Time to reject wrong-number robocalls

Considering that we live in perhaps the safest, least war-torn time in all of human history, it feels like a disservice to complain about minor inconveniences.

After achieving in-box zero right after the holidays, the endless stream of spam emails I receive on a daily basis has me creeping back up closer to a 1,000 reminders that I need to take out the trash.

It’s a pain. But some of the blame rests squarely with me. Because I support a lot of Democratic candidates with small-dollar donations, I’m on a lot of political lists that get shared among progressives. And while the volume is ever-increasing, I do get some benefit out of seeing how different candidates and groups try to fundraise through email.

In addition to all the legitimate solicitations, emails also carry real danger. Thieves and scoundrels are constantly sending emails with nefarious goals. They use several techniques, including trying to get you to download viruses or redirecting you to imposter websites as a way to steal your personal information.

Don’t click on links or download anything from an email unless you are sure of the sender and expecting the email. Otherwise, you might be putting yourself at risk. When in doubt, delete and pick up the phone.

It stinks, but you can protect yourself.

Robocalls are another matter altogether. I’ve reached a tipping point. It seems I can’t block enough numbers to make it end.

A story on Maine Public last week made clear the extent of the problem.

According to reporter Steve Mistler, Maine people received more than 11 million robocalls just last month, which translates to about nine calls per person.

Since the Maine Public story aired on Feb. 12, I started tracking my own experience with robocalls.

I received no fewer than five calls a day and as many as 11, including five in one day from the same “insurance” company attempting to sell me life insurance from a telephone number in Gorham.

Other numbers show up as coming from Biddeford, Caribou and Augusta.

The topics have included extending my car warranty, fixing my Google business listing, lowering credit card interest rates and a warning that my Social Security Number has been compromised. Or my personal favorite, a call from Leonard Skinner. “No relation to the band,” the voice chimes in.

I’ve also been threatened with arrest. An ominous robot voice (Hal, is that you?) warned that I was facing serious allegations by the IRS, that my bank accounts are about to be frozen and that I’m going to be picked up by local law enforcement.

Needless to say, the IRS doesn’t send robots to do its dirty work.

Maine is among a number of states considering legislation in an effort to fight back against the endless stream of junk phone calls.

Democratic State Sen. Justin Chenette has a bill in the Legislature that he hopes will help protect consumers.

When he presented his bill last week, Chenette was clear that there are no easy solutions to this problem. He catalogued the efforts other states are making, including large fines for fraudulent robocalls and criminal penalties.

A call log displayed via an AT&T app on a cellphone in Orlando, Fla. The app helps locate and block fraudulent calls, although some robocalls do get through. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

You can go to www.donotcall.gov to report unwanted or suspicious calls and add your number to the national “Do Not Call” list.

Republican Rep. Joel Stetkis told Maine Public that we should be skeptical of passing laws that might make constituents happy in the short term but might not solve the problem. “I think we can agree that the last thing we want to do here is put another law on the books that we actually can’t do anything about,” he said.

It’s a sentiment I generally agree with.

But I’m willing to make an exception. Eleven million calls a month into a state of 1.3 million people is more than just a frustration. It’s an attack on our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently.

Lay down a marker, lawmakers. Try to find a solution, even if it’s only a half-measure. Let the robots and the scammers know that if they call into Maine, they’re the ones getting a wrong number — and maybe a serious fine.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.