Don’t an­swer that call

The Standard Journal - - POLICE & FIRE - DAVID CAR­ROLL

It hap­pens when I’m in the car. It hap­pens when I’m on the air. It hap­pens daily, ev­ery­where. This sounds like a trib­ute to Dr. Seuss, but it’s re­ally my rant about au­to­mated tele­mar­ket­ing calls, or “robo­calls.”

Scams are noth­ing new. For years, con artists have fig­ured out ways to cheat us out of our money.

Some do it face to face. Oth­ers do it by mail, which was once a gold­mine. Phony preach­ers and bo­gus char­i­ties have drained many a sav­ings ac­count.

Tech­nol­ogy has come a long way, and the con artists are on top of it. Now that most of us have a phone in our pocket, they’re in there too. For them, the calls are in­ex­pen­sive, and eas­ily pro­grammed. They can con­tact mil­lions of con­sumers each day, at very lit­tle cost. If only a hand­ful of folks take the bait, the crooks cash in.

Ac­cord­ing to USA To­day, robo­calls now make up 50 per­cent of all phone calls. While that’s the na­tional av­er­age, for me it’s more like 80 per­cent. That means ei­ther robo­calls are rapidly in­creas­ing, or I need more ac­tual friends.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the mid­dle of some­thing im­por­tant, like a cheese­burger, and I hear the soft jin­gle of my phone.

I look at the Caller ID. Quite of­ten, it’s a num­ber I don’t know, but it has a lo­cal area code and pre­fix. Well, I did leave a mes­sage ask­ing that doc­tor to call me back, and this might be him. I an­swer. “Hello?”

Nine times out of 10, the an­swer is an au­to­mated greet­ing. “Don’t hang up! Your chronic back pain could be a thing of the past!” My first im­pulse is to yell back, “Nope, you’re wrong! I’ve got pain all right, but it’s just be­low my back, and you’re the rea­son for it!”

While that tantrum would give me some im­me­di­ate re­lief, it would ac­tu­ally cre­ate more pain. That robo­caller WANTS you to re­spond. Whether you “press one to speak to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive,” or “press two to be re­moved from our list,” you have just let them know your phone is ac­tive, and is be­ing an­swered by a real per­son.

That means the next time you’re at the movies, or watch­ing the big game, your phone is likely to buzz. It even hap­pens while you’re driv­ing. Imag­ine telling an of­fi­cer that the rea­son you rear-ended that car is be­cause you were dis­tracted by a guy in Pak­istan of­fer­ing zero per­cent in­ter­est rates.

Yes, it’s tempt­ing to “press one” and shout at the robo­caller, but I don’t rec­om­mend that. It’s like yelling at the store clerk about the high price of steak. It’s not her fault. The robo­caller, wher­ever he or she may be, needed a pay­check. For them, it may have been the only job avail­able. It’s pos­si­ble they might not even know it’s a scam.

I once made the mis­take of call­ing back a robo­caller. At least that’s what I thought I was do­ing. The caller ID showed what ap­peared to be a lo­cal num­ber. Be­ing the in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter I am, I thought, “I’ll show them!” I called the num­ber, ready to give them a piece of my mind. When some­one an­swered, I snorted, “Why are you in­ter­rupt­ing me in the mid­dle of Mat­lock? Ben was about to reveal the real cul­prit!” The per­son on the other end calmly ex­plained that he was get­ting sev­eral calls from an­gry peo­ple like me. His num­ber was “spoofed,” or be­ing used as a false phone num­ber by a scam­mer. I meekly apol­o­gized, and re­al­ized the same thing could hap­pen to me.

So, the next time you see an un­fa­mil­iar num­ber on your Caller ID, just don’t an­swer. Even if you love to taunt tele­mar­keters, re­sist the temp­ta­tion. Don’t press any num­bers, even if they tell you that’s the magic so­lu­tion for elim­i­nat­ing robo­calls.

The Do Not Call registry, which seemed like a good idea at first, ap­pears to be in­ef­fec­tive. This great na­tion of ours has de­vel­oped ro­botic tech­nol­ogy that can drive cars, do surgery and mow your lawn. Yet we can’t fig­ure out how to keep your phone from be­ing in­vaded by scam­mers.

Block­ing the num­bers once seemed like a sure cure, but that doesn’t seem to help ei­ther. There’s no sure­fire way to stop the calls, but the less hu­man con­tact you have with these “bots,” the bet­ter. If you’re afraid you may be miss­ing an im­por­tant call, con­sider this. Peo­ple who re­ally know you, or re­ally need you, will leave a mes­sage. Other­wise, ig­nore the calls from num­bers you don’t rec­og­nize. Don’t an­swer. Don’t feed the beast.

David Car­roll, a Chat­tanooga news an­chor, is the au­thor of “Vol­un­teer Bama Dawg,” a col­lec­tion of his best col­umns. You may con­tact him at 900 White­hall Road, Chat­tanooga,

Ten­nessee, 37405 or [email protected]

Car­roll

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