So, I’m home for lunch, eating popcorn and watching “The Daily Show” the other day, and the phone rings. I pick up and hear my friend Suzy’s unmistakable cuddly voice.
“Hey, so what’s up?”
“I dunno… what’s up?”
“You just called me.”
“No, I didn’t … I was watching TV.”
“Your name was on the Caller ID.”
Not possible, I tell her. This phone number’s unlisted. And, now that I think of it, we don’t even have each other’s home phone numbers — we always use our cells. And, no one else is in the house, so unless my cats are making prank calls, there’s no way that call came from my house.
But it did.
Totally weird, right? I shrug it off as some sort of AT&T computer glitch or sun flare or Mercury Retrogradation, and go back to my popcorn and Jon Stewart.
Next day, Suzy calls and says she got four more calls from “me” that morning. While I was at work, and no one home but the fur babies. I suspect if Minnie and Maxx were clever enough to place phone calls, they’d be ordering cat toys from Amazon, not calling Suzy.
It gets weirder.
Suzy picked up one of the calls, and heard a pitch about lowering her credit card debt. Uh-oh: My name and phone number are being used for phone scams. Great. Like there aren’t enough people mad at me already.
I call AT&T to tell them their wires are seriously crossed somewhere, and reach some guy whose accent indicates that he’s probably not even in the same hemisphere as me. He decides to forward my situation to a supervisor, who confirms that the calls are not actually being placed from my phone number and — here’s where it gets really good — AT&T already knows about these calls, and they happen all the time, but they’re being placed over computer lines, not AT&T phone lines.
Boom. AT&T: off the hook.
“What can we do about it?” they shrug innocently.
I dunno — how about light a fire under a few Congressional butts? Money purchases attention in Washington, and I’m sure AT&T has some spare change to line a few campaign pockets.
The AT&T guy refers me to the Federal Communications Commission. I was on hold for more than an hour. Do you know what an hour of muzak interrupted with “Please stay on the line — someone will be with your shortly” every 30 seconds does to your sanity?
I languished on hold until I started feeling dangerously homicidal, and finally gave up and filed a complaint on their website. You know what happens when you file a complaint on a federal website? Squat. They go straight to the trash. But filing it seemed better than doing nothing (when, in fact, it probably isn’t), realizing that I had a better chance of a pink pygmy unicorn coming to live at my house than getting a response from the FCC.
Suddenly, I recalled a Chamber of Commerce workshop I’d attended regarding credit card fraud, and an FBI agent explaining that scammers are often working from phone banks located in countries that are hostile to the U.S. — countries that thumb their noses to the demands of the United States. Essentially, he said, there’s not much the U.S. can do. It’s up to the consumer to be wary of scams, guard their credit cards, and monitor their credit reports regularly.
But, maybe, just maybe, in the time since that workshop, the FBI has found a way to catch these robocall rats. I called the Sacramento office, but sadly, the person said there wasn’t much the FBI can do, and directed me to call the Federal Trade Commission.
Great. Another hour of “on hold” hell. And no Xanax in my purse. Or anyone to punch without getting fired.
To my astonishment, the FTC picked up the phone fairly quickly, and the worker who answered was exceedingly sympathetic and pleasant (oh, if only I could have crawled onto her lap and just cried, while she patted my head and called me sweet pea), but unfortunately told me that the FTC already knows exactly what’s going on, and that I’m one of thousands whose names and phone numbers have been hijacked. She said the FTC knows which company is responsible, and they even busted them once when they were using phone lines to scam people.
Now, “to get even,” she said, the company swipes names and phone numbers off the internet, uses them as fake Caller IDs, and places the calls from computer lines. Trying to find them is like playing “Whack A Mole.” As soon as the FTC bops them in one place, they pop up somewhere else.
But, she told me, every report of the “reduce your credit card debt” scam calls helps the FTC figure out where they are, and brings them one step closer to catching them. You better believe I filed a report, and so did Suzy. And so should you.
I know — if you’re like me, you pick up the phone and hear a robocall or scammy pitch from someone trying to lower your debt or perform a software maintenance (another one that’s making the rounds) and if you’re in a good mood, you slam the receiver down, and if not, you let loose a colorful streak of insults and slam the receiver down. Or maybe you don’t have a receiver, and you just push “End” really forcefully, which is not nearly as gratifying.
Don’t. Jot down the number and name if you can, note the time, and report it to the FTC, as well as your local police department. It’s a crime! Report it! Every report is another clue to help catch the robocall rats.
I know — why bother, it’s not your name and number being used.
Not this time, anyway.
Here’s the number to call: 877-382-4357. Visit the FTC website for more information.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com