Commentary: “If I don’t know you or your phone number, don’t bother to call me.”
By Jim Schuh
At our house, the unknown, nuisance, political and fraudulent phone calls go unanswered. It’s a shame that technology has made it easy to make these calls. As a result, it’s driven us to ignore most calls coming to us on our landline. I’m pretty sure we’re not alone and you’re experiencing the same thing. On a nationwide basis, about nine out of ten calls to landline numbers now go unanswered.
Technology is supposed to make things better and easier. In the case of phone calls, it’s made things worse if you’re on the receiving end. But it’s also made it easier for outfits and crooks to get to us.
I can remember when phone calls came only from relatives and friends (not counting an occasional misdial from a stranger). Only rarely did we get a call from someone trying to sell us something. Now we’re hesitant to answer our home and cellphones. (So far, the hucksters and crooks haven’t called our cellphones, but it’s only a matter of time before they do.)
One thing that’s made us wary of incoming calls is trying to discern a caller’s identity by looking at the ten numbers that show up on our phone screen. At my stage in life, it’s too hard to remember friends’ numbers when they’re ten digits long. It was much better when we could dial DIamond 9778 in Stevens Point! But those days are long gone, as the telephone systems have changed to accommodate the additional billions of telephones now in use.
The political phone calls coming to our homes should cease after next week’s elections, but that still leaves us with calls from shlock operators trying to sell us medical devices, and fraudsters seeking our credit card numbers, promising they’ll get our grandchild out of jail in New Mexico or Curacao.
It pains me to learn that the older generation is so trusting that some freely give out bank information to strangers at the other end of the line. I haven’t received a call so far claiming my grandkid’s in the pokey, but I’ve rehearsed my response in case I do get such a call and answer it by mistake. By the way, I don’t have any grandchildren, so if you’re a crook trying to get my bank info, don’t waste your time calling me.
It’s likely you don’t owe the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) any back taxes, so ignore and report calls that threaten to have the law come to your house to arrest you if you don’t give the caller your bank account or credit card number. The IRS doesn’t use phones to dun taxpayers.
Let’s not forget that the way to handle a call that promises us lottery winnings if we will provide our credit card number is to hang up. I don’t know anybody who wants to give me a large cash payment, and you don’t, either.
We all need to be careful responding to phone calls. 90 percent of scam calls come via “neighborhood spoofing,” where the fraudster appears on your caller ID as a local caller, replicating the first six digits of your phone number. First Orion, a telecommunications firm, reports that the median loss last year from scammers was $720. Mobile phone users might be surprised to find out that by next year, close to half of all scam calls will come on their cellphones.
If you make it a practice to ignore calls from numbers you don’t recognize, a caller who really wants to speak with you will leave a message on your answering machine. The nuisance callers don’t leave messages most of the time, and those who do are easy to handle – push the “delete” button when reviewing the message.
While we don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, sometimes it may be fun to do. If you answer and find there’s a real live person at the other end, you can string them along and waste their time.
Some years ago, when nuisance calls weren’t so prevalent, my nephew devised a spiel that assured his name would be eliminated from the caller’s list. After answering the phone and listening to the pitch, he’d interrupt the caller, saying he’d be pleased to hear the rest of their message if first they’d allow him to tell about his Lord and Savior. Without fail, that resulted in a hasty hang-up by the caller.
I look at phone calls as an intrusion into my space and feel there’s no reason for me to be civil to the caller. Profanity is a tempting response. You may have other methods.
I used to faithfully report unwanted calls to the federal “Do Not Call” website. The government promised to fine nuisance callers, but I think the feds are overwhelmed and don’t do anything, so I’ve quit reporting the calls. That leaves me to closely monitor calls coming to our house – we’re pretty much on our own, although there are a few partial remedies.
There are smartphone apps available to block some calls, and a few carriers are now offering other blocking services. But they won’t catch all fraudulent calls, so it’s up to you to be smart in responding to phone calls coming from strangers.