Why Do I Keep Getting Spam Calls?

“black corded telephone” by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

In the time it took to research and write this article, I got three spam calls.

You probably get them, too, even if you registered for the Do Not Call List. Scam/spam calls are annoying, but they go way beyond the telemarketing of the past.

The people calling you (or auto-dialing you) don’t care that it’s illegal, because their whole operation is illegal, and there isn’t much risk of getting caught.

The IRS even put up a page about how to deal with phone scams, after a widespread scam in which callers threatened to arrest people for back taxes unless they sent an iTunes gift card to a specified location. Yes, the government’s solution is, “Hey, watch out for this.”

Most of us know that we can’t pay taxes with an iTunes card, and that the IRS sends letters instead of calling. However, the scam changes to anything from claiming you need to ransom someone who’s been kidnapped, to attempts to obtain personal information like a social security number.

The FCC has a page where you can file a complaint about unwanted calls; but if you’ve ever tried, you’ll know it doesn’t do anything.

The latest (and certainly most annoying) technique scammers use is to “spoof” a local area code, so the call looks like it could be coming from your child’s school, or a local business like a doctor’s office or pharmacy. If you call the number back, you’ll reach a bewildered person who says they didn’t call you — and they didn’t. You might even receive an angry call from someone saying you called them.

More people are likely to pick up these calls, especially if they are waiting for a call back after a job interview or from a contractor, only to be met with a scammy recording.

The latest technique scammers use is to “spoof” a local area code, so the call looks like it could be coming from your child’s school, or a local business.

Recently, many of the calls have started showing up on my phone as “Scam Likely.” But they still ring and sound like a normal call until I check the screen.

When I’m at work, I have to switch on “Do Not Disturb” so I can only receive calls from contacts. Otherwise, my phone will ring two or three times during the day, disrupting me — and everyone around me — with useless calls.

Many apps claim the ability to block spam calls. But why can’t I block these spam calls entirely, without having to download a third-party app? My e-mail blocks spam; why not my phone? And landline phones can’t exactly download an app; what’s the solution there?

The answer seems to be: the U.S. government doesn’t have the money to solve the problem, and telecommunications companies aren’t bothering to attempt it, either. Even though we pay them to provide us with service, the onus is on telephone customers to just ignore spam calls.

However, phones aren’t just a toy we use. They are literally a lifeline. Recently I received a call from a family member about a legitimate, “we had to call 911” emergency. I rushed over there to help.

It’s frustrating to have my — or their — phone ring after that and think, “Oh no, what happened now?” and then hear I’ve been randomly selected to win a cruise. (Fortunately, everything with my family member turned out OK.)

The frustrating part is that this has been going on for years. Public outrage to it seems to ebb and flow, and when it reaches the news, people talk about it for awhile — then it fades away when something else seems more important. We’re momentarily distracted by each call, but then we forget about it.

That is, until we get the next call.

It seems the only way things will change is if we start to demand change. Marking calls as “Scam Likely” is a start, but I’d like it if I could change it so those calls didn’t ring at all, and went straight to voicemail. Or maybe — since they know it’s spam — if they could block them entirely.

Update 10/20/18: Since I wrote this article, I’ve found the app Hiya to be helpful. It doesn’t completely eliminate spam, but it marks some of the calls as spam and lets me block others.

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