It's becoming more common that people are using spoofed area codes to try to scam people in the Ozarks. (Photo by Rance Burger)

I recently heard from a reader who complained to me about the growing number of robo/spam/scam calls he receives.

And how, it seems to him, all these unwanted and potentially treacherous calls are from our 417 area code when, in fact, the callers don’t really do business or live in the geographic 417.

At just about this same time, I received yet another call from area code 573. My phone said it was from Richwoods, Missouri.

I did not recognize the number. Each time I had picked up, no one responded. I felt like I was being stalked.

Finally, someone did respond when I picked up. It was the proprietor of a handyman business. A few days earlier, I had googled local — as in Springfield — handyman operations, all with a 417 number and Springfield address.

I had called him thinking he was local; he apparently wasn’t.

I don’t get nostalgic often and I don’t pine for the days of rotary dials and phone numbers with a word prefix.

But there was a time in this Great Nation when you knew the people calling you and they weren’t trying to trick you into divulging your Social Security number in order to plunder your life’s savings.

In the past year, I’ve gotten recorded messages on my phone from people claiming to be IRS and FBI agents who tell me I’d better call back pronto or I just might end up in the slammer.

I ignore them. I’m waiting for Interpol to call.

National surveys show most people don’t answer their phone when they don’t recognize the number.

I typically still do because I place a lot of calls to people who might or might not want to call me back.

A quaint idea: talking on phone, not texting

Certainly, we’re drawing near to an age when few people even take calls on their smartphones.

Brittany Meiling, my 34-year-old managing editor, tells me that time has already come for many younger Americans.

Generation Z folks (born from 1997 to 2012) are far more likely to use their smartphone to text than to talk to someone.

In fact, I ran across an August 2021 story in the New York Post about a surprising trend — and we all know how much journalists love trends — that some young people are going retro because they find it quaint and charming to talk on their phones.

According to that story, on average, Americans text twice as much as they call, and text message response rates are 209 percent higher than those from phone calls, according to the Local Project’s US texting statistics.

Cellphone users ages 18 to 24 send and receive an average of 3,853 texts a month, up 653 messages from Pew Research’s text messaging report in 2011, according to the news story.

So if you’re really desperate to minimize the risk of being scammed over your smartphone, you can stop using your smartphone as a phone. Text, instead.

Since I’ve had the same iPhone and same phone number since 2012, I know little about obtaining a phone.

I was curious about a basic, unrelated question:

When you buy a smartphone, can you pick any area code you want?

For example, I was born in Chicago. Can I buy a phone here in the Ozarks where I live and work and request a 312 area code?

On Thursday I walked into the Verizon store at 1286 E. Battlefield St. and asked.

Yes, I can.

But that would be a decision based on nostalgia, not scamming.

The intent is more sinister when the area code on Caller ID is fake in order to get me to answer a call I might not otherwise answer.

That’s called “spoofing.”

What is spoofing?

According to Verizon:

  • Caller ID spoofing is the process of changing the Caller ID to any number other than the actual calling number.
  • Caller ID spoofing happens when a caller knowingly falsifies the information transmitted to disguise the number they’re calling from.
  • The number that displays on your Caller ID may look as though it’s coming from a government agency, business, or even someone in your contacts list in an attempt to trick you into answering the call.
  • If the caller’s intent is to defraud, cause harm or scam you into providing info you may not otherwise provide over the phone, the spoofing is illegal.
  • If no harm is intended or caused, the spoofing is legal. Some people may have legitimate reasons to hide info, such as a law enforcement agency or a doctor’s office.

According to Verizon, here’s what to do if you realize the call is a spoof:

  • Don’t give out personal information. Identity thieves often pose as representatives of banks, credit card companies, creditors or government agencies to get account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords and other identifying information.
  • End the call immediately then call the phone number listed on the account statement/website of the company or government agency to determine if the request is legitimate.

How to get fewer robocalls

To sign up for Missouri’s No Call list, go to https://ago.mo.gov/app/NoCallRegistration or call 866-662-2551.

To sign up for the national Do Not Call registry, go to www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222.

To complain to the office of the Missouri Attorney General about a violation of the No-Call law, go to https://ago.mo.gov/app/nocallcomplaint

In addition, various companies offer apps designed to detect “spoof” and spam calls. I don’t use any so I’m hesitant to list them here.

This is Pokin Around column No. 30.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin