Thursday, March 30, 2006

MORTGAGE SALESMAN 888-555-1234


If you are really pissed off, press 1—One of the really useful technological tools to come along in telecommunications is Caller ID. We started using it about a year ago, and it has made life a lot easier. Even though our house has registered with the Leave-Us-The-Hell-Alone Directory, we still get calls because of loopholes in the law. So by looking at Caller ID and not answering any number that starts with an 8 or is identified as "unknown" we just don't get bothered. Unfortunately, that may not work any more.

This is filed under the rubric that if you give enough people chances to be assholes, at least one of them will take it.

There now are services you (and I don't mean you, gentle reader) can use that mask your telephone calls so people who use Caller ID are fooled into thinking there is a useful, respectable human on the other end. It's called "spoofing," the telephone equivalent of computer spoofing, using a fictitious e-mail address. Some companies sell calling cards; if you use them, the ID shows an entirely fictitious name and number. One company [SpoofCard] lets you change or scramble your voice, really handy for that obscene call you always wanted to make to the little boy or girl next door. Another, SpoofTel, says it is really just a way to guarantee privacy when you make a call. Privacy from whom? For $10 you get 60 minutes of talk. You dial a toll-free number, key in the destination and the number you want Caller ID to show.

According to the Washington Post, the Florida Attorney General, Charlie Crist, has begun an investigation, based largely on news accounts [click headline for AP story]. Interestingly, some of the biggest users of this practice seems to be political consultants who want to send out scurrilous messages without being caught. One Pennsylvania congressman, Tim Murphy, reported thousands of calls were made attacking him and, according to Caller ID, the calls came from his office. They didn't. Law enforcement agencies use it, sometimes illegally, to entice people to pick up their phones, and VoIP (Internet telephony) is particularly vulnerable. The victims of spoofing include Columbia University, which was swamped with callers protesting unwanted calls from university numbers, none of which actually originated from Columbia.

It makes me want to rethink my opposition to capital punishment.

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