Seven. Seven. Eight. Seven. NINE! This is ridiculous. This must stop! NOW!!! Those are the number of scam or robo-calls I have gotten per day for the past few days. It used to be two or three a day, and while I found that annoying, I could live with it. But this has gone far beyond what I find acceptable and I am, quite frankly, highly pissed! This is harassment, especially considering they start before I am awake and go as late as 9:00 p.m.! I have to keep the ringer turned off on my phone, meaning I occasionally miss a call that I needed or wanted to receive. I do not answer these calls, for I’m told that doing so confirms to the caller that it is a working number and the calls will merely increase in number. I did answer one a few months ago with, “What the [expletive deleted] do you [expletive deleted] want???”, and perhaps that is why the calls have increased, but still, there must surely be a way to stop it, other than giving up my cell phone altogether? And besides not answering, I immediately block every number from which I receive a call from an unknown number. My ‘blocked calls’ list now numbers more than 400!!! It doesn’t seem to matter, for these scammers buy blocks of hundreds of numbers, so if I block one, their computer just uses another.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped up its fight against unwanted calls, implementing a rule authorizing phone companies to block scammers before they reach consumers by spotting invalid numbers and an initiative to develop an authentication system for caller ID. Sorry, guys, but it ain’t working!
The problem, in part, is that although phone companies are now authorized to preempt scammers under the FCC’s rules, they are not required to.
It is not my imagination that these unwanted, harassing calls have increased. In 2017, only 3.7% of all cell phone calls were by scammers. Last year, the number jumped to 29%, and in early 2019 it is estimated at 45%. For me, it is more like 90%, since on average I receive only one wanted call per day, and 7-9 unwanted ones!
As I said, I do not take these calls, and rarely do they leave any message, but a few times they have left a message warning me that I am wanted by the FBI, that there is a warrant out for my arrest in _____________ (name that state, typically one I haven’t been in for 40 years or more, if ever), and I must call now! But imagine the person, most often a senior citizen (I refuse to think of myself as one just yet), who does answer the call. Here are a few of the possibilities …
- Callers use telephone numbers that mimic actual IRS assistance centers, claim to be IRS employees and use fake names and phony badge numbers. The IRS says victims are falsely told they owe money to the government and are urged to pay through a gift card or wire transfer. Scammers may also take advantage of the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence, the IRS warned. Scammers can pose as a charitable organization, preying on the generosity of Americans who want to help those affected by the storm.
- Scammers also trick people into answering their calls with a scheme known as neighborhood spoofing, in which they manipulate caller ID information so that their actual phone number is masked. Instead, the calls appear to have been placed locally. A person looking at their caller ID will see a number that matches their own area code, as if the caller is a neighbor or a relative. Because the number appears familiar, people are more likely to answer the call. (Approximately 70% of my unwanted calls are from numbers where the first 6 digits match my own)
It’s illegal for telemarketers to call someone whose number is on the national do-not-call registry (as mine is), unless they have an existing business relationship or the phone owner’s explicit written permission. But people who ignore the list or engage in deception are often hard to hold to account. They make calls from abroad, obscure their locations and place a tremendous number of calls.
Now, enter our knight on the white horse (sarcasm intended), the United States Federal Government. According to a February 10th article in The Washington Post …
Thankfully, proposals in both chambers of Congress offer some hope. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J) introduced a bill in the House last week closing the loophole on autodialers who today take advantage of outdated legal language. That should deter legitimate businesses from abuse. As for the spoofers, major carriers could deploy a technology as early as this year that will tell consumers whether an incoming call comes from a verified number. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had already urged carriers to adopt these authentication systems, but he stopped short of mandating it. Mr. Pallone’s bill would do just that, as would legislation in the Senate co-written by Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and John Thune (R-S.D.). And Mr. Pallone’s sensibly would require phone companies to provide blocking services against spoofers free of charge.
My antennae automatically go up when I hear Ajit Pai’s name, for he is the one who killed net neutrality, thereby making it quite clear that his interests are tied with big business, not We the People. However, we must start somewhere, for otherwise our cell phones have become naught but an albatross. Congress needs to get busy on this and pass these bills, although I have doubts that it will be enforced. It’s a damn shame that we pay exorbitant amounts to purchase and use our cell phones, and then find that we have no control, they are not for our convenience, but for the convenience of scammers and big business who have found a cheap way to market their junk.