If you have a telephone, you probably have caller ID, and you probably use it to informally “screen” incoming calls.

Once upon a time, children, you had to answer your telephone to find out who was calling. Happily, technology took care of all that.

It used to work great. Not anymore.

The history of what we know as caller ID can be traced to a Greek engineer who in 1968 developed a way to transmit data with a voice call. Back then, such developments took years, not months, to reach the marketplace, so we needed input from engineers in other countries and testing by phone companies before customers could buy such services beginning in the late 1980s.

It was the golden age of caller ID. Someone placed a call, and the person on the other end saw a name and number on a small display. Maybe it wasn’t the person who was making the call, but it was the owner of phone. If you punched in a code first, it even acted like an unlisted number.

Several steps forward have been made since then. They included caller ID waiting, forward to voice mail, and phone number blocking.

Fast forward to 2017, when our home landline is receiving several calls from familiar local names and numbers. As examples, one was from a Brownwood pharmacy and another was from a lawyer downtown. I know people who work at both places. I answered.

I don’t answer when caller ID shows “unavailable” and an area code from Timbuktu. Those get picked up by voice mail. Similar calls to our cell telephones have been infrequent, but they are beginning to become a problem lately, too.

Imagine my surprise when the call from the pharmacy was not from a friend at the pharmacy, but from someone wanting to sell me an extended warranty on my car. And imagine my further surprise when the caller from that local lawyer was someone wanting a donation to cure a disease I’ve never heard of.

Somewhere along the way, a genuine friend called — and I answered it, of course — and he told me he thought I had been calling him just a few minutes earlier. Instead, it was some salesman. Even so, the caller appeared to be using my telephone number and my name.

I suppose it’s the result of a work-around to get people like me to answer their phones. People like me, who check the caller ID and don’t answer “unknown” calls from area code “123” or whatever. And people like me, who are more likely to answer a call from a local number with a real name attached.

It’s called “spoofing,” I’ve learned after some quick research. Callers subscribe to services that let them enter whatever data they want to show up on your caller ID. If you’re interested, these services are easily found.

Spoofing can have legitimate uses. Public figures, court officials, medical personnel, and others who don’t want their personal numbers sent out, but do want their office numbers to be displayed, use it. But devious people use it now, too.

So, if you see a call coming in from me, I’ll understand if you think I’m selling extended warranties or collecting money so starving children can have candy for Halloween.

 

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at news@brownwoodbulletin.com.