Being Pursued by a Robocaller

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A woman named Julia is harassing me, calling my cellphone at all hours of the day, from all across the United States. In the past week, Julia (not to be confused with my wife, Julie) has called from Sanford, Florida; Winchester, Missouri; Bayonne N.J.; Gig Harbor, Washington; and Stone Mountain, Georgia. It is getting tiresome, these calls from a woman I do not know — nor do I wish to make her acquaintance. But I must admit Julia gets around. I wonder if she has a private plane or just drives through the night, eventually stopping somewhere to give me a ring.

The call always begins the same way. First, there is a slight delay as if there might not be someone on the other end. Then a pleasant female voice says, “Hi, this is Julia, and I have some exciting news for you.” Then she informs me I am eligible for a $50,000 small-business loan.

This would be great if I owned a business and needed to borrow $50,000. I don’t own a business and have no intention of starting or buying one. But Julia does not let me get a word in edge-wise. She is relentless, calling me from all over the nation.

Julia is a robocaller.

She is not human. Julia is a computerized annoyance whose company has somehow gotten hold of my cellphone number. One of my night-and-weekend jobs is slogging away as a newspaper broker, trying to put together deals to buy or sell newspapers. So I cannot always discount calls from the aforementioned places. It might be someone who got a wild hair and wants to buy or sell a newspaper. But then Julia’s mellifluous voice comes across and I know it is time to Block That Caller.

Blocking calls gives me keen pleasure. I realize this exercise is useless, since Julia moves fast. One day she is calling me from Bend, Oregon, the next Franconia Notch, New Hampshire. Then it’s Dover, Delaware, followed by Denver, then Rochester, New York. She’s quick, my pursuer.

My cellphone number has been on the national Do Not Call Registry since 2008, for what good that has done. The robocallers clearly do not pay attention to the registry.

I installed a free app on my iPhone that is supposed to catch spam callers. According to the app, it has detected and deterred hundreds of phone numbers. And when I scroll down the list of blocked numbers, there indeed are hundreds. But not Julia and her friend, Amanda.

My cursory research showed robocallers are not really running all around the country to make their calls. They are somehow able to fake the caller ID that shows up on the phone. Julia and Amanda could be calling from servers in Barbados or Bangkok, Moscow or Minsk.

There is no doubt robocalling has reached epidemic proportions. In a Consumers Report story last year, the founder of one call-blocking company estimated that 35 percent of all calls placed in the United States are robocalls. That sounds about right. When I look at my list of calls received in the past few weeks, between three and four in ten are robocalls. All robocalls placed to cellphones are illegal unless there is a previous business relationship (some political and charitable fund-raising calls are allowed). I do not have a prior relationship with either Julia or Amanda. That is my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The Federal Trade Commission received 3.5 million complaints about robocalls last year, a number that is estimated by some to rise 30 percent in 2016. Members of Congress are fulminating and threatening new laws, which likely will have no effect. At least we do not have a land line on which to be further harassed.

Like social media trolls, robocalls are an unwanted and unpleasant aspect of our modern society. My strategy now is to keep the phone on vibrate, ignore the calls, and then check voice mail to see if the call was legitimate. Robocallers don’t leave voice mails, just a few seconds of silence. A human will leave a voice mail most of the time.

Then with a measure of delight mixed with fruitlessness, I will block the latest call from Gig Harbor, Washington and go on about my day.

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