Person using a handheld mobile phone
Person using a handheld mobile phone

The state Attor­ney General’s office wants cit­i­zen help in track­ing down inces­sant and often ille­gal robo­calls as well as tele­phone scams, and has set up two new web sites to report auto­mat­ed, record­ed mes­sages that will not end.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son is Wash­ing­ton State’s chief law enforce­ment offi­cer (Cam­paign photo)

“Robo­calls are more than just annoy­ing – they can also be ille­gal,” said Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son. “Many of our cas­es are based on tips we receive from Wash­ing­to­ni­ans. If robo­calls are harass­ing you, please file a com­plaint with my office.”

Fer­gu­son has gone to court and joined in state AG law­suits, the lat­est last Octo­ber against a Cor­val­lis-based out­fit called Glob­al Grid Tele­com, which placed 54,000 alleged­ly decep­tive record­ed messages.

Curi­ous­ly, the mes­sages hawked a robo­call block­ing service.

A year ago, two firms that made more than 1.7 mil­lion robo­calls into Wash­ing­ton agreed to pay $495,000 to legit­i­mate char­i­ties as a result of a law­suit by Fer­gu­son and 39 oth­er attor­neys gen­er­al, and the Fed­er­al Trade Commission.

The biggest win, an August, 2020, order by a King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court judge that Van­cou­ver, Wash­ing­ton-based air duct clean­ing com­pa­nies and own­ers pay $10 mil­lion in civ­il penal­ties US Air Ducts & Sky Builders and DLM Ser­vices, Inc. made over 13 mil­lion robo­calls with­in Wash­ing­ton from 2017 to 2019. More than five hun­dred in the state were called more than a hun­dred times.

The calls can be more than annoying.

The 1996 Bob Dole pres­i­den­tial cam­paign flood­ed the phone lines with a mes­sage from would-be first lady Eliz­a­beth Dole. A cus­tomer in Sno­homish Coun­ty, seek­ing to report an emer­gency, was unable to get the polit­i­cal pitch off his line.

The AG’s com­plaint form asks spe­cif­ic ques­tions which seek to give foot­prints to the ori­gin of the call, even if the caller iden­ti­ty is faked.

Callers are asked to jot down the num­ber, iden­ti­fy the tele­phone provider, and note the time and date of the phonecall.

The web­site to report pos­si­bly ille­gal robo­calls be reached is here.

A sec­ond, infor­ma­tion­al web­site about robo­calls and tele­mar­ket­ing scams is here.

Com­plaints about robo­calls can also be reg­is­tered with the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion, which in Feb­ru­ary received no few­er than 6,075 com­plaints from peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton about unwant­ed tele­phone solicitations.

If you are at home much of the time – this writer is recov­er­ing from injuries – the vol­ume of robo­calls and tele­mar­ket­ing frauds is eye-opening.

The last two years have wit­nessed a stern record­ed warn­ing that one’s Seat­tle City Light (or Puget Sound Ener­gy) bill is over­due and that ser­vice will be quick­ly cut off unless a lot of mon­ey is sent. A big vol­ume of calls, placed by a per­son, sup­pos­ed­ly came from the U.S. Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice warn­ing of tax delin­quen­cy. (The IRS empha­sizes that it nev­er calls peo­ple to accost them.)

A much-used scam, designed to elic­it cred­it card num­bers, is to warn that somebody’s Ama­zon or Pay­Pal account has been com­pro­mised. The caller probes for per­son­al infor­ma­tion sup­pos­ed­ly to safe­guard the customer’s interests.

The Attor­ney General’s office offers sev­er­al tips on deal­ing with such calls.

The first and fore­most is to offer no per­son­al infor­ma­tion, no Social Secu­ri­ty num­bers or cred­it card infor­ma­tion or pass­words of any kind.

Offers of free or low cost ser­vice should arouse sus­pi­cion, every bit as much as emails offer­ing you the for­tune of a Niger­ian oil baron or the late dic­ta­tor of Zaire. Of course, tele­phone threats to cut off util­i­ty ser­vice sig­nal a fraud.

If your TV set or caller ID warns of a bogus call, do not answer. Or hang up imme­di­ate­ly. I have found one per­sis­tent nui­sance to be police or law enforce­ment char­i­ties, and a par­tic­u­lar­ly per­sis­tent caller named “Lee.”

Even if calls are being placed by peo­ple reg­is­tered to do com­mer­cial fundrais­ing for legit­i­mate enti­ties, your mon­ey may go to an out­fit noto­ri­ous for dis­pens­ing only a small por­tion of rev­enue to the good caus­es they sup­pos­ed­ly serve.

One more tip: Don’t call back or the scam­mer will flag your phone num­ber for fur­ther calls. And remem­ber to put your name on the fed­er­al Do Not Call list. It will shield you from some telemarketers.

Note that polit­i­cal calls are exempt from tele­mar­ket­ing restric­tions, along with solic­i­ta­tions from char­i­ties. If you are sus­pi­cious about a char­i­ty – for instance, if the name “Trump” is attached – con­tact the Sec­re­tary of State’s Char­i­ties division.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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