Ok, I’ve really had it now. I picked up my office phone the other day only to hear the same robocall that has recently invaded my cell phone. Seconds after I answered, I recognized the automated voice greeting me in Chinese with a cheery “Ni hao!” — the Mandarin expression for "hello." I slammed down the phone, mad at myself for having fallen victim to algorithmic trickery.
But except for sneak attacks like that office hijack, I’ve actually become skilled at ferreting out most of these calls. I had to, so as not to be driven mad by the incessant ringing. Having honed some CIA-worthy investigative savvy, I approach any three-digit number exchanges I don’t know with extreme caution. In the process, I have had to sacrifice some legitimate numbers to build up my own algorithm and gather my own intelligence. But I’d rather do that than answer the call and get caught by the roaming scammers, and moved to the top of their list of people for targeting.
Things are certainly better now than two years ago, when I first commented about being under assault from the robocalls. You may recall I replaced my home phone with one that had a built-in blocking feature able to filter most robocalls. I also signed up for every "Do Not Call" list I could, though it seems to me that a lot of companies broke the law and called anyway. And I vigorously protested so-called "ringless voicemail," that sends robocalls straight to voicemail. Back then, the new FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai seemed inclined to approve it despite a consumer uproar, but thankfully, it didn’t happen.
And now — in an about face — he’s pushing for regulatory changes, saying, “The American people are fed up with illegal robocalls.” Duh. Researchers tracked five billion robocalls last month. The FCC chairman has a series of changes he’d like to implement, including getting major carriers like AT&T and Verizon to activate automatic anti-robocall blocking, instead of requiring consumers to turn on those features. He’s also encouraging the telecom carriers to offer the service for free, and to consider sending warning alerts to consumers when a call is likely fraudulent. Hallelujah!
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is part of a bipartisan group of 42 attorneys general supporting the FCC rules changes, especially one that would stop something called spoofing. Robocallers hide where the call is coming from so it appears to be legitimate. The FCC will review and vote on the spoofing proposal and other potential solutions this Thursday at its regularly scheduled meeting. Healey says the FCC must vote to stop “illegal robocallers from harassing consumers.”
Harassing is the right word. Recent robocalls, somehow making it past all my blocking features, are either the aforementioned foreign caller or someone threatening I’ll be jailed if I don’t take immediate action. I don’t know what action, because I just erase the calls. That was the action I took! I’m all in favor of whatever changes can help me return to the good old days, when I could answer the phone and expect to talk to someone I know.