Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column.
By David Carroll
Since our last visit, I have been busier than usual. Life’s parade includes events of joy, like a son’s wedding (exhilarating but tiring). But, unfortunately, life also throws you a curveball, such as the funeral for a beloved brother-in-law (COVID-19 strikes again). Mix in a full-time job, a couple of side gigs, and a rainy September encouraging lush green grass to grow, and I’m that dog chasing his tail nonstop.
In the midst of it all, I needed a long nap. So I left my cellphone in another room, safely out of earshot. My aching bones were quietly rejuvenating, and I was deep into dreamland. Then it happened—the obnoxious ringing sound of my landline phone.
Yes, I have yet to cut the cord on the old-timey telephone. My wife and I use our reliable cellphones 99 percent of the time. We have kept our landline phone for two reasons: first, because it is included in our “bundle” of cable TV and internet service; and second, because our elderly relatives had memorized that phone number, and they preferred to contact us on a “real telephone.”
Those loved ones have since passed on, yet ye olde landline phone still gathers dust on a corner table, like a long-neglected museum exhibit. Anyone under 25 would be baffled by the device, searching in vain for the camera button. Yet, most of the time, it sits untouched, a relic of another era.
When we switched cable/telephone providers a few years ago, a new phone number was an unexpected benefit. We shared it only with our sons and a couple of close friends. We soon noticed that annoying robocalls had suddenly disappeared. Our new phone number had not yet reached the scammers, and the landline phone sat silently. But eventually, the crooks found us, and during my nap, there was an unwelcome interruption.
I know what you’re saying: “Ignore those calls, and they will go away!” Unfortunately, that statement is accurate, and I have often given that advice myself. However, in the midst of a deep sleep, I rushed to answer the phone.
It was some nice lady with “great news” about a free hotel stay. Why me? Why now? Didn’t I just read a few days ago that robocalls had been eradicated?
I sure did, and you may have to. Most states began enforcing “Anti-Robocall Principles” in 2019. Since then, they say 52 billion spam calls have been blocked. That is impressive, but they have a few billion left to go. And it’s the next part of the report that has me scratching my head.
So far this year, almost 400,000 Americans have filed telemarketer complaints, reporting a total of $356 million in losses. “These numbers underscore the need to continue to fight back against the scourge of robocalls,” according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
We have learned why scammers are still in business in that one sentence: we send them our money. On “Green Acres,” the lovable con man Mr. Haney would put a boat motor in a barrel and call it a washing machine and sell it to a gullible lawyer-turned-farmer.
Fifty years later, Mr. Haneys are far more sophisticated and even more successful. No matter how many times the Better Business Bureau warns us about holding our Social Security numbers close to our vest and our credit card numbers closer, many of us hand over the contents of our wallets to a long-distance bandit.
The con artists are taking advantage of today’s technology. The calls are inexpensive and easily programmed. They can contact millions of consumers daily. If only a handful of folks take the bait, the thieves cash in.
A typical opening line is, “Don’t hang up! Your chronic back pain could be a thing of the past!” Of course, my first impulse is to yell back, “Nope, I’ve got pain all right, but it’s a few inches below my back, and you’re causing it!”
While that rant should give me immediate relief, it causes more grief. The robocallers WANT me to respond. Whether I “press one to speak to a representative,” or “press two to be removed from our list,” I have let them know a real person is answering my phone. That means the next time I’m watching the big game, my phone will likely ring again.
Blocking the numbers once seemed like a sure cure, but that doesn’t seem to help. There’s no surefire way to stop the calls, but the less human contact you have with these “bots,” the better. If you’re afraid you may be missing an important call, consider this. People who really know you or need you will leave a message. Otherwise, ignore the calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Tell your family, friends, and neighbors: Don’t answer. Don’t feed the beast.
(David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor and radio host and is online at ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. His new book is “Hello Chattanooga: Famous People Who Have Visited The Tennessee Valley.” You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or RadioTV2020@yahoo.com)