(Opinion) — Seventy-one. That’s how many times my wife’s phone rang during the last week. The calls all had unfamiliar numbers and were made by different people, but they shared one thing: Every single person asked, “Is Jacob there?”

They were all annoying and the calls needed to be stopped.

We don’t know who Jacob is, nor do we want to know anything about him, if he exists, which we doubt. This was obviously a phone scam, and my wife and I wanted to get to the bottom of it and make these nerve-wracking calls stop.

I know many people in Wyoming are victims of these schemes so I decided to share our experience, even though Corryne hates it every time I write about her in a column. I told her this is a public service to show people how to deal with this problem, and she bought it.

Two years ago my wife took the right step by registering her phone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” list. That ended a lot of calls from companies trying to sell us junk or services we don’t need, but obviously it hadn’t stopped this latest barrage.

She was polite to the first few callers, informing them Jacob doesn’t live here and they had the wrong number. As the calls escalated so did her decibel level whenever she decided to answer. Without embarrassing her, I think it’s safe to tell you that she started using words not fit for the family hour.

Her tone didn’t actually matter. She was pleasant but forceful with many of these people, asking them to take us off their call list. Sometimes they hung up the phone, but a few assured us we wouldn’t be bothered again. Less than a half-hour later, someone else would call asking for Jacob.

Corryne came up with the idea to tell the next caller that Jacob had died and was already in the ground, so stop calling. I thought about how we might tearfully break the news about Jacob’s demise. “I’m sorry to tell you, but Jacob drowned in a vat filled with kitty litter. As you know, he didn’t even have a cat, so it was a highly ironic death. There wasn’t enough money for a proper funeral, so he’s in our backyard. Would you like to donate to his burial fund?”

It would be satisfying, but likely ineffective. There had to be a better way to get these vermin out of our lives forever. Corryne suggested the FTC find them and send in a SWAT team, and I thought it was a terrific idea. We’re pacifists, by the way, so you can see how much this problem was getting to us.

My wife asked the next few what company they were working for, and one guy finally said he was with a national healthcare enrollment center. After she angrily told him to quit calling, he assured her it was part of a nationwide effort to help people … and by the way, would you like to buy some health insurance?

Some innocent, gullible people could be fooled, and who knows how much money they might lose. We switched gears from trying to get retribution to actually learning how the public can stop these swindlers from making their sales pitch to someone who might think they’re signing up for Obamacare or cheap health insurance.

Corryne officially complained to the FTC, giving them a list of 27 phone numbers that the callers used. She looked up the FTC’s website and learned that even the agency has been a victim of such schemes. “Scammers have been making phone calls claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry,” the website warned. “The calls claim to provide an opportunity to sign up for the Registry. These calls are not coming from the Registry or the Federal Trade Commission, and you should not respond to these calls.”

These con artists will stop at nothing to make a buck, even using the FTC’s list to again take advantage of people the agency is trying to help.

The FTC’s consumer information site is the place to go for tips about how to handle unwanted calls from telemarketers:

— Hang up on illegal sales calls. If your number is on the do-not-call registry and you get a sales call or an illegal robocall, don’t interact in any way. Don’t press buttons to be taken off the call list or talk to a live person. Doing so will probably lead to more unwanted calls. Instead, hang up and file a complaint with the FTC.

— If you get unwanted calls from many different numbers, look into online call blocking services, call-blocking boxes and smartphone apps that block unwanted calls. Research whether the service costs money and whether it’s effective. Do an online search to look for reviews from experts and other users.

To add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry for free, go to donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you want to register (TTY: 1-866-290-4236). You must respond to an FTC email you will receive within the next 72 hours. The calls should stop within 31 days.

The number of illegal sales calls has significantly increased since 2009, due to advancing technology, according to the agency website. “Internet-powered phone systems make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and to display fake caller ID information, which helps them hide from law enforcement,” the FTC says. Don’t even bother writing down the phone numbers you’ve received because they’re probably not real.

The agency receives so many complaints it is not possible to contact every person who files one. But its staff analyzes the complaints to spot trends and identify those responsible for these illegal calls so action can be taken. Those who violate the National Do Not Call Registry or place an illegal robocall can be fined up to $16,000 per call.

The registry can’t stop all obnoxious calls because it only covers sales. You still may receive legal political, charitable, debt collection, informational and telephone survey calls. If you’ve recently done business with a company, it may still call. But if you ask the business not to, it must honor your request.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud warns that in one of the newest scams, con artists — often targeting seniors — try to sell fake health insurance that they lie is “required” by health-care reform. The pitchmen may say this is a “limited-time” deal or “limited open-enrollment” for signing up. Some use the term “Obamacare,” and even lie that they’re from the U.S. government.

I hope some of this information helps you get rid of phone scammers and keeps you from being conned.

Before I learned that the numbers are fake, I told Corryne about another potential solution: Call each of the phone numbers she’s collected and keep asking for Dagmar, over and over. Then call and say, “This is Dagmar. Any messages for me?”

OK, I know it’s an old joke, but Corryne really didn’t need to give me that “look” that tells me to stop being a fool. Husbands all know the one I’m talking about. You’d probably be better off asking for help from the FTC than from me. Yes, you definitely would.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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5 Comments

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  1. It’s probably best NOT to use the do not call registry. It’s typical government service – worse than the problem it was created to fix. In order to work, the numbers have to be published so that *good* people won’t call them. That guarentees that it’s a valid number with a live person. Some scammers use the list to get a better set of victims. The government could do a better job – listing all unused numbers as well as those who wish to use the service – then monitor ALL the unused numbers and dispatch a SWAT team (or even just a cop) to arrest those calling the unused numbers. But that would take time, effort and money, all things the government doesn’t do well (excepting salaries for bureaucrats).

    In the meantime, don’t take calls you don’t recognize. If it’s important, they will leave a message.

    Chris Smith

  2. Many years ago I listed my phone number under my dog’s name. Now when someone asks to speak with Mr. Farkas I can reply, “Oh, are you calling for Farkas Barkas? I’m sorry, he died.” While it is mildly satisfying to tell some poor call center employee that they are calling for my dead dog, the truth remains that the Do Not Call list is entirely ineffective. What do you know, the federal government is unable to stop Rachel from Credit Card Services from calling my home six times a day. I have stopped diligently reporting each number to the FTC and am contemplating getting rid of my phone altogether. At least Farkas lives on through the miracle of telemarketing.

    Amy Nagler

  3. I look at the caller ID and if it is not someone I know I don’t even answer. If there is no ID I do the same. The exception is when it is a 307 area code as I don’t think they are operating out of this state.

    Kathleen Connell

    1. Hi Kathleen, I usually don’t answer unfamiliar numbers either, but these calls were so frequent I answered just to tell them to stop. I even created an “is Jacob there?” contact so I’d know if they’d already called, because I told each of them to take me off their lists. If it showed up on caller ID with that name I knew they had been told at least once.
      BTW some of these were from the 307 area code but different numbers. Apparently they can create fake numbers, even from your area code.
      Anyway, they seem to have stopped. For now. Maybe I can go back to ignoring unfamiliar numbers.
      Good luck, everyone!

      Corryne Drake