Bill Gates, then chairman of Microsoft Corp., assuring World Economic Forum participants in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 23, 2004, that software engineers would find ways to eliminate spam emails by 2006.
Gates’ unfulfilled promise pops to mind with each day’s emailed offers of a deal on diodes from Taiwan, or a share of an inheritance in Ghana.
Fifteen years after the software wunderkind violated what should have been Machiavelli’s rule of prophecy — Predict only that which already has occurred — the robocall menace stalks virtually every one of us. So we were alarmed if not surprised to read the Tribune’s Business story reporting that during November, 5.1 billion robocalls were sprayed at Americans. That’s nearly 2,000 per second. Some 164 million of those calls targeted Chicagoans — and no, you didn’t receive all or even half of them.
The news story reported efforts by Illinois’ Lisa Madigan and 37 other attorneys general to give Americans “simple ways to avoid annoying and invasive robocalls.” The AGs’ coalition has met with several major telecom companies and pushed the carriers to “quickly develop and implement technology” that would identify and block robocalls.
Attorney General Madigan, our heart bleeds for you and the well-intentioned 37. For as many years as you’ve been attorney general (almost 16), we’ve been cataloging pledges that this or that initiative would diminish annoying and invasive contacts from scammers, spammers, cold callers, robocallers and pretend widows in London who want to share the loot with an accomplice in Chicago.
So far, we’ve seen nothing from these efforts but failure, failure, failure. And no wonder. The ingenuity of those who annoy and invade is thus far boundless. The number of fraudulent calls has skyrocketed with the perfection of spoofing, in which robocallers hijack your area code or local prefix so you’ll think this might be the pharmacist calling, when in fact it’s Andrei in Budapest.
The worst of the robocallers prey on people, particularly older people, with special avarice at this time of year: “In the spirit of (insert holiday here), surely you’ll want to help the little ones by making a donation to our cause.”
The Federal Trade Commission calculates that the average victim of phone frauds last year lost an average of $700.
The Federal Communications Commission keeps threatening to make a difference. Yet the number of robocalls continues to rise.
We hope the attorneys general succeed where other public officials have failed. Much as we hope that the humans behind robocalling will reform and stop phoning.
In each case we’ll applaud success when we hear it. Or rather, when we don’t.
— FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE (TNS)