The Telemarketing Nightmare

Hayden Hollingsworth
Hayden Hollingsworth

When you pick up the phone a chirpy voice announces, “This is an important call about your credit card. There is no problem, but this is your last chance to lower your finance charges.” Then you are given the option of pressing 2 to remove your name from the calling list or press 1 one to speak to an operator. Pressing 2 ends the call but not the constant harassing; the calls will continue. Press 1 and the instant the operator hears anything that sounds like a complaint or a request to remove your name, the call is instantly disconnected.

If there is anyone who hasn’t had this, or a similar experience, consider yourself lucky. I scrolled through my caller ID and more than 50% of the last 20 calls were of a similar nature. If the call is not answered, the answering machine picks up , but the computer on the other end that is initiating the whole thing recognizes that and leaves no message, only the irritating repetitive buzzing that happens when the phone is off the hook.

Some years ago when telemarketing was reaching warp speed congress passed a bill that would allow you to block such calls. It was designed to stop for-profit telemarketers and it worked nicely for a while. The bill may have expired and I seem to remember having to re-register. I didn’t do it so maybe the whole problem is my fault.

I went online and Googled blocking telemarketing calls. To my surprise, an impressive page from the Federal Trade Commission flashed to life and in nothing flat I was able to block up to three numbers; I received a confirmation by email for each number. I can hardly wait to see if this works, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the perps have figured a way to get around it. There is also a complaint filing option on the FTC site, so I may be visiting that soon.

Of course credit card scams are one among countless invaders of privacy. I trust no reader is naive enough to give a credit card number to such an inquiry but rest assured the “free cruise you have won,” or what other goody might be proffered will soon be asking for your number. NEVER give that out to an incoming call or a call you have placed unless you are totally sure that the person on the other end is legitimate.

Every purchase using a credit card is so heavily encrypted, we are told, that it cannot be breached. Ask Target about that. Technology is being developed that will include a microchip that cannot be duplicated but whatever is used, there are those who seem to be able to circumvent it. Currently the hackers can reproduce an identical card in seconds once they have the number. I recently had almost a thousand dollars charged against my card, but the card supplier notified me with hours of the electronic theft. They covered all the Walmart, CVS, liquor store debits, but not the two hotels because the check-in clerk could not verify they had required a photo ID.

Now we find that those clever Russians have stolen over a billion passwords and usernames. Those who think personal computers are protected are in for a rude awakening. Now we are faced with the irritating necessity of changing them all and then trying to remember what the new ones are. The technology gurus are saying that passwords and usernames are soon to be a thing of the past. There are companies that will do the encryption for you, making it so complex that it would computers centuries to decipher it and passwords/usernames will be frequently changed. My question is how do we know they can be trusted? I will have to check with my personal IT department but for the moment it seems prudent to follow credit cards, bank accounts, and the like on a daily basis until the threat can be nullified.

Even more alarming than this recent invasion is the concern that the entire cyber world may be shut down by hackers. That will make the irritation of the telemarketers totally irrelevant since there won’t be any phone service, water, food, electricity, gasoline, news media, and a few thousand other disasters.

Does it occur to anyone that life may become so complicated as to be unsustainable? It would make the closing lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men,” prophetic:

“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

When I first read those lines in college the hydrogen bomb was the bang we all feared. The whimper now seems more likely.

– Hayden Hollingsworth

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