Spam Risk

A couple of weeks ago my iPhone 8 decided to quit. For purposes of this blog post we can ignore the fact that I had just completed the 30th monthly payment required by my contract. We can also ignore the fact that everything about the phone worked fine except for its ability to accept a charge via Apple’s “lightning” port. Lightning indeed. As in light’ning my wallet.

Anyway, my first thought was to see if someone at the shop where I had bought the phone—you know, the type of storefront managed by a multinational telecommunications corporation—might actually be able to fix the charging port, thereby saving me the trouble and money of buying a new phone.

No such luck. After making a show of spraying the port with a high-pressure air canister and digging around with a pointy instrument, the salesclerk informed me that the phone could not be fixed. But not to worry, because he could save me lots of money if only I would trade in my iPhone 8 for a new iPhone 12. All I needed to do was opt for his company’s family plan, which required adding two new lines to the ones I already had.

When I questioned how adding two lines could possibly save me money, he responded that the new promotion only kicked in for larger families. When he told me the savings, I had to agree that the numbers actually did work out in my favor. Funny thing was, there was nothing to sign. In the past, I had been asked to execute form after form in the store.

“It’s our new COVID-19 procedure,” he said. “Everything is handled via email. You’ll get all the details at home and you have 72 hours to cancel if you’re not happy.” But of course, I had to produce satisfactory I.D. and credit card information.

I left with my new iPhone 12 and two extra phone numbers I doubted I would ever use, only to discover, when I got home, that the deal he had offered was totally different from the deal delivered to my email inbox by, you guessed it, the multinational telecommunications corporation. Different to the tune of $150 per month more than I was quoted in the store.

To make a long story short, I immediately called the customer service department of the unnamed multinational telecommunications corporation and actually spoke to a human being who was willing to refashion the deal into the one I thought I had made in the store. But the nice person made clear to me during the conversation that I deserved such special treatment only because of my many years as a loyal customer.

Fast-forward to yesterday, when I received several spam calls on my new iPhone 12. One was labeled “Spam Risk.” For another, I saw the word “Telemarketer.” For yet another I saw “Unknown Caller.” And for several others I saw phone numbers from towns in a region where I once lived approximately ten years ago. When some of these left voicemails (at least one warning me that my car warranty was expiring) it was clear that these calls should also have been labeled spam risk, telemarketer, or unknown caller. Take your pick.

So, I’m asking Spirited Reasoners to help me fashion all these puzzle pieces into a coherent picture. How could it be that a huge multinational telecommunications corporation can (a) provide extra phone numbers like candy; (b) label some callers as “Unknown” (are they really “unknown” to the company who provided that caller with a phone line?); (c) lack the ability to control spam risks?

And why are separate terms used for “Spam Risk,” “Telemarketer,” and “Unknown Caller,” all amounting to the same thing? Could it be that the huge multinational telecommunications corporation wants us to believe they’re really doing something on our behalf?

A similar issue, affectionately known as e-mail spoofing, affects written communications. As in the case of telemarketing, the receiver is led to believe a message is coming from a trustworthy friend rather than a fraudulent actor.

I’m not ready yet to propose a solution for this type of fraud. I feel confident, however, that a creative solution, perhaps in the form of federal legislation or regulation, is possible. Meanwhile, it seems odd that a company large enough to control the distribution of telephone numbers is incapable of coming up with some effective solutions of its own.