No doubt, the invention of the mobile (or "cell") phone and its new offspring, the computer-in-your-hand (or "smart" phone), are ingenious technological advances that improve our lives in many ways. But they can also drive us crazy, or at least that's what my smart phone has done to me!
What's a "Push Notification"?
I wish I didn't know. But soon after I got my smart iPhone, I found out the hard way. I began receiving loud signals, bells and whistles when emails or texts arrived. Worse yet, I mistakenly or inadvertently signed up for notifications of important news (or more mundane announcements of items on sale) from websites and "apps", and those notifications also came announced by piercing noises which almost "pushed" me over the edge!
Fortunately, I got to understand how to use the phone"settings" and to "unsubscribe" from notifications, so that all this clatter would stop. However, I soon realized, oops...
Cell or Smart Phones Are Actually
Made For Phone Calls!
Between checking on emails, websites and social media, it seems like no one really places calls anymore, do they? Instead, they only text in the seconds available in between all those other distractions! Well, originally I noticed that my children and most younger children, in general, avoided talking face-to-face or on the phone in favor of texting. Then, it seemed even older folks like me got trapped into this new, wretched communication habit. We completely forgot that phones were made for phone calls! I'd say to myself, "I wish more people would just call me!"
Then, I learned why I might be more careful about what I wish for. I began to observe a rare phenomenon. Lots of phone calls started to come in, particularly after I attained the exalted age of 65 last year! That's ok when calls are from your friends and family (at least those you do want to talk to). But there were a lot more calls - I mean a HUGE number of them - that came from parties I didn't recognize.
This proliferation of calls wasn't my imagination - - and wasn't just happening to me. When I looked into it, I found out that a record number of these calls were made in the past year, with seniors in the Los Angeles area being one of the prime targets!
Who Are All These Callers?
At first, I just ignored any calls from parties unknown. Or, I just pressed the side button on my phone that made all the ringing in my ears go away. Mostly, the callers had 800 or 866 or 877 numbers, but many had unusual area codes like 268, 284, 809 and 876. I really didn't care, I just let them go to voicemail never-never land. I didn't pay much attention to them. That is, until my personal circumstances took an unexpected turn.
My Mom had come to that point in life where it was best for her and the rest of our family to move Mom to an assisted living facility. That, thank goodness, worked out well for all concerned (click here for my November article about this).
However, now I had to check my phone every time it rang, day or night, just in case it was Mom or the facility calling! (Or maybe you can better relate to this urgency to pick up the phone if you have a home security service!) That's when I decided it was time to put an end to all these "junk" calls!
So I Placed Myself on the
National "Do Not Call" Directory
I had heard this was the way to finally silence the unwanted callers. After all, they would suffer legal liability if they ignored the "Do Not Call" list. That was good enough peace of mind for me, as an attorney.
So I signed up by contacting www.donotcall.gov .
But a Not-So-Funny Thing Happened:
The Volume of Calls Actually Got Worse!
I thought, how is that possible? Why is this call avalanche burying me? And, how can I stop it?
I did some research to answer these questions and I'm now going to share the results with you so you, too, can eliminate this massive phone call headache!
The Law Doesn't Matter
To the Scammers
Apparently, new phone system technologies and software not only facilitate cheap, high-volume calling (thousands in a second at very little cost), but allow the callers to operate from anywhere, including overseas (apparently they love the Caribbean and I can't blame them!), and to display fake caller ID information (including making their number appear local or that of a legitimate business or government agency). The U.S. National Do Not Call Registry has little deterrent effect on these clever scammers!
The incredible time and cost effectiveness of these aptly named "robo-calls" makes them the perfect new way to pitch many rip-offs (or capture credit card and personal info to use for other financial frauds). The topic of these calls may be alluring to the unsuspecting or needy recipient: energy saving devices to reduce your utility bills; charitable or political contribution requests; student loan forgiveness or refinancing; lower credit card interest rates; low cost vacations or time shares; car and home warranties and protection plans; and so many more I don't have space to list them all here (see my prior scam articles).
Well, then, what can you do to start eliminating these robocalls (besides the National Do Not Call Registry)? Here's a quick summary of what I've learned.
There Is No Perfect Solution
But These Actions, Take Together,
Can Be Effective
1. Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer and then hang up, the calling party will know they have reached a real number and that you are likely to respond, which will only encourage them to call back! The same will happen if you answer and press a designated number to "opt out" of future calls! The main problem with this approach is you may miss important calls (like I feared with regard to Mom). And, as I also learned the hard way, letting a call go to voicemail just indicates to the caller they've reached an active number and you'll be targeted you for a call back. So you have to do more.
2. If you feel the need to answer (or just mistakenly do), only say one thing. "Put me on your do not call list!" Be emphatic, blunt and clear. Repeat it again if you get any response other than "Yes." Don't merely say "can you take me off your list?" or "I hate getting these calls" or anything else the caller can seize upon to state a follow-up question or engage you in conversation.
3. For a traditional copper-wired land line, ask your phone service provider how to utilize their free call blocking system or purchase a blocking box. For example, many phone companies use a *77 screener. By merely dialing once *77, it will block calls showing a caller ID such as "anonymous" or "private". If you have a wireless phone cradled in a base unit, you may be able to do the same thing using the base unit features. In either case, you may have to specially indicate certain friendly callers who you want to accept. For an even more effective level of call blocking you may buy a low cost "box" that hooks up to your phone, such as CPR V500 Call Blocker or Digi-tone Call Blocker Plus, or use the service Nomorobo (for certain land lines). But again, none of these options are perfect and they could screen out important emergency warnings, like apparently happened to some victims of the horrific Paradise
4. If you have a cell phone, you'll have to obtain a special call blocker app. They typically cost very little. Nomorobo (for cell phones) or YouMail are popular ones. If you are using an iPhone, Robokiller or Truecaller may work better. Note: just blocking individual numbers through available settings on your cell phone doesn't help when the callers use a different number next time!
Laws May Change,
But So Will the Tactics of Scammers
There are number of federal and state legislative proposals to crack down further on unwanted and often illegitimate phone calls. Unfortunately, the scammers will always try to adapt as quickly as new laws are enacted. Oh well, we'll just have to react again, in response, when that happens.
Anyway, for right now, I've got to get going and implement some of the recommended call-blocking actions myself!