Several years ago, thinking we might have a use for a Google Voice account, we created one. It is basically an internet-based telephone service without a telephone: You get a number and you can make and receive calls, have voicemail and voice and text messaging, anywhere in the U.S., Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. And it is free.
We never used ours and never gave the number to anyone. So there it sits, this number, like a Venus flytrap for phone scammers. And we get calls. Lots of them; probably 500-600 a year – which is still peanuts compared to scammer calls to some more real numbers. There were an estimated 50 billion robocalls made last year.
Each time, Google transcribes the message and emails it to us. From this morning:
“Parts system with Visa Mastercard account services with important changes to your account before the next billing cycle. If you received your new rates by mail and wish not to be contacted, press 3. Congratulations on your excellent payment history you now qualify for a 0% interest rate on all your credit card accounts. This is a limited-time offer and you must respond immediately. Press 1 now to speak to our qualification department and complete the enrollment process.”
Are there people who take this recorded call and press 1?
Yes. That is why the scammers keep doing it, to fleece the elderly and the unaware.
Who are the scammers?
Josh Stein, the North Carolina attorney general, is in a position to know. “These guys are criminals,” he recently explained on NPR’s Morning Edition.
“They’re smart, they’re creative and they’re greedy. So they’re not going to stop. That’s why we have to up our enforcement. But for us to enforce the law, we have to know who is the culprit, who’s doing this work. And a lot of what we’re trying to do is take the darkness that exists, that allows this activity to go on, and shine a bright light so that we can go after those perpetrators.”
Phone carriers are applying technology to be able to trace the calls, he said, “and then they’re going to share that information with us so we can go after them.”
Stein was referring to a settlement reached recently by a coalition of all the states’ attorneys general, that he helped lead. As a result, the 12 biggest carriers have pledged to spot and block robocalls as part of eight principles they will adopt.
What is new here, Stein says, is that for the first time, the companies will actively monitor their networks to prevent chicanery. The AGs have compelled them to do something that none has done for its customers before out of the goodness of its heart or wallet, or because it makes good business sense.
It is not an end to scammers or robocalls, but with a little luck, it is the beginning of the end of some of it.
The companies have agreed to implement network-level blocking technology at no cost to customers, and to give customers free, easy-to-use blocking and labeling tools. The companies include AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, and Winstream.
The customers still may have to demand these things, and the attorneys general will have to keep up the fight, most likely.
Coloradoans should look to the office of Attorney General Phil Weiser for that help.