Robots. Recordings that cannot be interrupted. “Artificial Intelligences” that mimic people. Offers for credit cards, discount vacations, warnings that a vehicle’s warranty is about to expire, offers to fix credit, offers to obliviate student loans.
At least a dozen times each week these frauds and others call.
They pretend to represent the US Government, your credit card company, your bank, a vacation destination you visited, and more. They will try to sell you services not just for immediate profit, but to convince you to release personal information they can then use to destroy your credit and your life.
More than frauds they are thieves. They steal the cellular minutes you pay for. They will steal your identity if you’re not careful.
They are using cheap internet access from India and elsewhere. They have found a way to make your cell phone report to you that the call is coming from a US area code, even a specific US city. The phone numbers displayed in your caller ID may not be a real phone number. Worse, it could be a number they have hijacked. It could be the phone number of an innocent.
If you answer a call, your cellular carrier sends a signal to these thieves which they use to trigger their computers to start a recording, a robot, or, less and less often, a live person.
They call in defiance of the National Do Not Call List… after all, what leverage does the Federal Trade Commission have with India, and what would they do anyway? Any attempt to stop this egregious theft would be branded by the trumpsters as “restrictive regulations unfriendly to business.”
More recently, these thieves have apparently found a way not to be recorded in the “recents” list on my iPhone, making it difficult to report the number to the Federal Trade
Commission. There is no doubt in my mind that this is done in collusion with internet service providers, cell phone carriers, the manufacturers of cell phones, or all three. In my mind, the most likely culprit are cell phone carriers.
After all, they are in business to sell minutes. They don’t care who they sell minutes to, and they’re delighted when someone in India uses the internet to hack into the US cellular system and force you to use minutes to deal with these calls.
Here are some examples of the frauds. How many do you find familiar?
“Press 1 to talk to someone; press 5 to be removed from our call list.” Translation: if you press 5, you have confirmed that your phone number is valid and that there is a person on your end. That will put you on a list to be sold to multiple sources and guarantee you more calls. Don’t press buttons; hang up.
“Sorry, I was having trouble with my headset.” Translation: a recorded voice says that in order to make you think you are talking to a real person. Hang up.
“United States Department of Education Rule 4567.” Translation: someone wants you to think you are being contacted by a US government agency. Hang up.
“This is [someone] from Credit Card Services. There’s nothing wrong with your credit card…” Translation: I want to sell you a new credit card that you think will save you money or allow you to go deeper in debt. Hang up.
“This is [someone] from Vehicle Warranty Department. You didn’t reply to our letter [which they never sent] and your vehicle’s warranty is about to expire.” Translation: I want to sell you an expensive and probably unnecessary extension on your vehicle warranty even though I don’t know what you are driving or what are the terms of the warranty. Hang up.
“You stayed in one of our resorts recently and have earned credits that…” Translation: I want your credit card number so I can charge a reservation that you think you’re getting at a bargain, but it’s not. Hang up.
“Is Jill (or some other name) there?” Translation: I know there’s no one by that name at your number. (If you answer, “Sorry, no one here by that name,” the next thing you will hear is, “Maybe you can help me.”) It’s a scam. Hang up.
How do you protect yourself from this theft (and worse, the frauds they perpetrate)?
Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Your cellular plan almost certainly has a “voice mailbox ” function. So far, robots aren’t leaving voice mail messages. Maybe they find that ineffective. Be sure, however, that if they do start, it will be in collusion with the cellular services.
Whatever you do, don’t press any numbers and don’t accept an “opportunity” to talk to a “real person.” The odds are that the real person is an artificial intelligence, a computerized robot.
Don’t listen past the first few words. Hang up.
Notify the FTC and complain to your cellular carrier.
This link will take you to the “complaint page” at the Federal Trade Commission:
To sign up for the national do not call list, start here:
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.