Culture, Government, Legal, Marketing, Media

When Your Number Comes Up

You know that funny feeling when the cell phone vibrates in your tight jeans pocket, and you struggle to extract it before the caller hangs up. Sitting in a movie theater is tougher because you know to leave it alone. But, it continues to zing—zing—zing, vibrating like a terrified june bug caught in your pants.

A couple days ago, my phone wouldn’t stop zinging. Starting at 10:30 in the morning, I got a call from San Antonio, TX. I know no one there. It’s hot, dusty, and except for the Alamo and the acclaimed Riverwalk, San Antonio doesn’t figure on my list of destinations, let alone origins. But the phone zings insistently.

It’s an unrecognizable number. Area code 210. I skip it.

A few minutes later, another call. San Antonio again. Flush it.

Two more calls after that, and I decide to pick up.

“This is to inform you that your Social Security Number has been suspended, and that there is a warrant for arrest under your name. Please call back immediately…”

I give high marks for originality on this call. It turns out that so does the caller, because they continue to zing in my pocket until a little after noon. 13 calls in total. 13 spoofs: each number changed, but the origin and area code remained San Antonio, Texas.

Next to our annual plague of stink bugs, I think the robo call is the most obnoxious–and noxious–element in our midwest existence. What amazes me is that nothing much is ever done about it.

The telemarketing channel has been a constant irritant to me, and to probably 99% of the adult American public.  In fact, it was the subject of my very first post in 2013: Let Me Get This Call.

In a typical day, we will receive at least 5 calls.  I am thankful for these, as:

  1.  They force me to get up and walk to the phone, providing necessary joint movement;
  2. They frequently remind me that I am eating dinner when they call;
  3. The calls provide a fleeting moment of excitement thinking a family member is calling.

We’ve nearly reached the tipping point to give up our land line, which was the main robo conduit into our normally quiet existence.  And then the cell phone becomes the new target.  What to do?

I looked up the Do Not Call registry, and confirmed that all three of our phones have been registered since 2005.  Fat lot of good that has done.

Checking the FCC page, I read some business-like claims by the department head that multi-million dollar fines have been handed out recently.  $80 million.  $40 million. Serious money, but the zinging doesn’t stop.

The government site points to the measures that phone companies are taking.  AT&T, my server, offers a Call Protect App for the zinging cell phone.  It’s free, and I install it.  Then quickly and effortlessly the app reports I have had no robo calls in the last 30 days!  What about the last three hours?

A Facebook friend has suggested I take a third party anti-robo app.  I may do so. We’ll see how AT&T performs over the next few weeks.

Surely AT&T wants us to keep all of our phones, right?  But mean time, I have this nagging concern.    AT&T is now HQ-ed in Dallas, Texas, area code 210.

Could it be possible?   No, don’t even think of it.



Let Me Get This Call

A decade ago, we registered for the Federal Do Not Call service.   Happily, as forecast, the telemarketing calls stopped almost completely.    One downside was we no longer knew when to sit down to eat, because they no longer called us at dinner time.   As one could expect, nearly everyone registered for DNC.   Recent counts total in excess of 72% of all Americans’ phone numbers were registered.   Incidentally, you can tell when a government program IS popular, because everyone flocks to it.  Kudos to the team who put that website together, unlike the poor mopes who have spent gazillions to operationalize HealthCare.Gov.  So far, it would appear that their Do Not Call listing is working fine.

But ours no longer does.  That titanium-hard walled fortress surrounding our phone number has been breached, and we are now more popular than Bieber, Kardashian and PizzaHut all rolled into one.  The phone rings, starting around lunch time, and continues into the early evening, with the periodicity of a school yard alarm announcing classes, recess, and potty breaks.  And when we pick up, the pitch is always the same: a pause, followed by a recorded voice stating, “Hello.    The FBI reports significant growth of home invasions…” or “Hello.   This is the last warning we can provide about your bank account…”   or “Hello.   Triffids can reduce the value of your home…”.

I used to look forward to the telemarketers in the early days of DNC.    I could actually speak to the poor schlep on the line, and advise him that he was incurring a possible Federal felony charge with fines of not more than $5,000, and then listen as the line went dead.

But it is not like that any longer.   The telemarketing gurus figured out the perfect tactic.   Fire the schlep, and use a robot.   Give it a shameless pitch that goes on longer than an outraged legal beagle like me can wait.   Avoid identifying yourself or your brand.   Then, close the pitch with options to (1) Have a person call me back.   And when that happens, there’s no way to complain, because I asked for it!  (2) Remove me from the calling list.  At which time I will be removed from the 6pm rotation to the 9pm wave of follow up calls next day.

The fact is, the DNC program has successfully registered just about anyone but a dead voters’ list in Chicago.   As a result, there is no way the Feds can keep up with the complaints, even if we knew who to complain about.   In 2011, there were 2,200,000 complaints filed.    I wouldn’t be surprised that the complaint line number is on DNC too.  “We’ll get right on it!”

So as a last desperate step, I went to .   Monkeys may have designed this site.    Or chickens with disabilities.   No Federal logos or impressive eagles nor any U.S. FCC or FTC seals.    I imagine a t-shirted hacker sitting in his mom’s basement waiting for the next registrant.   The home page cautioned me about tele scammers and other hazards of the phone world, and then offered to take my name, email address and up to three of my phone numbers.  Really?   I could not do it.   The whole act of supplying this contact info to a government department seemed like setting down a bowl of red meat in the lion’s cage.

Instead, I have developed a failsafe strategy.    It required changing our voice mail greeting, but I doubt any one would be disappointed with the new instruction.   “Hello.   Congratulations, you have successfully reached HealthCare.Gov.  Please hold.”