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Scam and Spam Calls Are Changing How I Communicate

by on January 15, 2019 5:00 AM

Communication — the imparting or exchanging of information or news. Sounds like an important piece of life doesn’t it? Exchanging information is essential to our learning process. Without communication we’re pretty much left to figure out the world for ourselves. And a cold, cruel world it can be.

But with communication we survive and thrive as a species.

Now let’s say you want to communicate with me, John Hook. But you want to do it without meeting me face-to-face. How will you do it?

You could use ancient technology and mail me a letter. You could use slightly less-ancient technology and call me on my home phone. You could use not-so-ancient technology and email me. You could use somewhat modern technology and call me on my cell phone. Or you could text me, message me on a social media site, or video chat with me on my laptop.

Except, let’s say you don’t know me. You want to communicate with me because you’re a nefarious person with nefarious intentions and want to find ways to separate me from my money.

You would probably follow the same list.

You would mail me fake letters or official-looking documents, offering riches if only I would send you some of my money. You would call my home phone with various ruses. You would email me with tales of dead relatives and millions of dollars in unclaimed bank accounts.

All of which we’ve become immune to over the course of time. Easily half the snail mail I get goes right into the trash can. We disconnected our home phone several years ago even though there’s a national “Do Not Call” list. Spam filters take care of a certain amount of unwanted emails from Nigeria, and the rest get the “shift-delete” treatment.

Which brings us to calling me on my cell phone.

It seems that here we are, 19 years into the 21st Century, and we still have to deal with the occasional “lowest-common denominator” in society. Apparently in the bell curve of life there will always be a trailing edge.

Cell phone scammers have gotten a hold of my number. For more than a year, I’ve been subjected to an untold amount of calls from phone numbers that are not in my contact list, and on the rare chance that I answer them they are robo-voiced pitches for insurance or loans. Most of the calls I get – there’s one calling me now from “Texas” as I type this – are phone spam or scams.

Turns out I’m not alone in this.

A company that specializes in call control, call blocking, call transparency and call management solutions spent 18 months from April 2017 to September 2018 analyzing more than 50 billion calls made on cell phones. Their data shows a drastic increase in mobile scam calls—from 3.7 percent of total calls in 2017 to 29.2 percent in 2018. They also projected that by right now – early 2019 — that number would reach 44.6 percent of all calls. And continue to rise. Soon, half of all the cell phone calls you receive will be mobile scam calls.

I can tell them from my own personal experience that they are not off the mark. In fact, they might be a little low. Just looking at my incoming calls over the last week, more than 75 percent are from spam/scam numbers (there’s another call from an unknown number in Texas coming in right now – how convenient). And how do I know they are spam/scam numbers? I just enter a few in and get the results. The Texas number that just called? Flagged as a telemarketer. It reports that number has almost 2,000 searches in the last 30 days, and 800 spam reports. Yep, that’s clearly someone I need to talk to.

Making matters even worse is that some of these spam calls now are capable of leaving a voicemail. Oh the horror!

These calls got to be such an annoyance a few months ago that I did something I had been avoiding for years. I upgraded to a smartphone.

I know, I know. Yes, I was one of those odd people you would see walking around with an old-style flip/slide phone and think, “my gosh, why don’t they join this century?” For someone who has spent the better part of his life as an early-adopter of many things “electronic,” why was I still hanging on to what I affectionately dubbed my “burner phone?”

Mainly because it’s primary use was texts, and the larger tactile keys for each letter and number were easier for a big guy like myself to use than the small touchscreen keypad on smartphones. Plus the phone itself was smaller and significantly more convenient to carry. All the smartphones are, well, you know how large they are because you probably have one within reach as you read this – or you are reading this ON one.

Photo by John Hook

But the problem with my “burner phone” is it was darn difficult to block a number and even more difficult to erase a worthless voicemail without listening to it. On the smartphone, I can block a number with a few touches and erase unwanted voicemails just as easily. Not that these scammers don’t simply switch numbers regularly, but at least I feel a slight bit of control over the situation – as ephemeral as that feeling may be.

And although my federal government may not be working at the moment, just over a year ago the Federal Communications Commission was working and issued a 54-page report about this very topic. That report, released on Nov. 17, 2017, enabled voice service providers to block certain calls – those likely to be illegal robocalls — before they reach consumers’ phones. It did not, however, require those service providers to do it, or to not charge me for it if they did. You can be the judge on what effect that report has had on your own personal situation.

All of which is to say, communication is a linchpin of our society and our lives. I’m a big believer in it. But if you call me, or likely anyone else suffering these issues, and you’re not in our contact lists, there’s a chance we will block your number and you won’t hear from us. If that’s the case, use some ancient technology and email.


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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