Phone spam and identity theft

September 23, 2008

I’ve had a US mobile number for more than a year. And I am happy to say that during that year, I only got maybe two or three spam calls (meaning calls from people who were trying to sell me something). And none of those were really spam in the traditional sense, from people I had no relation with. Instead, they were from businesses that I already had a relationship with, and who were trying to sell me additional products. For example, I had an apartment insurance, and they called me to sell me car insurance. How are they supposed to know I don’t even have a car here? Aww, those poor things. So it’s annoying, but tolerable.

And yet, when I got Time Warner Cable here in New York, I also got a home phone. The only reason I got it was because “triple play” was cheaper than leaving out the phone. And since I got Internet and TV, I thought yep, why not, let’s get a phone.

During installation, they told me that if I wanted to have my phone unlisted from some directories, I would have to pay extra, so I didn’t have my phone unlisted. So now it’s listed in some directories or phone books or something, I don’t know.

And now, less than a week after the installation, I already got not one, but two spam calls in a row from people who wanted to sell me a newspaper subscription or magazines or something. Ugh. I haven’t ever bought anything due to spam and I don’t think I will. I wish there was some way to et all those people know that we just live in completely different worlds. If you spam or call me without me permitting you to do so by some form of permission marketing, then this fact alone is enough for me to not do business with you. If you lower your price from $39.99 to just $19.95, that has no effect on my decision. It does not matter however nice you sound. Just don’t annoy me and we’re OK.

Having said that, I went to the local supermarket the other day and there was a nice young lady there who was doing some form of promotion and managed to persuade me to buy a sixpack of beer that was on sale, without me intending to originally buy it. Some might argue that this is also spam. But I was in the supermarket anyway so I was already looking for other things to buy, and it was a fun interruption in my day to talk with her. I sometimes also sample food and drinks in supermarkets, because I consider all these activities to be part of my regular supermarket experience and much less intrusive. Whereas phone spam is very intrusive, as it forces me to drop whatever stuff I may be doing and switch into a completely different mode, and it’s this loss of control that I’m most angry about. (Since I’m not using it, I could as well unplug my home phone… but this would be almost admitting that spam has won, and I’m not there yet.) And in supermarkets, if they start spamming you too much, you can just shop some place else, whereas switching a phone number is much more costly.

So back to phones… now I went and signed up both my mobile and home phone to the Do Not Call registry. I hope this stops the calls.

This takes me to another thought. I am worried about fraud through stolen credentials (also called “identity theft”). I am very careful about my financials and the only credit relation I want to have is with my bank. I don’t want people buying things in my name or opening cards or doing other stupid things that I would be responsible for. So, if there is something like a Do Not Call registry, then how come there isn’t something like Do Not Open Credit Lines Without My Physical Presence registry? Well, actually there are companies who sell you a service like that, but they face tough times from other players in the financial industry. Getting your credentials copied and clearing up the financial mess later is a much bigger deal for people than getting a few spam calls, so shouldn’t the US government step in here and do something similar to Do Not Call registry on their own?

And while we’re at it, there’s no such thing as identity theft, OK? Your identity can’t be stolen because you still have it. So we’re talking about fraud and impersonation. Again, if you don’t believe me, read the expert.