days to reply or face penalties or possibly imprisonment …”

Welcome to 2019. With number spoofing, the phone is now a weapon of deception. A study by the Federal Communications Commission projects that almost half of the cell calls that will be received this year are going to be spam. These junk calls with their uninvited robot-voices are designed to get your money or information. The governments “do not call list” isn’t helping. There is no reason to tell them not to call again either. They just spoof another number and call again.

It has gotten so bad that I carry both my cell phone and my cordless phone with me when I am home. I have to do this because the provider of my chemo drug will call me to schedule my monthly delivery and I don’t want to miss their call.

Just how did it come to this? Time was, a ringing phone indicated that someone I knew wanted to talk with me. Why else would they have my phone number? Sure I got a few prank phone calls, with a last name like Rug I expected them, but I didn’t get them very often.

Today though, it’s not even a person calling you anymore. It’s a computer program that can dial hundreds of people an hour. I am constantly called by telemarketers, credit card people, and political campaigns. They all combine to annoy me with unwanted calls and that doesn’t include all the scams, frauds and illegal schemes that stay just one step ahead of the overworked regulation agencies.

This field has grown so much that the scam artists can now create a spoofed number that looks like someone you might know or impersonates a business person that you might know.

According to a CNN article, “A scammer could call you from what looks to be a familiar number and talk to you using a voice that sounds exactly like your bank teller, saying they’ve found suspicious activity on your account. You’re then tricked into ‘confirming’ your mother’s maiden name, your address, your card number and PIN number.”

This is terrific, one more thing for me to worry about besides stolen passwords, identity theft, and credit card fraud and fake news.

I signed up for the “Do Not Call Registry” and thought that this would stop these calls. Silly me. The Do Not Call Registry is a big joke today, useless against robocalls and offshore individuals that laugh at this attempt to reduce the “garbage calls” as we call them. While writing this article I received three robocalls that interrupted me.

An FCC report stated that progress was being made but another report indicated that robocalls were up 57 percent in 2018 from 2017. An increase of 57 percent doesn’t sound like much progress to me.

The FCC is now requiring that the phone companies implement a technology called SHAKEN/STIR. This makes sure that the number you see on your phone is a real number and not a “spoofed” one.  I am sure that by the time this technology is put into service by the phone carriers that there will be a new scam. I know from my days picking locks and hacking that anything that was built by a man can be defeated by a man.

All of this has made people disregard phone calls altogether, checking the display, frowning in disgust and refusing to answer. This is not a great solution though. Say, you’re on your way home after work. It’s a Friday night and your cell phone rings. You look at the number and it doesn’t look like anyone you know so you press ignore.

The next day, your best friend calls. “Hey, you won’t believe this. Someone gave me four court side tickets to the game last night. I tried calling you on Bill’s phone, but you didn’t answer. It was awesome! Sorry you missed it.”

Alexander Graham Bell is in heaven looking at this and thinking, “What the heck happened?” And then, his heavenly phone rings and he hears a voice that says, “This is the IRS. We are calling to inform you that an arrest warrant has been issued in your name …”

Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport. Previously published in the Niagara Gazette.

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