Here’s a non-political rant, for a change.

Spam callers.

Otherwise known as assholes.

Being on the do-not-call list (either at the state or federal level) is a joke.  It’s a lot like gun control (OK, sorry, I did say this wouldn’t be political, but it is actually relevant), in that the do-not-call lists place restrictions only on the law-abiding.  Anyone who wants to run an illegal boiler-room call center that uses spoofed numbers to get around “unknown number” call blocks and so forth is not going to be stopped by a silly list of people who don’t want them calling.

Lately it seems that a lot of spoofed calls are coming “from” numbers in our own area code.  On our cell phones, the usual approach seems to be even more granular, with the numbers matching both area code and exchange (as if I would pick up a call simply because it came from the same exchange; I got my cell number from a vendor in Noblesville, many years and two carriers ago, and I can’t think of anyone I know who has a cell number in that exchange.

It seems to me that there are two things that need to happen.

First, phone companies have a duty to ensure that the information coming through CallerID is not spoofed and is accurate.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy to take a modern phone system and program whatever number you like into it.  This actually has a legitimate purpose — it is done to provide for direct-inward-dial systems where it is preferred to broadcast the main switchboard number of the company rather than the individual’s extension, and that makes sense.  But in turn, the phone company should be vetting the CallerID information being sent against a list of numbers registered to the phone “line” in question.  And yeah, with VOIP not using physical copper like the old POTS systems, that may be difficult to do, but I’ll bet it’s not insurmountable.  If a phone company can determine that the CallerID being sent by one of its customers is not on the list of authorized numbers for that line, it can either substitute the known main switchboard number for the line, or simply refuse to place the call at all.  I’m sure this is all a SMOP*, but nothing is impossible if you throw enough money at the problem.  And if the phone companies courteously excuse themselves from fixing their broken systems, then the Feds should step in and force them to do it.  There is no point in creating law and having a regulatory system if you’re not going to use it.  That is hardly the libertarian point of view that I would prefer, but since I’m enjoined from going after these spamming bastards with a shotgun, the gummint needs to get on the ball.

Second, the FTC needs to start actively cracking down on boiler-room operations.  Which is like asking the FCC to start actively cracking down on bad hams.  It happens once in a while for some of the more egregious violators, but even then, the regulatory agencies have no law-enforcement authority and for anything more than a proposed liability (otherwise known as a fine), they have to get the DOJ involved.  So, OK, do that.  Or call on local law enforcement.  But stop pretending to enforce the law by having people send in complaints that (so far as it seems) rarely end up with spammers in hot water.  (That goes for junk fax laws and the CAN-SPAM act for email, too.)

There is simply no sense in having these laws if they aren’t enforced.


*SMOP [Simple (or Small) Matter of Programming] 1. A piece of code, not yet written, whose anticipated length is significantly greater than its complexity. Used to refer to a program that could obviously be written, but is not worth the trouble. Also used ironically to imply that a difficult problem can be easily solved because a program can be written to do it; the irony is that it is very clear that writing such a program will be a great deal of work. “It’s easy to enhance a FORTRAN compiler to compile COBOL as well; it’s just a SMOP.” 2. Often used ironically by the intended victim when a suggestion for a program is made which seems easy to the suggester, but is obviously (to the victim) a lot of work. Compare minor detail.