Hold the phone

What, only 26.3 billion calls?

Bet on it. Take it to Las Vegas and bet on it. You've been the victim of one of those robocalls.

How do we know? Because the paper reported last week that 26.3 billion robocalls were made in the United States last year. Twenty-six point three billion. In one country. In one year.

There are only 325.7 million people in this country, give or take a few. So yes, we feel comfortable in saying you've received some of those calls.

The paper said that so many calls are coming in from so many unsolicited numbers that folks are simply not answering their phones. And more and more of us are getting wise to "neighborhood spoofing." That's when a strange number patches through to your phone, but it has a familiar area code. No thanks, 501-whatever-whatever, we're not answering.

Last fall, First Orion (right here in Arkansas) predicted that half of cellphone calls will soon be spam. The latest report was put together by some company called Hiya. Its researchers say these annoying calls have become so common that at least half of all cellphone calls go unanswered.

Past reporting by this newspaper shows that the spam operators aren't simply businesses looking for a quick connection. There are a lot of bad guys behind this. In fact, organized crime.

These scammers are targeting immigrants, among others. Why, of course. Predators target those who might be weakest. Apparently these lowlifes have been calling cellphones in large cities with large Chinese populations, telling them to give up their credit card numbers to "the Chinese embassy." Or turn over information to get around a legal loophole. The Federal Trade Commission is said to be on the case.

There are a couple of problems here that go beyond headaches and interruptions. First, and probably foremost, are the criminal aspects.

There's also the real possibility that somebody is calling and needs to talk--a doctor's office, a school nurse, a bank, your boss' secretary calling from home.

Also--and this concerns the cell-phone companies--if more and more of us keep getting these annoying calls, we might put down the phone. And decide we don't need the hassle.

Another bet you can be sure of: The scammers will keep at it as long as they're making money. And they will change strategies. The rest of us will have to change, too. Just as in the recent past when the IT guy put anti-virus software on your computer, only to have to update it a few months later. These days, scammers can make cellphones and numbers and ID screens mimic assistance centers from charities. Or even the IRS. Who wouldn't answer a call from the "IRS"?

Remember, semper vigilans. Always watchful, always vigilant.

And if the IRS calls, tell the guy you look forward to seeing the agency's letter in the U.S. mail.

Editorial on 02/04/2019