Tag Archives: scams

PTJ 246: What’s the Frequency, Siri?

After a two-week summer vacation, El Kaiser and J.D. return to the studio to catch up on the week’s technology news: Facebook ‘fesses up to a chunk of Russian ad buys during the election, Amazon looks to expand its corporate footprint, researchers have discovered a way to hack most of the popular voice-activated assistant programs by sonic frequency — and the headlines just keep on coming. El Kaiser also previews two new pieces of gear from OWC and Anker for ultrabookers who need to pack their own USB ports and J.D. reports on a couple of scams gaining steam around the Internet. Summer’s over, folks! We’re back to work here on Episode 246!

Links to Stories Mentioned in This Week’s Episode

EL Kaiser’s Gear Preview

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint

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.

Tech Term of the Week: Cramming

Let me be perfectly clear from the outset, I am not condoning illegal activity nor am I suggesting that those folks who make a parasitic living by cheating hardworking people out of their money should be admired or presented as role models in any way. Furthermore, I am certainly not looking to be controversial with this particularly embarrassing admission: I’ve always had a grudging respect for scammers.

Connivers, tricksters, you know the type. The sociopaths that dedicate their lives to finding new and inventive ways to sell suckers a box full of rocks. I can’t help but be impressed by their complete lack of scruples. I guess that speaks volumes about me but hey, I’m just keeping it real.

This week’s Tech Term is cramming and from my introduction it’s pretty clear that this doesn’t mean studying for an exam at the very last minute. According to the FCC cramming is the practice of placing unauthorized, misleading or deceptive charges on your telephone bill. Crammers rely on confusing telephone bills in an attempt to trick consumers into paying for services they did not authorize or receive, or that cost more than the consumer was led to believe.

Ooooohhh, rascally!

The charges are often for non-basic services such as Caller ID or Voice Mail but more recently text message cramming has become popular on mobile devices. Slick SMS services will text you with an offer for their product but buried in the message will be an opt-out option. You will be billed for the service unless you respond to the text.

Tricksy, very tricksy

You know, crammers really do give con-men a bad name. Where’s the artistry? This scam shows no creativity at all. No need to lay on the charm, no elaborate rouse to gain the trust of a mark. Crammers simply rely on the majority of us that rarely, if ever, analyze our phone bills and just pay. According to The New York Times a U.S. Senate committee investigation into land-line cramming put the dollar amount at $2 billion a year. That’s BILLION, with a B.

Obviously an excellent way to protect yourself from getting crammed is by going over your phone bills every month and immediately disputing any suspicious charges. If you’ve been the victim of cramming you can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission if you see suspect non-telephone services on your telephone bill.

Cramming, your Pop Tech Jam tech term of the week.

Click Here to Listen to Episode 06