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CHIPS Articles: “Danger, Cell Phone Owner!”

“Danger, Cell Phone Owner!”
By Donald Free, OCIO Privacy Team - October-December 2018
Some may remember the 1960’s Lost in Space television show. At least once an episode the robot would shout a warning to character Will Robinson warning him of impending doom. Waving his mechanical arms erratically with lights flashing, the robot would shout, “Danger, Will Robinson.”

Today the robot would be waving and flashing while shouting “Danger, Cell Phone Owner,” warning cell phone owners of another unwanted robocall. According to Consumer Reports, 2.8 billion robocalls were sent to Americans in the single month of December 2017. Vermont, with an estimated population of 624,000, the second least populated of the 50 states, received over 25,000,000 robocalls in the 802 area code in 2017; clearly this is a nuisance of epidemic proportions.

A robocall is a phone call that uses a computerized auto-dialer to deliver a pre-recorded message, as if from a robot. Robocalls are often associated with political and telemarketing campaigns, but can also be used for public-service or emergency announcements, and as many are discovering, unscrupulous scammers attempting to steal your money or identity.

Short of launching your phone into outerspace in frustration, what can be done? There are several options available, some are simple, some will require a little work and perhaps a few dollars.

The easiest option you have is, if you do not recognize the incoming call’s phone number, don’t answer the phone. If the caller leaves a callback number on your voicemail, do not return the call or the number on caller ID because that could take you right back to the scammer.

Instead look up the caller’s name in the phonebook, (if you still have a phone book then you do remember the 60’s version of Lost in Space), or try to research callers online and use the website number for verification. If you cannot find them, or find complaints about them, they are probably scammers.

Should you answer the phone and believe the caller is a possible scammer, hang up immediately! The longer you stay on the line; the better chance these unscrupulous actors have of conning you into revealing your personal information or tricking you into becoming a part of their scam.

Block the calls. There are many apps, some free, others for just a few dollars a month, that will recognize the call as a robocall and intercept it so that your phone never rings.

The Federal Trade Commission cautions that if you receive a robocall trying to sell you something without your written permission, it’s an illegal call. You should hang up. Then, file a complaint with the FTC and the National Do Not Call Registry which is a free service of the FTC.

For more information about how you can protect yourself from unwanted calls, go to the FTC website at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/.

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