Coffee heat rising

Robocall Exploits: Part II

LOL! So the robocall scammers, presumably annoyedreally annoyed — at NoMoRobo so consistently derailing their nuisance calls ever since I subscribed to the program — doubled down today. As I reported this morning, one of them apparently drained the battery from one of my landline handsets, when I tried to use it to espy their caller ID. An hour or two later, in came a barrage of phone calls from area code 186.

This makes it impossible to report an unblocked call to NoMoRobo’s online reporting page. To do so, you have to enter the number’s area code, and NoMoRobo does not recognize an area code beginning with the numeral “1” — and so it won’t take the rest of the number that shows on your Caller ID, either. Clever exploit, eh?

These assholes call me several times. The number they’re using is 186-467-6230.

Turns out that 186-467-6230 is a number used by those scammers who call up elderly people and claim to be an adult grandchild, niece, or nephew who, as the hustle goes, has been arrested (or has been injured in an accident) and needs money fast to make bail or to pay for medical care. Click on that link: the stories it elicits range from astonishing to hilarious.

HOW a grown man or woman could fall for these pitches escapes comprehension. What planet do these folks live on? Do they never watch a TV news show or read a newspaper or cruise the Internet or hang out with their old college cronies on Facebook? Do they spend ALL their time filling out crossword puzzles? The “I’m in jail, send money now” scam has been around for so many years, you can’t even imagine how anyone could fall for it.

At any rate, it was a real blitz today. Half a dozen calls came in, of which three were attempts by the 186 scammers to get through. And the apparent draining of my bathroom extension phone’s battery: that was scary. If they can reach out to your equipment with some kind of code or signal and cause damage, that represents a serious problem. Fortunately, the other handsets were unaffected…only the one I picked up to try to disconnect the call was attacked. But still: this is not good.

New Robocaller Exploit? Or…just coincidence?

I think — being the paranoiac that I am — that a robocaller just broke one of my landline handsets. As you know, I now subscribe to NoMoRobo, which works with amazing effectiveness against telephone pests. And you can be sure that the electronics the pests use can detect the presence of NoMoRobo when the program derails incoming nuisances.

So this afternoon the phone jangles. Caller ID reads, weirdly, Welcome! Please wait…

WTF?

So I wait for it to ring through to my voicemail so I can capture their data and, if as suspected it’s a sales pitch, I can hang up on the bastards. When they give up, I click on the “last call” button to capture the phone number and caller ID so as to send it along to NoMoRobo, which collects this stuff. And what I got was…NOTHING.

Blank. Nothing. Dead as a doornail.

Well, f**k.

So I tried another phone set, and from that was able to download the (without a doubt spoofed) phone number. Sent this and a report of the exploit along to NoMoRobo.

But…this is a new one. That phone was not out of juice. It was sitting on a charger when I picked it up. And yeah, the charger was plugged in. So drained was it that it took about ten minutes for the handset to come back to life.

Now, you know and I know that I am batsh!t crazy. With that in mind, you will have to add whatever grains of salt you choose to this speculation:

I suspect that somehow they did something to disable my phone.

We know this is possible for cell phones: the technology exists to drain a cell phone’s power. Maybe this works on a battery-operated landline extension????

Why? Somebody out there (not surprisingly) really, REALLY does not like people to subscribe to NoMoRobo.

Anybody had this experience before?

Nuisance Abatement: Ads, Phone Calls

Yesterday evening I happened to look at the AdBlocks Plus icon on Firefox. It has a counting feature that reports how many ads are being blocked: a total of 1,204,683 blats, blips, yaks, and yips have NOT reached my eyes or ears since that handy bit of software was installed.

Have you ever noticed that we are endlessly inundated with nuisance advertising? Ever count the number of billboards, ads on billboards, ads on the sides of buses, trucks, and cars, ads inside shopping carts, hulking signs on buildings, and “helpful” messages hanging over the roadway between your house and the grocery store? We’re drowning in nuisance messages. No wonder so many people do drugs: seen in a certain light, it’s a reasonable way to drown out the constant buzz of distraction and advertising harassment.

On this page alone — where I’m drafting this post and no one else sees the page’s contents — the program is blocking eight ads, Right now. At the current P&S Press post, two ads blocked. At the FaM home page: nine. And those are on sites that do not carry advertising! At least, not any that benefits their proprietor. At the Washington Post, where they’ll shut you down unless you disable your adblocker: 30 ads are being blocked on the home page, right this moment. At Google News, only seven, but at the Huffington Post, 81 obnoxious, unwanted messages are being shoved in users’ faces.

Ad Blockers

We tend to get numb to the constant intrusion and, on some level, to block it out of our consciousness. Nevertheless, it’s there, hammering away at us all the time. There are a few tools to help. Though they’re not perfect, they do suppress a fair amount of the static.

Adblock Plus works very effectively and is free. Mine is running on Firefox; I believe you can get it for Chrome, too. This maker also has an app that will supposedly block tracking and advertising on mobile devices. As you can imagine, an effective piece of software like this created quite an uproar among the big-money advertisers who see our time as theirs, our attention as theirs, and us as sheep to be shorn. Consequently, Adblock permits “acceptable” ads to show up, by default…as though there were such a thing. You can, however, disable this function.

Ad blocking is controversial, for the obvious reason that inundating Internet users with nuisance messages is what keeps Web content free. Consequently, some news sites will try to block you when they detect an ad-blocker. It’s possible to get ad-block-blocking programs, but there’s a limit. Truth is, the Internet provides such a tsunami of information that there’s very little out there — possibly nothing — that’s not duplicated or similar somewhere else. So I simply don’t read sites that ask me to turn off my ad-blocker: you can always find the same information elsewhere.

Others will demand that you pay to subscribe to their online content. At the risk of repeating myself: nope. Not that I wouldn’t like to if I were rich as Donald Trump. But I cannot afford to pay to read Web content. Hell, I can’t afford to subscribe to real newspapers and magazines anymore. And certainly cannot pay to look at every random site where I while away my idle time.

Personally, I never found that running ads at Funny about Money was very profitable. At one point, the site had a high Alexa ranking and a lot of traffic, so in theory AdSense (for example) should turn a profit. It did not: at most it would make maybe $10 or $15  a month. This, in return for cluttering my site with junk and serving ads for Scandinavian “escorts” to my readers. Hardly fair pay for the hours it takes to write and wrangle a website! The Guardian, a UK newspaper, reportedly makes about the same from voluntary reader contributions as it does from advertising.

Canning the Spam

One way advertisers try to get around ad-blockers is by blitzing your e-mail with nuisance advertising and “newsletters.” This is more problematic, because it means that you have to manually block each nuisance sender. Chrome has a Webmail ad blocker, and you can get software that will strip ads from Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail.  How well this type of software works, I do not know, because I use Apple’s mail program, which so far does not serve advertising to users. Apple mail does, however, serve up plenty of spam. A program called Mailwasher supposedly will block spam from “Outlook, Outlook Express, Incredimail, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo, EM Client and every other email program.” Whether it actually works on the Mac platform remains problematic.

Really, about the best you can do is stagger along, day to day, with various stop-gap measures: keep fiddling with your email filter to block incoming nuisances, never respond in any way to spam, hide your email address and do not share it with merchandisers who demand it, use a disposable email address for sites or vendors who demand one, and try various spam filters.

NoMoRobo!

As for the worst aggravation in our Brave New World, phone solicitation by automated robocallers, the answer has arrived if you can get access to it: NoMoRobo. For land lines, this is an application that must be made available through your phone company; some do so, and some do not. For cell phones, there’s an app.

In October 2018 alone, over 5 billion robocalls were perpetrated on unwilling consumers. Our honored legislators are working to pass a law (TRACED) to get a grip on this harassment…but frankly, you know and I know about how well that’s going to work. About as well as the vaunted National Do Not Call List, right? Har har hardy har har! 😀 😀 😀

For the moment — and if experience speaks truth, well into the future — the solution lies not with the government but with you: each consumer has to equip his or her telecommunications devices with call blockers. These come in the form of devices that you attach in-line with a hard-wired phone and as programs that run through the phone company’s VoIP or through cell phone apps.

My first venture in this direction was with the CPR V5000 Call Blocker, a kewl little gadget that you could attach to a landline. When Cox disabled it (you don’t really believe phone companies would get so reluctant to get a grip on the phone solicitation if they weren’t making some kind of profit on it, do you?), for awhile I had nothing and again was receiving upwards of a half-dozen nuisance calls a day, often starting before six in the morning. While it was working, though, the thing was some kind of miracle. It cut the automated pestering down to one or at most two calls a day — sometimes even none. As far as I can tell, it was not blocking real calls from real people.

Cox finally condescended to make NoMoRobo available, for free to its landline customers. As soon as that came online, I signed up for it. This system is working at least as well as the CPR Call Blocker. It’s very easy to sign up for and very easy to use. Both are very effective — incoming nuisances are now back down to one or at most two a day. And apparently once a robocall computer detects that calls are being deflected by this type of device or software, it stops calling the number. As time passes, you get fewer and fewer nuisance calls. The only disadvantage is that NoMoRobo uses the phone company’s simultaneous ring feature, so you get jangled up on the first ring no matter who’s calling. Similarly, a caller that is not registered in CPR Call Blocker’s database will ring right through your phone: you have to manually flag it as a nuisance call,which happens for every spoofed number. In either event, it means if the crooks call you early in the morning, while you’re trying to rest in the afternoon, or while you’re concentrating on a work project, you are going to get interrupted. And when you’re asleep or trying to sleep, one ringie-dingie is as good as an alarm clock.

There are several others. One is Hiya, which apparently works exclusively on cell phones. Same is true for Mr. Number and YouMail. RoboKiller works on both landlines and cell phones, and it has the delicious attribute of a robo-responder that engages whatever live human is on the other end with hilarious time-wasting patter (scroll to the bottom of the linked page to the RoboRadio link!).

Some of these apps have a serious disadvantage in that they access your contacts, an egregious invasion of your privacy. NoMoRobo does not do so, but before installing any other call-blocking app, read the privacy policy.

Grrr!

So it’s all very nice that CPR Call Blocker and NoMoRobo and Mailwasher and AdBlocker put the brakes — to some degree — on the endless pestering and invasion of privacy from advertisers. But still…it’s aggravating as Hell, IMHO. We shouldn’t have to spend time and money to patch up devices and services that we pay for, to protect ourselves from spammers and scammers. It should flat-out be illegal to serve this stuff to consumers — whether by the sp/scammers themselves or by the telecom companies.

If that means we have to pay for content on the Web, then so be it. For most of us, that would mean a lot more limited access to news sources — I would pay for the Washington Post and for Reuters, but that’s about it. It would make researching a subject a lot harder: you’d have to go to a library to get access to information that you can read in your living room right now. But…would that really be a bad thing? Consider how much time you waste cruising the Web. Because the computer is right there, calling softly for you to just enter a few more words in that search bar, you waste far more time than necessary even after you have the answers you needed. Less time spent on the Internet might be a good thing for most of us.