Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Help Me Howard: Phone Ringing
Imagine if your phone started ringing with people from all over the world screaming at you for calling them in the middle of the night over and over ... except you didn't call them, but your phone number showed up on their ID What is going on? One South Florida couple couldn't figure it out, so they called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- You have probably thought, "If I could just come up with one idea to make some money..."
Larry Aronson: "It's a real rock 'n' roll shop."
Larry Aronson did.
Janine Aronson: "That was his little epiphany, at 3 o'clock in the morning one morning. 'I want to open a barber shop that looks like my basement.'"
That was 23 years ago. Today Janine and Larry own Off the Top on Atlantic Beach Boulevard in Pompano Beach, a one-of-a-kind men's barber shop.
Larry Aronson: "They can put the headphones on and watch a DVD concert."
Throw in dart boards, pool tables, and something free to drink.
Larry Aronson: "Your choice of a beverage: one shot, one beer, water."
The total cost for a haircut: $10, cash only. The result: a customer list of 1,500 men. And now the problem.
Janine Aronson: "This was totally off the wall."
Larry Aronson: "Yeah, totally off the wall."
A couple of weeks ago, their business cell phone, with its Tarzan ringtone, started ringing. And ringing. And ringing.
Janine Aronson: "And they bombard us. And then we feel like they've slacked off. We have 15 minutes, maybe an hour reprieve, and then it starts again."
The callers were upset because someone was calling them from the shop's unique number: 954-200-1000.
Janine Aronson: "Somebody picked my phone number up to call these people."
The people were being called over and over and over, all day and night, people all over the world.
Janine Aronson: "Wisconsin, Illinois."
Larry Aronson: "Iceland. Some of the people are getting very, very nasty, which I don't blame them.
While we were talking to Janine, the phone was ringing.
Larry Aronson: "Well, I am terribly sorry. Somehow, somebody has gotten our telephone number. Larry..."
The question, of course: Why was someone using their number to call all over the world?
Janine Aronson: "And for what reason, we don't know, and we don't know how to stop it."
What's happening is called spoofing. You can sign up on the internet to use someone else's phone number. Usually, crooks do it to con people out of money, but the hacker using Off the Top's number isn't trying to sell anything, just aggravating the people they are calling, who then call and complain to Larry and Janine.
Janine Aronson: "It has been atrocious. It has been a complete interference with conducting business and our life."
They complained to Metro PCS, who told them they could not stop it.
Janine Aronson: "'No, I am sorry. That's external. There is nothing we can do for you.'"
Metro PCS did have one solution: After having this number for over 20 years, shut it down and go to a new number. Janine says that would be a disaster.
Janine Aronson: "We would lose 50, 60 percent of the business."
What's the solution? They don't know.
Janine Aronson: "'And we are terribly sorry. There is nothing we can do."
Well, Howard, legally, what can you do?
Howard Finkelstein: "The Truth and Caller ID act passed by Congress allows the government to go after the people who make it appear the call is coming from another number. The FCC can prosecute if the person doing it is profiting, or as in this case, harming someone like the barber shop's business."
I contacted Metro PCS, Off the Top's phone carrier. A spokesperson wrote:
"The spoofer isn't accessing the phone, just using the number. Since neither this customer's phone nor the Metro PCS network are being accessed, we unfortunately are not able to determine from who or where the calls are originating."
The spokesperson added, "Contact the FCC. They take these issues very seriously."
And then, a day later, good news for Larry and Janine. Suddenly the calls nearly ended. No one knows why.
Janine Aronson: "It's very strange how it coincidentally just stopped ... as soon as you guys came in."
Now they can go back to focusing on haircuts, instead of hair-raising phone calls.
Larry Aronson: "I'm thrilled, I'm thrilled. I can answer the phone and not get yelled at by the other party."
Anyway, if you have a phone problem and want to file a complaint with the FCC, the information is on our website at WSVN.com. Go ahead and contact them. You pay their salaries.
Feel like someone has your number? Ready to hang it up? Give us a call. It's no spoof. We help people, for free. Hard to believe in this day and age.
With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.
For more information on spoofing go to the FCC's website at: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/caller-id-and-spoofing
To File a Complaint:
There is no charge for filing a complaint. You can file your complaint using an http://www.fcc.gov/complaints . You can also file your complaint with the FCC's Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554