Rikki don’t trust that number

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Throw away your caller ID.

At least, quit relying on it for the truth about who is calling.

For years, the add-on caller ID (identification) was a highly useful function of any telephone, landline or cellular. Unfortunately, it has actually become a useful tool for crooks, scammers and spammers. VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) has turned caller ID from a useful add-on for consumers to an essential tool for the bad guys. It’s easy and cheap for the bad actors to get a “fake” telephone number.

Here’s an example of an ad on the internet to get a “fake” number:

XXXXXNumber: your free VOIP line

XxxxNumber is a free telephone line with Voice Over IP technology with a telephone number to receive calls from any phone in the world. You can choose a new phone number with an area code of your choice in Italy and in some foreign countries. Service will be activated immediately.

How it works:

VOIP technology makes it possible to have a phone conversation using an Internet connection because it turns your voice into data that can be sent over the web. Thanks to this, we can offer you modern and complete phone services that you can purchase and manage directly online.

Benefits:

• Basic Voicemail Service.

• XxxxNumber includes a basic voicemail service, which lets you receive messages conveniently in “mp3” audio format directly in your mailbox.

• Call divert.

• You can configure XxxxNumber to divert your calls to voicemail or to another number of your choice if, for example, you are not online, your phone is busy, you don’t answer or you don’t want to be disturbed.

• Convenient, transparent rates.

• XxxxNumber is free. No annual fee.

• Free calls to all Message net users.

In addition, the purchaser of a VOIP number can choose ANY phone number they want to show on your caller ID, The scammer also can select ANY name they want to show, like Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, or a local law enforcement agency. The costs to obtain a VOIP number and name go from free to about $5 per number. With services like this being offered all over the internet, the consumer is in jeopardy.

I actually had a woman call me because she said I had called her six times in one morning and tried to sell her security services to protect her identity. What had happened was this: The scammer found my name and telephone number online, in one of my articles, and was using it so consumers would answer the phone and be lulled into a false sense of security.

(In point of fact, my name, Bill Brooks, is not associated with my phone number — 208-699-0506. My phone is actually in the name of a business!

LESSON: Don’t trust Caller ID. It may look like your best friend calling when in fact it’s a sophisticated crook or scammer ready to steal all your credit, money or identity! Verify callers’ identity before you begin a conversation. Sadly, trusting incoming phone calls is a thing of the past.

•••

EYE OF THE BE-DRIVER: A consumer last week got a bitter taste of reality. His 20-year-old car, his “baby,” had been involved in an accident. It wasn’t his fault and no one was hurt. Over the years he had made this car his hobby. Tune-ups, tweaks and more than regular maintenance like oil changes and wheel alignments. It was the envy of anyone who appreciates automobiles.

The insurance company ruled the car a total loss — “totaled” in the vernacular. He was then offered a sum of money that would purchase a similar car, of the same age in the same condition — nothing more. To add insult to injury, the insurance company “would allow” him to buy back the car for $300, as long as he had it retitled by the state as “salvaged,” which would forevermore be like a scarlet “A” on the title of the car. Every state handles “salvaged titles” differently. Be sure to check with the DMV BEFORE registering your damaged and repaired car as “salvaged” after an accident.

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT: My consumer friend didn’t get paid what he thought the car was worth and there was no money in it for him for his “pain and suffering” at losing his vehicular old friend. Sorry.

•••

EMERGENCY RESPONSE PENDANTS: If you live alone — get one — PLEASE! Awhile back, a friend of mine who is otherwise very physically able went out to the mailbox to pick up her newspaper. She slipped and fell. Luckily, nothing was broken, but she was in a lot of pain. She couldn’t stand up on the icy slanted driveway. We had just had about a foot of fresh snowfall.

Her husband, a dear friend of mine, had passed away a couple of years before. She had no cell phone with her and no way to contact anyone. She’s a strong woman — and very stubborn. She actually crawled about 50 yards through the snow and up 10 or 11 stairs to get into her house. Had she not crawled through the snow, she would probably been found deceased, next to her mailbox, by a passerby sometime later that day.

When I found out what had happened, we had a “discussion.” She now has a pendant that she can activate and summon help with the simple push of a button. It will also “alarm” if she were to fall and become unconscious. The device has a tiny sensor in it that can detect a fall. The question is — what’s a life worth?

•••

FAKE AT&T BILLS: Like a heat rash on a baby’s bottom, our area has been hit with thousands of calls to consumers informing them that their telephone service will be terminated immediately unless they pay the scam caller the amount allegedly due.

All these calls are scams. Hang up and if you have AT&T service, call the service number on your last monthly bill. Don’t call the number provided by the caller.

As I’ve said before, it’s probably some woman sitting at a card table in the next room pretending to be an AT& T account specialist. (Just think of Lily Tomlin doing the telephone operator sketch on the old Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In: https://bit.ly/2AoTauR).

•••

NEXT COLUMN: On Thursday topics will include: Is cable TV dying?, lines at the local DMV, and why do utilities sell water heaters but won’t sell parts?

•••

REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

•••

I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at 208-699-0506, or email me at brookshomes@gmail.com. You can follow me at www.billbrooks.us. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the Broker and Owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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