Question: How am I still getting spam calls? Will they ever stop?
My neighbors and I, along with many other Americans, have been getting a reminder of this over the past few weeks, in the form of repeated, bogus calls pushing medical-alert bracelets. Those calls are clearly illegal: We don't have a prior business relationship with the callers, nor have we given them other permission to call at home.
And most of us have added our numbers to the Do Not Call list, either by visiting DoNotCall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the number you want to register.
According to the latest data book published by the Federal Trade Commission, which manages the list, 217 million phone numbers had been registered by Sept. 30. And in the 2012 fiscal year, we filed 3.8 million complaints about DNC violations — way up from the 2.3 million filed the year before.
(Note to the DoNotCall site administrators: Could you please fix the weird bug that obstructs entering a number in Chrome or Safari unless you park the cursor at the very left of that field?)
I was not among the last contingent, nor did I think to complain about the latest round of spam calls: As I suspect many of you do, I deleted the messages from our answering machine and went on with my life.
The two-page complaint form asks a few simple questions: the number that got the spam call, the date and time of it, whether it was recorded, the phone number of that called you and the name of the company.
It also asks a key question mandated by the 2003 law that started the Do Not Call list: Have you "done business with this company in the last 18 months or contacted them in the last 3 months?" Either action gives a company implicit permission to call you.
The law further exempts charities (some of whom can be awfully pushy), phone surveyors and political organizations (as last summer and fall should have reminded you).
The Do Not Call list also covers mobile numbers, and in researching this I realized that I had not added my own to it. Text-message spam is both illegal and a growing problem, not least because wireless plans that don't include unlimited texting can result in customers paying to get spammed.
In an e-mail sent by an FTC publicist, staff attorney Kati Daffan said "We take the problem very seriously and have recently cracked down on 29 defendants for collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers."
If your phone gets a spam text, you can and should file a complaint about that too. But it's easier and faster to forward it to your wireless carrier via 7726 (as in, SPAM).
The government has tightened the Do Not Call rules in recent years — for example, in 2012 the Federal Communications Commission amended the rules for robocalls to require written permission from customers and end the existing-business-relationship exemption. But spam calls are no more likely to vanish than spam e-mails: At some level, they do work, in the sense that enough people do fall for these rude and intrusive appeals for our attention.
Tip: Two ways to improve the security of Android's pattern-lock option
Among the many screen-lock options available in Google's Android operating system, I like the option of drawing a pattern to connect dots on the screen. It frees me from having to memorize yet another sequence of numbers, it's an easy gesture to do one-handed while I'm distracted by luggage or our toddler, and it's more secure than the easily-spoofed facial-recognition option.
(The default lock in Android, a simple slide gesture across the screen, often fails at the basic task of stopping pocket dialing, texting or tweeting.)
But over time, repeated pattern unlocking leaves a trace on the screen that somebody else can see and might use to guess your pattern. Cleaning the screen helps thwart that. So can choosing a pattern that intersects with itself, preferably more than once.