Roborhea

Not a day passes that I don’t suffer from Roborhea. The digital diarrhea of excessive robocalls. The symptoms are identical, discomfort, uneasiness and wanting it to stop.

Scammers have hijacked my daily calls. This inundation of robocalls has trained me not to pick up any call whose number I don’t recognize. Alexander Graham Bell would be gobsmacked by how sideways his invention fared as a digital device.

My sophisticated technology, designed for communication that NASA didn’t even have access to back in the day, has been seized by modern-day pirates rendering its original intention null and void. Their calls have unilaterally affected our behaviour by flooding our phone lines. The original purpose behind this device was to talk unencumbered. With technology being what it is, speaking is now in the shadow of texting, sending images, filming, you name it. Part of this inevitability is due to these options being available.

How did we arrive at the blurred lines between authentic messages and the ‘fake news’ of phone calls? What was once a tool to speak on and communicate with no longer exists within its original intention.  A text doesn’t disclose the subtleties such as a crack in a person’s voice because they’re holding back pain, the crescendo of a punch line, or the passion from a necessary rant. The human voice is magical.  Each having its own signature. The expansiveness of the sound of a human voice can’t translate into another medium.

In the sixties and seventies, I remember speaking on the phone as being a privilege. The phone was essential, and the family would fight over it when it rang because there typically was only one. Seniority granted access. No one solicited over the phone. That was reserved for the door to door salesmen hustling vacuum cleaners, encyclopedias and bibles.

My grandmother had an actual telephone table where the landline plugged into the wall, and the pedestrian beige rotary phone sat in the middle of an intricate lacey doily. Like an alter. You were present as you spoke, unable to do other things while twisting the short, tightly wound coiled cord. It had a dedicated drawer to hold a phone book and a place for a pen and notepad to write down a phone number. We were taught to respect it and to limit our time talking on it. My grandmother also had a party line. If anyone required an ambulance and shared that same party line, they were as good as dead as that Slovak Ernestine would not hang up for anyone. Her phone had its own aged spots from excessive dialling reflecting overused numbers similar to the E key on a computer keyboard.

Today I have several calls coming through as unknown or in a configuration that has me thinking I should recognize them. Doctors’ offices and other legitimate individuals can’t reach me unless they leave a message, most operating with an unlisted number.  The result being an endless game of telephone tag until we finally connect.

Originally individuals called pretending to know me and then hustle some service or product. I experienced calls during elections, and now I have a woman who calls, yelling at me in what is a foreign language. How did she get my number, and didn’t she call twice already? Is she trying to warn me about something? If it’s COVID, too late. The phone rings again, this time a fellow con artist with air duct cleaning—another scam where my number found its way into their algorithm.

Recently, one of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients didn’t recognize the number on his phone, thinking it was a robocall or soliciting, so he unplugged his phone. Frustrated, the organization reached out to his neighbour, who was also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, for help to notify him by knocking on his neighbour’s door in the middle of the night to inform him of being the next recipient. The same thing has happened to friends of mine who were also recipients of awards and didn’t pick up their phones. The organization was forced to call back routinely and even mailed notifications that were presumed to be fraudulent.

The phone has become a digital device open to be exploited in ways that are incomprehensible to those who only want to talk. The apparatus designed to capture sound has been stunted, overtaken by scam artists, political parties, and global marketing firms whose goal is to harass and fleece strangers.

Apple is coming out with what is supposed to be their best phone yet, but fewer people will be talking on it. It’ll serve as a vehicle to take selfies, text nudes, and send jokes. It’ll capture movies, videos, play music and serve as a digital assistant, taking notes, which is the only other time we’re really speaking into it, that and asking Siri for the closest location to pick up bunion pads. None of the hardware companies can undo their device from becoming anything more than a modern receptacle for a growing tidal wave of content and con artists.

As technology continues to infiltrate into our lives, so too does the dark side of it. So why can’t we stop these menacing robocalls? Legit phone calls are now managed in the same protocol as the litany of robocalls, and nothing is being done to eradicate them. They are a perpetual virus whose only inoculation is not to pick up.

I’ve registered all my phone numbers to the “Do Not Call” registry, and I’m beginning to believe that maybe I reported it to a site exclusively for hustlers. The robocalls have gained such traction that a real phone call’s legitimacy is now in question—a bizarre paradigm shift.

Friends who have had landlines meant for emergencies now depend exclusively on their mobiles. Both are now infected with robocalls held hostage by these bilkers. Meanwhile, like Pavlov’s dog, we are all still somewhat programmed to reach for the phone when it rings.

If you pick up a robocall and pause for a few seconds, then the system knows to take you to the next tier where you’re considered engaged. Your call is then redirected to a representative who has a threatening or scamming message for those that are vulnerable. The goal is to get out of that immediate cue, and the best way is not to answer. It’s manageable for us but terrifying for seniors who trust they are receiving a genuine call, not a predatory one, which is precisely what these are. Global spam calls grew 325% in 2018 to 85 billion worldwide, with 45% of all mobile calls in the US being robocalls.

I told one scammer to remove me from his list. I asked if he’s acquainted with a mutual friend of ours named Karma. That’s when he went off-script. I let him know I was confident he could transcend these same skills into something legitimate and reputable. A call he might have regretted making because he apologized and hung up. Perhaps it was the query of whether his mother knows he’s doing this for a living and what would she think?

No corporation has immunity. The CRA, the federal agency of seriousness, has been stooped, posing as though a team of officers is waiting outside your door, as have AmEx, Visa, MasterCard, Chartered Banks and a slew of others claiming to give you money. No one, especially a financial institution of any type, will give you a dime, which has me wondering how unimaginative and dumb these swindlers are with such a lame opening line. This type of popularity I can live without.

Our wireless provider recently added what I believed was an automated female voice calling pretending to be a representative and then transferring me to a woman going batshit crazy screaming. I recognized her because her sister called me earlier that day, doing the same thing. First, she’s civil, so you’ll hang on believing it’s legit, and besides, you’re lead to believe it’s your cell phone provider calling only to connect to her evil twin, who takes the call from there and spews the same script her altered ego presented earlier that day.

I can only hope that one day I will be able to access an app that will waste their time as the intention behind a robocall is to profit. The longer these scammers remain online without realizing their purpose, the less money they make.

It would be delicious to have an app of a middle-aged woman coughing, telling the scammer to hang on as she continues to cough, blaming it on a nut or allergy, whatever just stringing them along, coughing the entire time on a loop. There are apps that you can pay for that will turn the tables on the callers. But why should you? The least expensive way is not to pick up.

Until such an app is created, I am held hostage by nothing more than a glorified party line run by criminals.

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