Today, I received five calls from people saying I had called them. Each one was a different person I don't know and hadn't called. Also, I had about four calls where there was no response when I answered. But when I called back to the phone number listed on my iPhone, the person said they hadn't called me. The common ground is all the phones had a 778 exchange, including mine. Any info on this phenomenon? What could be the purpose of such shenanigans?
— Phil K., via email
There are a couple parts to this, Phil. Both will make you feel a bit icky.
Here's a likely scenario regarding the phone calls you received where no one spoke when you picked up. According to the Oregon Department of Justice, scam artists will use sophisticated technology to send out a robo call to multiple callers at once. Such an act can be too much for a phone system, meaning only some of the targeted people will receive the call. Others just get dead air.
"They're sending out a large number of these phone calls, and the system can't handle it," said Ellen Klem, director of consumer outreach and education for the department.
The Better Business Bureau also wrote about this, saying the automated computer system on the other end could be calling to gather information on you, including whether it's a working phone number, and what time of day the call was answered. This information can be sold to other scammers.
Regarding the first three digits of the number being similar to your own, it gives it that additional appearance of being from an authentic source. They can create a spoof number, making it so their number appears to be coming from one that's in the area.
"They want it to look familiar and look like it's a local call," said Jackson County sheriff's Sgt. Julie Denney.
This is probably why so many people called you asking why you had called them.
DOJ officials recommend you register on the national do-not-call registry (go to www.donotcall.gov). That's not a slam dunk, unfortunately, as some of the calls come from overseas. You should also keep your phone number as private as possible, not using it to sign up for offers or giveaways, and not publishing it in phone books.
Finally, don't answer calls from numbers you don't recognize, but if you do and the telltale signs of a scam on the other end are there, just hang up.
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