Controlling Robocalls

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PhoneRobot

Robocall – “a telephone call from an automated source that delivers a prerecorded message to a large number of people.”

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/robocall

You know what they are – those irritating calls from telemarketers that come just as you are sitting down to dinner or the ones that pollute and commandeer telephone lines for months before elections.

Not all robocalls are bad. We appreciate (usually) reminders from our doctor or dentist about upcoming appointments; or calls from our city about garbage collection and recycle weeks; or about school closings; or even emergency or weather alerts.

However, robocalls, besides being pesky, can be downright fraudulent. Fraudster calls impersonate legitimate organizations to get money, donations, even personal information to commit identity theft. Fraudulent calling is an estimated $10 billion industry.

The Federal Trade Commission was so concerned about the rise in robocalls that it challenged techie “innovators” to create solutions that block illegal robocalls. The prize for such a solution would be $50,000!

Source: Robocall.challengepost.com

There were actually two winning solutions for the FTC Challenge. The winners were announced this past April (2013). And each winner received $25,000.

The winning innovators are Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss.

• “Danis’s proposal, titled Robocall Filtering System and Device with Autonomous Blacklisting, Whitelisting, GrayListing and Caller ID Spoof Detection, would analyze and block robocalls using software that could be implemented as a mobile app, an electronic device in a user’s home, or a feature of a provider’s telephone service.

• Foss’s proposal, called Nomorobo, is a cloud-based solution that would use ‘simultaneous ringing,’ which allows incoming calls to be routed to a second telephone line. In the Nomorobo solution, this second line would identify and hang up on illegal robocalls before they could ring through to the user.”

Source: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/robocall-challenge-and-winner

NoMoRoboCalls is now available as of September 2013.  Their website is http://www.nomorobo.com/.

Legitimate Robocalls

The only robocalls that are considered legitimate according to the FTC are:

• Informational Calls only (e.g. cancelled flight information; appointment reminders). These type calls cannot promote the sale of goods or services.

• Certain health care providers (e.g. prescription reminders)

• Political calls (this one is a head scratcher to me….)

• “Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.”

NOTE: “ It’s against the law to place auto-dialed and pre-recorded calls to cell phones, except in case of emergency or if the recipient has expressly consented to being called”

Source: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0259-robocalls

Other Solutions for Dealing with Robocalls

There are some low tech solutions you can observe as well to do battle with the vexatious robocalls. You probably do some of these already:

1. Register your phone number on the Do Not Call Listhttp://www.donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222.

2. HANGUP as soon as you realize you have a robot on the other end of the line. DO NOT press 1 or any other number that will supposedly remove your number from their “list”. This activity only confirms you are a real live prospect.

2. Never Ever give PERSONAL INFORMATION to anyone, even if you suspect it is from a known and trusted source. If you suspect the call is legitimate, get the correct phone number from the source’s website and call them back.

3. Ask your phone provider to BLOCK the phone number. This solution might work if the provider is willing to do it. They might charge a fee.

• Spoofing of phone IDs makes it difficult to get the real phone number of the caller – the call looks like it is coming from a local caller but it is not the caller’s real number.

4. Search online for other solutions. There are fee based solutions available.

Report Fraudulent Calls

• Report fraudulent calls to the FTC – http://www.donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222

• Verizon Unlawful Call Center – 1‐800‐257‐2969

Reporting these calls DOES have an impact. The FCC is cracking down on violators, especially marketers who violate the law by calling cell phone numbers. Violators of the cell phone laws are liable to penalties of $16,000 per illegal call! And penalties are being assigned…. YES!

If I were The Top Dog, I’d make sure these rules were enforced; penalties would be assigned and collected; and the money collected would help pay down the national debt. What a thought – Robocall crooks helping to balance the budget….

Don’t Get Caught With Your Milk Bones Down

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If you are a Windows XP user who intends to ignore the “sunset” date for the Microsoft XP Operating System – the date when Microsoft will no longer provide any support, patches or fixes whatsoever for that product – this “Bad” is for you!

Woody, the Cheers bartender, asks Norm:    “How’s it going Mr. Peterson?”

Norm Peterson answers:  “It’s a dog eat dog world, Woody, and I’m wearing Milk Bone *pants*.”

(* * – original quote altered to maintain taste)

Yikes! That creates a visual image to ponder…. Dog eat dog worldmilk bone pants.   Ouch!    That gets my attention.   So what does that have to do with Windows XP Operating System being laid to rest?    Let me try to connect the dots…

Microsoft has announced that the “sunset date” for Windows XP is April, 2014.  After that date, there will be no more support for XP. None! Nada! Zero! Nix! Nothing!

However, if you naively ignore this well announced warning; if you choose to avoid preparing for this date; if you plan to continue to use your XP device on the internet after the “sunset date” – your computer will, in essence, broadcast itself into the dog eat dog cyber world as cyber milk bone pants.  And all the hungry, mean spirited cyber dogs on the hunt for outdated XP systems will be waiting to get a taste!

After April, 2014, criminal code writers will be off-leash to write code specifically to exploit expired XP systems. And no one can stop them. No anti-virus and/or malware programs will be able to protect outdated XP systems against attacks. Cyber criminals count on users naively ignoring “sunset” dates.   So, if you are going to be one of them – get ready for…   Identity theft; bot net army enlisting; unfettered cyber-crimes…

At the time of this posting, it is November, 2013. April, 2014, is less than 5 months away. Between now and XP’s “sunset date”, however, are post-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales and Christmas! That means there is ample time for you to prepare for, plan and implement the secure retirement of all XP systems and to take advantage of all upcoming, incredible electronics deals that over-eager retailers will offer this year!

Here’s the irony – the cyber criminals are the ones who are prepared for this date. 

So, please don’t miss the point –

There is no excuse to be caught with your milk bones down…

A Few More DogGone Neat “Table” Tricks…

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If you read the recent Post, (When Things Just Don’t Line Up), you know that Browsing Bowser found a very easy way to organize and track his prized bones collection by using the Tables function in his word processing program. He found that by inserting a simple table into a word processing document , typing the necessary data into the table, then making all the table lines/borders invisible, he had the clean looking list he wanted. All his information was neatly lined up and his inventory list was easy to edit and maintain!

“How much better can it get?” he wondered to himself.  Then without a paws, Browsing Bowser answered his own question….

“My list could be even better if I tracked costs and totals”, he yipped!   Dog tired as he was, BB went back to his list to see if he could actually track totals in his Buried Bones Inventory table.   Sure enough, he found it was not only possible, it was pretty easy to do as well. “Probably easy enough even for a cat to do”, he secretly snarled…

Here’s what he did to enhance his Buried Bones Inventory:

First, BB made the borders and lines of his table visible again to make his edits easier to do.

Then he added another column at the end of his table.

• In most word processing programs, this can be done by right clicking in the column to which you want to add another column;

• Select “Insert”;

• Select where to add the column, in this case “Insert column to the right”.

Then…

bonesinv3

Now for the fun part – BB made the Table calculate total quantities and costs for him, since he was never good counting past 4 paws.

NOTE: This is done using the SUM function. Although it is easy to use, accessing it varies with the different word processing programs and versions. You may have to search help for “SUM” to find out how your program handles this function.

BB uses Microsoft Word 2010 so here is how it worked for him.

• Place the cursor in the last cell of the QTY column

• On the Menu Bar under “Table Tools” > Select “Layout” > Select “fx Formula” icon

• A dialogue box opens. At the = Sign type SUM(ABOVE) (see below)

FormulaSum

• Click on OK

• After you click OK, the QTY column total appears in that cell.

To Total the COSTS column, place the cursor in the last cell of the COSTS Column and repeat the above process.

Word of caution: If you are familiar with spreadsheet calculations, you may expect the word processing table to update formula calculations automatically as well.    Bummer, but it doesn’t.  It’s more like a cat that has to be prodded a little. But it’s an easy “prod”.

To update all the totals:

o Press the Ctrl + A keys (this is a “Select All” shortcut)

o Press F9 Key

If you forget to update your totals, but save your data, you’ll find that the totals will be updated the next time you open your table.

And to prove old dogs CAN learn new tricks, here are a few more tips/tricks Browsing Bowser learned while he was putting finishing touches on his new table.

• The Bold, Underline, and Italics, colors, etc. functions can be used within his table

• He can create lines and borders by choosing which lines/borders he wants to make visible or invisible.

o First BB chose to make all lines/borders invisible to get back his clean list look.

o Then BB wanted lines to appear above his totals so he chose to put a top border line of the total cell

o BB wanted a line under each column title so he chose to put a bottom line on each cell of the column titles.

This is what his new Buried Bones Inventory List looks like:

bonesfinal

“DogGone It”, Browsing Bowser said to himself as he circled his doggie bed before plopping down for the night.  “I worked like a dog today, but, you know, I really do lead a dog’s life!”   And with that, he fell securely asleep.

When Things Just Don’t Line Up…

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BB2At the top of Browsing Bowser’s To-Do List is the task to create an inventory to track his prized chew-bone collection. Although it is currently small, BB has grandiose plans to greatly increase his bone collection. As a savvy and “safe” collector, BB has diversified the locations of his assets — he has buried them in various places across his “estate”.

To manage his growing collection, BB has decided to devise a simple List of his assets including relevant information. He wants this List to be clean looking; simple to use; easy to edit and maintain. Being a bit of a computer canine, BB has chosen to create a digital List using his word processing program.

Good choice, BB.  Keep it Simple.  A spreadsheet might be overkill for this small project.  All the Inventory List needs is a title on one line; column titles on the next line; then inventory information under each column title.  Hmmm – Columns…  BB had trouble using columns before.  He feels it is easier to herd mice than deal with those things!  So he decides to just use tabs to setup the order of his Inventory List. Tabs sound simple enough – until BB starts to type and uses those Tab keys!

Grrrrrr… Information is shifting and jumping with each tab stroke!  Nothing is lining up! Information is in the wrong place! Each effort to correct the last Tab jump makes the List even more incorrect!  More Grrrrrrr….   It’s like expecting a pen full of puppies to line up at the food bowl for dinner… No Control. No Order. And little hope for it!

What to do? What to do??? Well…

A spreadsheet is still a possible solution. But it looks so, so “spreadsheet”… BB wanted a simple, clean looking List.

Here’s another solution — using a word processing program, create and insert a TABLE into a document; enter necessary data into each cell in the Table; then remove the lines/borders from the Table, resulting in a clean looking and very orderly List.

BB tried it and liked it! If you like his idea, here’s how he created his simple List:

In the Word Processing Program,

• Find the menu item to Insert a “Table

• Define the table. BB needed 5 Columns across; he wanted room for growth of his collection so he defined it to have 15 Rows down.

• He entered appropriate headings and data into the Table cells.

Here is what BB’s resulting Table looked like:

1bonesinv1

But BB wanted a “clean” looking List. The lines and borders make it look like a Table.  Not clean and simple looking…

To achieve the Clean List Look BB found the Table’s menu tool that controlled the borders and chose to remove ALL borders.

Voila! Borders become invisible!

boneinv2Now the Inventory List has the Clean Look that BB desired. All information is correct and lined up – perfectly!

Borders can be turned on and off at will – turning them on to edit or maintain the table; then turning them off for that Clean List Look……

Simplify….  BB liked it…

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” — Hans Hofmann

Top 10 Scams of 2012

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ScamsOne of the mysteries of the con-man is why he bothers (I say he, but of course there are plenty of con-women who are just as unscrupulous). He is often energetic, imaginative and ambitious, so why doesn’t he build up a decent, respectable business instead of robbing hard-working people? I suppose it’s because con-men (and I’ve met many over my years in consumer protection) all regard the people they deceive simply as walking wallets, to be ruthlessly squeezed, emptied, and then thrown away.

So the con-men will shamelessly lie to us, try to tempt us with ‘something for nothing’, ‘too good to be true’ offers – like the ‘show house’ discount for double glazing or central heating, or the ‘million pound lottery’ he pretends you have won and so on. And he gambles on the fact that when we discover that we’ve fallen for his blatant swindle, we will be too ashamed to report him to the police…

Excerpted from the Introduction to the “Little Book of Big Scams”. Source: http://www.thamesvalley.police.uk/the-little-book-of-big-scams.pdf

Internet scams are updated, worldwide versions of age-old tactics and schemes to cheat and defraud a victim. What the internet has added to con-artistry is an extreme ease of distributing fraudulent schemes to millions of people!

The Better Business Bureau listed the following schemes as the Top 10 Scams in 2012. These scams continue to be headliners so far in 2013:

Source: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2012/03/can-you-name-the-ten-most-common-scams/

Be Aware and Beware…

1. Bogus Health Products – This scam is the modern version of snake oils and elixirs that claim cures for everything that ails you.

2. Advance Fee Loans – These are bogus offers with fraudulent websites that promise to provide easy credit and/or loans. Required upfront payments are a sign the site/offer is a scam.

3. The Nigerian Scam – This is an old scam with several variations that amazingly doesn’t die. It appeals to the sympathy and generosity of the victim. An email or hard copy letter or even fax arrives asking for help to get money out of war ravaged countries to help the poor subject named in the request. The FBI reports the author requests upfront money to help complete the emotional request but the willing victim will always be out money.

4. The Grandma Scam – Aimed at seniors, the “victims receive a call from a ‘grandchild’ in distress in a foreign country. Grandparents are told to wire money to ‘the police.’” It is suggested that “the best defense is to remain calm. Make them give you their name. Insist on calling your son or daughter. Chances are, you’ll find your grandchild safe at home.”

5. Foreign lotteries or sweepstakes – “A check comes in the mail–to cover ‘taxes, fees or insurance.’ You’re supposed to cash the check and wire back funds to claim your prize, but the check is no good. Remember, it’s illegal for U.S. citizens to enter foreign sweepstakes or lotteries. If you have to send money, even if they send you a check, you haven’t won anything.”

6. Overpayment Scams – “Your classified or Craigslist ad receives an email expressing interest in the item. The mystery buyer’s English is poor. They want the item delivered through a shipper. They offer to overpay for the item and want you to wire the excess funds after the check is deposited. Never accept a check for more than the selling price and never agree to wire back funds to a buyer.”

7. Charity Scams – “Fraudulent solicitations come over the phone with scammers pretending to be affiliated with legitimate charities. Other scams involve bogus websites created to fool people into providing credit cards. If you want to donate to a charity, use the charity’s own websites directly. You can investigate unfamiliar charities online at http://www.bbb.org/us/charity.”

8. Employment/Mystery Shopping Scams – If you are applying online for employment, “regardless of the reason or excuse given by the employer, you should never give out…Social Security or bank account numbers over the phone or e-mail.”

Mystery Shopping Scams operate just like lottery scams and overpayment scams—here is a check; do a job, wire money back to your ‘employer.’ The checks are no good and you’re out any money you send away.”

9. Phishing – “Scammers, masquerading as legitimate organizations send official-seeming email to get you to reveal sensitive data. If you get an email or pop-up asking for personal or financial information, don’t reply. Don’t click any links. Contact the organization mentioned using a phone number you know is genuine, or open a new window and type the company’s correct web address to verify it.”

10. Smishing – “Cell phone text messages deliver the “bait” to get people to divulge their personal information. They claim there’s a problem with your debit or credit card or bank account, and that it’s been frozen. Never provide personal or financial information to unknown parties, and never click on any embedded Internet links in unsolicited text messages.”

DisHonorable Mention: Online Dating Scams

Although not listed on the Better Bureau’s site, Online Dating Scams deserve mention. There are many legitimate online dating services, but there are also many fraudsters who use the services to bilk a victim out of money and emotions. Here are some alerts that your potential amour is really looking for your money…

• The potential “date” quickly wants to use personal email or messaging rather than the dating site format

• They profess love quickly

• They claim to be from the U.S. but are working or traveling overseas

• They cancel a planned visit to you because of some unexpected but traumatic event and request money to help cover some of those traumatic event issues.

• Send NO Money. Report them immediately to the dating site and FBI.

Unfortunately, this is not a comprehensive list of scams and schemes. It is only a compilation of 2012’s TOP 10!   May none of these be your experience!

The cautious seldom err  –  Confucius

toogood

Tell-Tail Signs of a Scam

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Tell-tail signs that you are about to be scammed with an email or internet offer:

  • The organization making the “offer” has no website and cannot be located with an online search
  • The email or site has no “contact” information
  • The email or site asks for bank account information, credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, passport numbers, social security, mother’s maiden name or other personal information.
  • The return email address is a gmail, yahoo, hotmail, ymail, excite.com or another free email accounts. Legitimate companies can afford to buy a company domain name which creates their brand, legitimacy and trust.
  • The offer asks you to follow a link to another site and log on to or create an account.
  • You are advised that you have won a prize but you don’t recall entering any contest affiliated with the prize promoters.
  • The email claims you won a lottery.  The catch here is that legal lotteries don’t notify winners by email.
  • Although the email is addressed to your email address, it winds up in your junk mail.  It is usually a bulk mailer that many people worldwide probably also received.
  • The email or site asks for “upfront” money to cover processing and administrative fees.
  • Bait prizes are offered.  However, if these are real prizes, they are often inferior in quality or falsely represented.
  • You are required to travel at your own cost to receive your prize.
  • The offer seems to be filled with hype and exaggerations but offers few details about how the offer works.
  • The offer promises you money, jobs, prizes, lucrative business deals.
  • If the offer seems too good to be true – it is!

Good resources to check out the legitimacy of your “offer” or where to report fraud:

FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/contact.shtm

Internet Crime Complaint Center (http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx)

Complaints against foreign companies http://www.econsumer.gov/english/

FBI http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/internet_fraud/internet_fraud

scam.com

whois.com (whois lookup)

fraud.orgTest-your-stupidity