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Carroll: Don’t answer that call
David Carroll
David Carroll is a longtime anchorman at WRCB television in Chattanooga, Tenn.

It happens when I’m in the car. It happens when I’m on the air. It happens daily, everywhere.

This sounds like a tribute to Dr. Seuss, but it’s really my rant about automated telemarketing calls, or “robocalls.”

Scams are nothing new. For years, con artists have figured out ways to cheat us out of our money.

Some do it face to face. Others do it by mail, which was once a goldmine. Phony preachers and bogus charities have drained many a savings account.

Technology has come a long way, and the con artists are on top of it. Now that most of us have a phone in our pocket, they’re in there too. For them, the calls are inexpensive, and easily programmed. They can contact millions of consumers each day, at very little cost. If only a handful of folks take the bait, the crooks cash in.

According to USA Today, robocalls now make up 50 percent of all phone calls. While that’s the national average, for me it’s more like 80 percent. That means either robocalls are rapidly increasing, or I need more actual friends.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of something important, like a cheeseburger, and I hear the soft jingle of my phone.

I look at the Caller ID. Quite often, it’s a number I don’t know, but it has a local area code and prefix. Well, I did leave a message asking that doctor to call me back, and this might be him. I answer. “Hello?” 

Nine times out of ten, the answer is an automated greeting. “Don’t hang up! Your chronic back pain could be a thing of the past!” My first impulse is to yell back, “Nope, you’re wrong! I’ve got pain all right, but it’s just below my back, and you’re the reason for it!”

While that tantrum would give me some immediate relief, it would actually create more pain. That robocaller WANTS you to respond. Whether you “press one to speak to a representative,” or “press two to be removed from our list,” you have just let them know your phone is active and is being answered by a real person.

That means the next time you’re at the movies, or watching the big game, your phone is likely to buzz.  It even happens while you’re driving. Imagine telling an officer that the reason you rear-ended that car is because you were distracted by a guy in Pakistan offering zero percent interest rates.

Yes, it’s tempting to “press one” and shout at the robocaller, but I don’t recommend that. It’s like yelling at the store clerk about the high price of steak.  It’s not her fault. The robocaller, wherever he or she may be, needed a paycheck. For them, it may have been the only job available. It’s possible they might not even know it’s a scam.

I once made the mistake of calling back a robocaller.  At least that’s what I thought I was doing. The caller ID showed what appeared to be a local number.  Being the investigative reporter I am, I thought, “I’ll show them!” I called the number, ready to give them a piece of my mind.  When someone answered, I snorted, “Why are you interrupting me in the middle of Matlock? Ben was about to reveal the real culprit!” The person on the other end calmly explained that he was getting several calls from angry people like me. His number was “spoofed,” or being used as a false phone number by a scammer. I meekly apologized and realized the same thing could happen to me.

So, the next time you see an unfamiliar number on your Caller ID, just don’t answer. Even if you love to taunt telemarketers, resist the temptation. Don’t press any numbers, even if they tell you that’s the magic solution for eliminating robocalls.

The Do Not Call registry, which seemed like a good idea at first, appears to be ineffective. This great nation of ours has developed robotic technology that can drive cars, do surgery, and mow your lawn. Yet we can’t figure out how to keep your phone from being invaded by scammers.

Blocking the numbers once seemed like a sure cure, but that doesn’t seem to help either. There’s no surefire way to stop the calls, but the less human contact you have with these “bots,” the better. If you’re afraid you may be missing an important call, consider this. People who really know you, or really need you, will leave a message. Otherwise, ignore the calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Don’t answer. Don’t feed the beast.

David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or