Mike Parker: If a business won’t show its real identity, how honest can it be?
What is the top consumer complaint registered with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)?
If you answered “robocalls,” you are absolutely right. Robocalls include those calls that employ “spoofed numbers” — a call that seems to come from a local number and even has a caller ID of a local person or business.
Recently, I received a spoof call from “Jo Ann Owens.” As soon as I answered the phone, I heard nothing — the huge pause that signals a robocalls. I routinely receive spoof calls from “Kinston DuPont” and “Lenoir Memorial.” These calls have local numbers — and some are actually working numbers.
I am sure that, like me, you receive robocalls trying to solicit for timeshares — and robocalls for how to get rid of a timeshare. Calls promise to lower my credit card rate or offer to help reduce credit card debt of $10,000 or more.
I have had the calls from “Medicare” about back braces, knee braces and other medical devices. When I am unfortunate enough to actually answer the call, I always ask how their company knows I am in need of any braces. I ask if the caller or someone else violated the health care privacy (HIPPA) laws.
In a given day, I receive 10 to 20 of these nuisance calls even though I am on the “Do Not Call” list. I have often wondered if the government has sold the “Do Not Call” list to telemarketers.
The problem with “robocalls” goes beyond just annoying the recipients of these calls. Imagine the aggravation if your number is the one being spoofed. Complaints about a spoofed number often results in a service that blocks “robocalls” mistakenly blocking genuine personal calls.
The FCC website contends the agency is committed to protecting consumers from these unwanted calls and is cracking down on illegal spoofing calls. The FCC has issued hundreds of millions of dollars in enforcement actions. The agency has also empowered phone companies to employ reasonable call analytics as a technological answer to blocking these calls “by default.”
The North Carolina General Assembly may pass a law to battle these phone-line phonies. Lenoir County’s own Rep. Chris Humphrey is the primary sponsor of House Bill 724 “Truth in Caller ID Act.”
If passed, the bill would prohibit telephone solicitors from causing misleading information to be transmitted to users of caller identification technologies or otherwise block or misrepresent the origin of the telephone solicitation. The bill requires telephone solicitors to use either their contact information or the name and number of the entity behind the sales call. The bill also prohibits deceptive text messages.
I have two concerns about this bill. First, the bill does not spell out consequences for violating this law. Second, the bill does not designate the enforcement agency or enforcement mechanism. Perhaps these concerns will be addressed later, but without real teeth, the bill will be marginally effective at best.
Until stronger measures are in place to stop these calls, consumers need to use common sense to protect themselves. The FCC gives a number of tips. A few examples are:
Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately
You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be wary of a Caller ID showing a “local” number. The caller is not necessarily local, no matter what the ID says
If you answer the phone and the caller — or a recording — asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use this “push the button” trick to identify potential targets
Do not respond to any questions. Never answer a question with “yes.” The caller can take your “yes” and use it to answer any question they wish
Never give out personal information — account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information — in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious
(My advice: Always be suspicious.)
If you get an inquiry from someone alleging he or she represents a company or a government agency, hang up. Then call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify authenticity.
(You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.)
Tip: If you are being pressure for information — hang up.
One more thing: You are under no obligation to answer the telephone just because it rings.
Mike Parker is a columnist for Neuse News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.