Robocalls—on the list of life’s petty annoyances, these pre-recorded telemarketing messages rank at the top of the list, along with stepping in dog crap and people who drive below the speed limit in the passing lane. I bet you’re familiar with the one that’s been plaguing me of late. A spunky gal named Rachel or Heather from the vaguely named “Card Services” says she’s calling about your credit card and that time is running out on her offer. Which card? What offer? She never explains. You’re then given two choices: press one to speak with a live representative, or two to remove your number.
When I first started getting these calls months ago, I picked the “remove me forever” option. Yet they kept coming—same message, but never from the same number. I tried speaking to an operator, and was surprised to find I was connected to an actual human being (a term I use liberally in this case). The guy sounded friendly, so I responded in kind, politely asking if I could talk to a supervisor. The next sound I heard was a click, then a dial tone.
Scammers like these robobastards count on two things: our gullibility and our general lack of initiative when wronged. I’m guilty of the former here. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that when you receive these calls, you should simply hang up. If you choose a prompt—even the one to be removed from their list—you’re only confirming that your number works, which insures more calls, not less. That makes sense. If a guy in a ski mask breaks into your house and promises not to rob you if you just give him a spare key to the front door, you probably wouldn’t trust him. So all those times I pressed a button, I was only encouraging these crooks to keep harassing me, illegally.
As for the latter, robocallers subscribe the same operating principal that the Parking Authority relies on. For all the hassle involved in challenging a parking ticket, most folks will just curse them out and write a check. Likewise, few people have the time or energy to call federal hotlines or fill out multi-part complaint forms every time a rip-off artist raids your phone. In my case, however, Card Services is robo-screwing with the wrong guy. My first step was to fill out a complaint on the FTC’s website. Clearly that hasn’t helped much, since part of the problem is that these call centers cycle through hundreds of phone numbers, often using disposable ones that they disconnect to cover their tracks (as one helpful operator at the Federal Communications Commission told me, Card Services is “probably the most popular scam that’s going”).
As the calls kept coming—I’ve received five already this month, and three more from a similar “insurance services” con—I decided to have some fun with these clowns. My logic was that if they’re going to waste my time and add even the slightest bit of stress to my day, then I’d return the favor. When I was connected to one of their flunkies again, I sat in silence. The first time I tried this, the guy on the other end hung on for a full minute before yelling “Fuck you!” Perhaps this speaks to some mental illness on my part, or a lack of a meaningful life, or both, but I can say without exaggeration that pissing that dude off was among the highlights of my week.
Knowing now that pressing any prompt is a bad idea, that ruined my next plan—to play my own hold music into the phone, just to see how long their operators would listen. Not that my stunts will discourage them; the scammers are so brazen that some of them even provide hotline numbers for reporting them to the FCC and the FTC. While they’ve mostly stayed a step ahead of regulators, the FTC is taking the matter seriously enough that next Thursday, it’s sponsoring a “Robocall Summit” in Washington, D.C. Until the Feds catch up to these phone invaders, your best defense is to submit complaints by either calling 888-382-1222 or 877-382-4357, or filling out an online form. Time is of the essence, though; the faster you report a number, the more likely it will still be active when investigators check it out.
For now, I expect I’ll be hearing from Card Services again soon. Maybe I’ll try the hold-music experiment anyway. I’m already a marked man. And every time a robocall operator curses me out, it’s a small victory for all of us.