Think spam calls aren’t a big deal? Think again

We all get them.

There’s a message on your voicemail saying “we’ve been trying to reach you about your warranty” or “we’ve detected problems with your computer.” They’re full of crap, and you know it. You figure that they’re mere annoyances. You don’t answer the phone anymore, or you’ve installed a spam filter on your phone (disclosure: I’ve done both of these). If it’s important, let them leave a message. Just ignore them. Not a big deal.

I’ve personally discovered that it is a big deal. They are not only disruptive, they are potentially dangerous. And I have some stories to explain how they’re dangerous.

I’ll start with one that’s not necessarily dangerous, but it did disrupt something important. I recently had an email exchange from someone asking me for my personal info for tax reasons. This was a legitimate exchange; this was NOT spam. I called and left her a message. A couple of weeks later, I received an email saying, “I’m still waiting to hear back from you.” I responded with, “did you not get my message?” It turned out that she did not recognize my phone number and deleted the message. This was an important, time-sensitive message that could have caused problems if we had not resolved it.

Another incident happened a few months ago (and unlike the above story, this one was dangerous). I’m purposely keeping this vague for privacy reasons, but here’s the gist of it: one day, I received multiple phone calls from a number I did not recognize. Of course, I ignored them as spam. They did not leave a message. I later received a phone call from the hospital. It turned out that those calls were from EMS regarding someone who had me listed as the emergency contact, informing me that this person had to go to the hospital. Unlike the previous story, this was a situation that was dangerous and could have had disastrous consequences. (As it turned out, it ended well, and the crisis was averted, but it could have ended up much worse. I could argue that EMS should have left messages, but I digress.)

I could list several more stories, but by now, I think you have the idea.

The bottom line is that spam phone calls are NOT inane and harmless. They’re the little boy who cried wolf, and they need to be dealt with. I don’t know what the statistics are (if any exist), but it wouldn’t surprise me if spammers were responsible for millions of dollars of losses, and possibly even hundreds of deaths. I realize that trying to track down the criminals who are responsible for spam is nearly an impossible task, but it needs to be done, and they need to be prosecuted. I realize that communication companies and cybercrime units are doing the best they can, but it’s a tall order.

When (not if) you receive a spam call, try to take steps to report it, if you are able to do so (and yes, I realize that it can be a pain). The sooner we put these criminals behind bars, the sooner we can start picking up the phone again.