Until the federal government and the phone carriers come up with a foolproof method to eliminate scam telemarketers and fraudulent robocalls, about all a person can do is refrain from answering calls from unfamiliar phone numbers.
But even that’s difficult because illicit telemarketers today can employ technology called “spoofing” to disguise their real phone numbers and transform them into numbers that seem familiar to the person receiving the call.
Even picking up a call lets scammers know your number is live and a potential target.
Scam callers are getting better all the time at disrupting your day.
But if you do happen to answer a scam call, here are some ways to exact revenge by annoying the scammer as much as they annoy the rest of us.
Jackie Collins Buck says her husband, radio personality Mike Buck, answers such calls and says, “I’m glad you called. Would you like to be live on my radio program and talk about scam callers?”
Collins Buck says the callers hang up immediately and don’t call back.
When I answer my phone and hear someone with a foreign accent telling me my Microsoft system has a virus, I say, “Please hang on. I want to hear more but I have to take care of something first.” Then, I put down the phone and resume my work, periodically picking up the phone again to say, “Please stay on the line for just a minute I am very interested.” The callers finally figure out they’ve been duped and hang up.
There are also apps that do the same thing with recordings that sound like humans to keep the phone scammers on the line for as long as possible.
That’s not exactly revenge but at least it wastes their time and slows down their efforts to extract money or personal financial information from the unsuspecting.
• “Mr. Daum is happy to speak to you. His billing rate is $500 per hour. If you’ll give me your credit card number now, I’ll book a time slot just for you.”
• “Oh, I thought you were my ride? Can you Uber a car for me?”
• “Nice to hear from you! I’m fundraising on behalf of Kanye West for president. Can I count on you for a donation?”
• “What are you wearing?”
• “Want to know what I’m wearing?”
• “I’m busy now, but I’m free around midnight. Can I have your home phone number so I can call you back?”
Honolulu resident Lela Morgan says a friend tells her toddler the telemarketer is Grandma calling and lets the child do the talking. Morgan says the scam telemarketer hangs up and doesn’t call again.
“I hate to say it but federal regulations might be the only thing that will stop robocalls,” she says. “Although I’m open to trying toddlers.”
The head of Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection says he gets up to 10 scam calls a day on one of his phone lines.
To be clear here, I am talking about smacking down crooked scammers. This is not about tormenting desperate people trying to eke out a living as employees at legitimate call centers.
For those kinds of callers, Honolulu immigration attorney Clare Hanusz advises, “try kindness.”
Hanusz says after she graduated from college and couldn’t find a job, she took a temporary position with a legitimate telemarketing company.
“I was that voice on the other side of the phone,” she says. “Please realize that most of the people doing that work absolutely would rather be doing something else. Be grateful that you have other options, be kind and brief and tell the caller thank you, you’re not interested but you hope she or he has a great day. Why play games with people who are working crappy jobs trying to get by?”
Part of the problem is sorting out real telemarketers from scammers hell-bent on stealing credit card and bank account numbers.
State legislative employee Carolyn Tanaka assumes the best. She says as long as there’s a human voice on the line, she’s polite.
“I just tell them thank you and hang up.” says Tanaka, communications director for the Democratic caucus in the House. “No sense in getting pissy. They’re just trying to make a living.”
If you are waiting for federal regulations to solve the problem of the scammers, you may have to wait awhile longer. The bureaucratic wheels are moving slowly.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has urged but not required telephone service providers to come up with technology to effectively block scam callers.
Stephen Levins, head of the state Offie of Consumer Protection, right, doesn’t recommend annoying phone scammers, but he says there are other things you can do.
“The FCC has the authority to mandate carriers to provide effective robocall blocking technology to their customers,” says Levins. “The chairman should use that authority.”
Levins says he gets up to 10 scam calls a day on one of his phone lines.
“It’s a plague,” he says. “In the last six months it has been getting worse and worse. It is just a huge pain.”
Levins says there are a few things consumers can do while waiting for solutions from the federal government and the carriers:
• Put all your phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s no-call list. It takes less than a minute and is free. But only legitimate telemarketers check the list to find out which phone numbers not to call. Scammers ignore the list.
• Ask your carrier what kinds of call blocking services it offers for free and for a fee. Verizon, AT&T and some other carriers offer free spam call blockers. Ann Nishida, corporate communications director at Hawaiian Telcom, says Hawaiian Tel offers some blocking services and is developing technology to block more unwanted calls.
• Consider buying apps such as Hiya and Nomorobo to eliminate the calls before they ring on your phone. Honolulu resident Rachel Whitley Sutton swears by the app called RoboKiller.
“It intercepts the calls so I’m not even bothered by them and better yet, it plays a variety of recorded messages so the caller thinks they are talking to a person,” Sutton says. “After the call, you can listen to the interactions if you want … it’s satisfaction to hear these scammers talking to a recording.”
But Levins says that annoying the scam callers might not be such a hot idea, because they could put you on a special list and ratchet up the calls to you. And when it comes to annoying, they are the experts.
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.