I have been working on just the right words to say to the four or five people who call me everyday and who say, “I received a call from this number.”
For a while, I would just say, “I didn’t call you.” That led to a variety of responses such as a defiant, “Yes you did. It says so right on my phone.”
That led to a confusing and often irate conversations of this nature: Me: “Just because my phone number showed up on your phone doesn’t mean I called you.” Which would be responded with, “Well then why is your number on my phone, you jerk? Quit calling me or I’m going to report you.” And so on.
It reminds me of the time a lady backed into my Mustang in a parking lot. She got out of her car defiant, “This was not my fault,” she stated. “My car has a video screen that shows if anyone is behind me and I looked at it before I backed out and nobody was there.”
I tried to explain to the lady that I may have not been there at the time she looked at the screen but I most definitely was there when she backed into me. She looked at me blankly, confused, thinking I was trying to trick her with some weirdo logic. I realized discussion was futile and we politely exchanged insurance cards and went our separate ways.
I have had several people call me and leave voice messages: “I know what you’re up to you &^%(fg#^ and you better quit calling me or else.”
It’s just one more way we are having to adapt to changing technology that introduces unintended consequences we are ill-prepared to deal with. This fancy technology gives us access to everything in the world, but it also gives the world access to everything in your world, including your phone number. The potential consequences are scary.
Telemarketer spoofing, also known as caller ID spoofing or neighbor spoofing, is basically the act of making a phone call appear as if it is coming from a different number on a caller ID. It’s easily done.
Why would somebody do this? To get you to answer the call thinking it is a legitimate call. Every person who is spoofed with my number has the same first three digits as mine, 573. This is common to many C Spire customers. When someone sees a telephone number similar to their number, they are more likely to answer, which is the objective of a telemarketer.
There is no point in trying to block these calls because the spoofers are constantly generating new fake numbers. And you could end up blocking legitimate numbers when they aren’t being spoofed. Not only is my number spoofed, but I get tons of spoofed calls as well.
Here’s a hint: Never call back a number that you don’t recognize. It’s not real. It’s fake. It’s spoofed. Calling back is a waste of everyone’s time.
So what is to be done? Congress just passed a new law ordering the Federal Communications Commission to develop robo-killing technology. But nobody knows how. It’s like the arms race. The more technology that is deployed to stop spoofing, the more it is matched with even more technology to defeat the anti-spoofing. It will never end.
The same technology that let you transcend borders instantly and travel around the world on your smartphone allows spoofing scammers to operate in Bulgarian basements beyond the reach of U. S. regulators. They are untouchable. Nobody has the answer to this conundrum. And nobody knows where it will end.
Before, telephone companies were regulated. Land lines could be monitored. There was accountability. You could control spam, but no more. You wonder where it will end. Our phones will be useless if they are constantly bombarded with robo spoofs.
This is not unlike the battle of fake news. In the old days, there were a limited number of news outlets. They were known. They had editors and fact checkers. They were subject to libel and slander laws. There was accountability.
Now anyone with a computer connection is a publisher. Fake news can spread around the world in an instant. The more outlandish the fake news, the more it will spread. This allows a country like Russia to deliberately sabotage our country by disseminating false reports and stirring up anger, controversy, misinformation and confusion – all designed to destabilize our society.
At first, we thought the Internet was going to be a great thing for totalitarian nations where the news was censored. These people could get real news from free countries. And so it was for a while.
Then Russia, China and other repressive regimes began to master the technology. Soon the dictators learned they had the perfect tool for controlling thought and repressing dissent. China now has the perfect tool for spying on its citizens. What we thought was going to be a gateway to freedom turned out to be a tunnel toward repression.
This scary trend has a different twist in the United States. Google and Facebook are definitely spying on us, but not for political repression but rather to make money by manipulating our buying habits. Targeting advertising is tracking our every move to influence our purchases. That nice app on your smartphone is listening in and tracking your movements. Our old notion of privacy is dead.
Right now only Google, Facebook and Amazon know everything about you, but as technology advances, that will change. Before long, every American will be reduced to 500 data points and the entire national profile will fit on a thumb drive. Once that genie gets out of the bottle, it will never go back in.
My son John was aghast when the smartphone came out. He was about 12 at the time. The devices terrified him. He would scream when Google Maps told me where to go. “It’s turning your brain to mush,” he would shout. Silly John, we would say. It’s just a useful device to help us get around and learn things. In retrospect, John’s 12-year-old instincts were right on.
Like the innocent callers wanting to know why I called them, digital advertising operates on the same natural gullibility that stems from a bygone era when we could actually trust information. The FBI has identified digital ad fraud as the second biggest illegal activity in the world after illegal drugs.
Advertisers pay for “views” and “clicks” naively believing the statistics they see with their own eyes on their computer screen. What they don’t realize is that these views and clicks can be spoofed just like my phone number is spoofed. And just like that phone number on your smartphone, you don’t know if it was a real number or a spoofed number. There’s no way to know it or to stop the spoofers.
Making matters even worse, digital advertising and its inherent vulnerability to fraud has destroyed the business model that funded real journalism and real reporters writing real news. The United States has lost half its professional journalists over the last two decades. In their place, rumors, innuendos and outright fake news. And just like telemarketing spoofers, nobody knows a way to stop it.