by Jim Smart
It was not much of a surprise to read in a recent copy of Consumer Reports that in a recent month, about 3.4 billion of those automated robocalls were inflicted on telephones in the United States. That averages more than 10 calls a month for every man, woman and child.
We get one or two almost every day, enough to hold up our share of the average. Those cheerful recorded folks want to sell us life insurance, electricity, credit cards, chimney cleaning, time shares, cruises or whatever, or ask us to donate to various causes. Some inform us that I just won a big cash prize in a contest we never heard of. All I need to do to collect my prize is pay some fees and taxes up front. (Yeah, sure.)
Many would like to sell our house instantly, sight unseen, for cash. A few calls are made by actual live human beings, presumably unfortunate con men who don’t have the money to set up an automated telephone scam system.
It would be pleasant to think that this elaborate use of modern technology was a waste of time and that the telescammers would all soon go broke using expensive technology to try to hoodwink people, especially those of us who are over the hill. I’m at least near the brink.
But, sadly, the Consumer magazine informs us, these automated highwaymen took victims for an estimated $350 million in 2011. That’s the latest year the article gives, and it offers no information of the typical ages of those who were bamboozled.
Maybe I’m a bit sensitive on the subject, but as a guy who has been collecting Social Security for nearly a quarter-century, I like to think that we fogeys are not automatically easy marks for swindlers the instant we blow out the candles on birthday cake 65.
I’m inclined to suspect that an old fool who falls for a too-good-to-be-true telephone solicitation was probably just as likely to be cheated when he was a young fool. But many of us are easily confused or persuaded and do need some protection from those who would take advantage of us.
Of course, many of those calls are legitimate offers, although they may not always be the best things for the solicited customer. The best of them, calling the best of us, are still a daily annoyance.
At home, we get the same calls repeatedly. It doesn’t matter whether we regularly hang up, get a live person and ask that our names be taken off the calling list, or whatever other response or lack thereof. The robots just keep interrupting our days.
Congress has been dallying for months over two bills about robocalls. Both would amend the Communications Act of 1934. (See how up-to-date our government is on technology?)
ROBOCOP Act H.R. 5573 would expand and clarify the prohibition on inaccurate caller identification information, and require providers of telephone service to offer free call-blocking technology that would reduce unwanted telephone calls and text messages. HANGUP Act H. R 5633 would ban use of robocalls to collect debts owed to the federal government.
Will legislation cut down on annoying calls? Some live callers are as persistent as any robot. There’s a pleasant woman who calls us about once a month to offer to clean our chimney. I explain to her patiently that our furnace vents through pipes in a wall, but she calls again in a few weeks. At least, she’s not a robot.
Longtime Mt. Airy resident James Smart, 88, is a former Evening Bulletin staff writer and columnist as well as an avid Philadelphia author-historian with a special interest in the 1876 United States International Exhibition in Philadelphia that marked our Centennial. He’s a stickler for accuracy (“It’s often wrongly called the ‘Exposition'”) on one hand and an unabashed humorist on the other. His website is jamessmartsphiladelphia.com