Tag Archives: fraud

PTJ 290: Foibles & Fables

Facebook’s public-relations department probably had another busy week, with all sorts of walkbacks and investigations concerning the company’s products and practices. El Kaiser and J.D. discuss some of the major events, as well as changes to the way Twitter enforces its rules and the State of New York investigating the net neutrality comments wars. J.D. also offers a look at the SmartNews app — which as its name implies — tries to gather online news in an intelligent way. Set your nav computer for Episode 290!

Links to Stories Discussed on This Episode

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Call Me Maybe Never

Between the 2016 political elections, tax season and the usual robocall/telemarketer harassment, being anywhere near a telephone these days can be a major pain. True, you can screen unfamiliar numbers and let them go through to voicemail or the answering machine, but there are other ways to deal with them. Signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry is one step, but a lot of sleazy robomarketers ignore it. You can also block numbers from unwanted callers, but those unwanted callers keep coming up with new numbers. What to do, what to do…

Let’s start with illegal robocalls, those automated spam calls that blast you with an annoying pre-recorded message. Most of the major phone companies aren’t much help, but the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission and  have been battling illegal robocalls for years. The FCC has a complaint form on its site for harassed consumers and the FTC has an information page and an informative graphic to explain its efforts against the practice.

The FTC has even held contests over the years to ask the public to contribute their own ideas and solutions consumers could use to help fight back. Last year’s winner of the Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back challenge was a mobile app called Robokiller.

Another winner from a previous year: A free service called Nomorobo, which works by using a feature known as “simultaneous ring.” When simultaneous ring is enabled, your phone will ring on more than one number at the same time.  When the Nomorobo number is set as a simultaneous-ring number, it grabas the call first. If it’s legitimate, the call goes through to your number. But if Nomorobo detects the telltale signs of a robocall, it hangs up for you.

The FTC’s robocall challenge also generated a collection of tips and tricks a few years ago that reportedly cut down on automated calls for some people. Some suggestions include investing in call-blocker hardware or services, or even putting the three-note “disconnect” tone at the beginning of your greeting to trick some systems to automatically hanging up.

Need more suggestions? Consumer Reports has done “Rage Against Robocalls” investigation into robocalls and reviewed several call-blocking options.

So what about telemarketers, those humans whose mission is to talk you into giving them money for something. As with the members of almost any civilization, some members are professional and well-behaved, and some are vile scum. A former telemarketer told the Lifehacker site that if you do happen to pick up an unwanted call, say “Please put me on your do not call list” and the well-behaved telemarketers will honor your request.

As for the autodialers and vile scum, you could always try a product like the TeleZapper, (which has been around for years and you can still find on Amazon), that simulates the disconnect tones when it senses the handoff from automatic dialer to telemarketer and dumps the call. Just look for a “call blocker” in your shopping searches.

But there’s also a newer approach emerging, one that takes a piece out of the person trying to waste your time by wasting their time by making them talk to a bot. These bots use a set of pre-recorded vocal responses to react to what the telemarketer is pitching and keeps them in an endless loop of pointless conversation — so telemarketers have less time to bother other people.

The Jolly Roger Telephone Company is one such service and it was created by a guy who had enough when a telemarketer got aggressive with his son. So he created a voicebot to keep the telemarketers chasing their tails. Then he wrote up instructions on his blog so other people could use it. Basically, when the telemarketer asks for you, say, “Just a minute” and then loop in the bot’s phone number on an Add Call or three-way call. The Jolly Roger Phone Company has a lively YouTube page full of real encounters with telemarketers. The site has US, UK and Australian numbers to use for the bot.

A similar Canadian bot called Lenny, which uses recordings that sound like a rambling old Australian man, has even busted political fundraisers. Lenny also has his own YouTube channel.

So here’s to all the creative types who fight telephone abuse! And since this is March already, don’t let your guard down against the annual surge of scammers pretending to be from the IRS either by phone or phish. And if you get a live fake IRS call — just give ’em a free cruise on the Jolly Roger.

PTJ 161 News: Life on Mars

5XGoogle’s turn! Yes, it’s Google’s turn for the big fall product announcement event, which the company held this Tuesday in San Francisco. Among the revelations, the LG Nexus 5X (top) and the Huawei Nexus 6P (bottom). Both are in Google’s Nexus line and available for online pre-order in in the Google Store.  6PYou have to buy the phones from Google and then pick a carrier plan, but the new handsets also work with Google’s Project Fi, a wireless experience made up of Wi-Fi networks and partner 4G LTE carriers.

The Nexus name didn’t continue onto tablets, however, as Google also announced its new Pixel C device, which looks like a tablet with an optional and magnetically attachable keyboard. The 10.2-inch Google-designed gadget (shown below) has already been compared to Microsoft’s Surface tablet.

pixelc

ChromecastGoogle also updated its $35 Chromcast dongle for streaming media this week. The new version of the regular Chromecast has been redesigned into a small, puck-like ChromecastAudioobject with a smaller connector to the back of the TV set that may fit a little better when you have a bunch of other stuff plugged it. As shown here at the top, you can get it in three different colors. If you don’t care about video and just want a way to stream the tunes on your mobile devices over Wi-Fi to a pair of big-ass speakers in the house, there’s the Chromecast Audio dongle (below). That one’s also $35 and available in basic black.

LG Electronics, which makes appliances, television sets and some very nice high-end Android smartphones, is bringing its laptop business here to the States. Like its smartphones, LG’s laptop line, called the Gram series, leans to the fancier end of the spectrum, with a MacBook-like Air look with Intel Core processors and HD displays. Prices range from about $900 to $1400.

Public Service Announcement: People, stop posting that status about Facebook charging money to keep your profile’s privacy settings! The copyright thing is bogus! It was a hoax three years ago and it’s still a hoax today! It does play on fears about privacy, though, which is a sensitive topic for many people. Microsoft published a post on its Windows blog this week that addressed privacy concerns some users have voiced with Windows 10.

vrkitObservers noticed the Microsoft offering its own variation of Google’s Cardboard viewer called the Microsoft VR Kit for its Lumia phones, at least for participants at a Russian hackathon.  In other reality-avoidance news, Re/Code is among those reporting that YouTube is getting ready to launch an ad-free subscription service next month that will also include access to its YouTube MusicKey streams.

Twitter is also moving away from and supplementing its original service model. Reports are circulating that the company is building a new product that would let users post content longer than 140 characters. Twitter itself is not commenting about that or the TV Timelines feature it’s been working on since March of this year. However, Twitter is seen to be making a bigger grab for more television show fans as the new fall season rolls out by adding shortcuts to its TV Timelines feature on TV-related tweets.

cardreaderOctober is here and along with heartier fall-themed beers, many retail merchants are finally upgrading their credit-card terminals to accept dips from cards with smart chips. Merchants who do not up their security by installing chip-reading credit card terminals could be liable for fraudulent transactions in their stores.

Big news from NASA earlier this week: The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has new findings that provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water is flowing on Mars.

NASAAnd finally, Mars will be all up in the news this weekend as the new film, The Martian opens around the country. The movie stars Matt Damon and  is based on a best-selling novel originally self-published in 2011 by Andy Weir, a software engineer who used apps and diligence to get the science plausible and right within the story. Ridley Scott directed the picture and worked with NASA consultants to make the visuals technically accurate, and the agency highlights nine real and developing NASA technologies used in the film. (Since NASA has been such a big booster of the film, Yahoo News is among those wondering if the agency even timed Monday’s Mars announcement just ahead of the film’s release on Friday.) But perhaps even more exciting than water on Mars, however, is that Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara are in the film as well — and they get to play actual astronauts instead of astronauts’ wives.
Now that’s progress.

martiancast