When you get a phone call at 9 a.m. and the caller ID indicates it’s from Wailuku, Hawaii, you assume it’s not a friend calling to gloat about his vacation.
My wife and I have been to Hawaii (the “big island”) and Oahu, but not to Maui. Maybe one day. But it’s been more than two years since we visited the 50th state, so it’s not like someone found a billfold with my address in it or something like that. And while certain members of our family — as well as friends — have vacationed on Maui, none of them was traveling there right then, at least as far as I knew.
Besides, it was 5 a.m. in Hawaii.
This is probably someone trying to sell me an ocean-view time-share, or some insurance policy I don’t need. It went to voicemail.
I thought the relentless interruptions to my daily routine from “caller unknown” or “V11412144400020” or “Area Code 000” would slow down after the holidays. Sorry, no way.
Complaints to the government are up sharply about pesky phone solicitations, news reports indicate, raising questions about how well the federal “do-not-call” registry is working. The biggest category of complaints: those annoying prerecorded pitches called robocalls that hawk everything from lower credit card interest rates, to extended automobile warranties, to new windows for your home.
Lawmakers last year proposed bipartisan legislation to fine scam robocallers up to $10,000 per call, and the FCC is demanding telecommunications companies lay out their plans to identify and stop them.
Our telecommunications heroes keep coming up with barriers, but the callers keep finding ways to get around them. It can’t help that telemarketers don’t pay a price for making calls in massive volumes. There was a time when long-distance toll charges made constant use of long-distance costly, but that hurdle no longer exists. Plus, with internet-based phone calls, there’s no additional cost at all.
You have to wonder if companies were forced to pay a fee for each call if maybe the number of intrusions would decrease. Or, maybe not. It would just be a cost of doing business — passed along to the rare individuals who don’t curse and hang up on these recorded messages, but instead listen long enough to actually make a purchase.
There must be some people falling for their schemes. Otherwise, why would they keep calling? Are callers really enjoying success? And if they are, who are those buyers?
There was a time when I felt a little bit of sympathy for telemarketers. That was when real people with real jobs and real children in their families to feed were making such calls. I even once had family members who did such work, however briefly. But when the automated recordings started doing the preliminary work, I find it painless to hang up on them, if I even answer at all. At least caller ID gives you a clue, and that option.
I’m told one way around robocalls is to answer but say nothing. Without a voice on the line, the recorded appeal won’t begin. But it’s still an interruption.
Fortunately, there’s an app for that. Download it, and cellphone robocalls are intercepted like a Scud missile.
Even Facebook recognizes my frustration. An advertisement shows up about a landline telephone that has call blocking. I’m curious to know how this works. Maybe someone will call and offer to sell me one.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.