Dear Action Line: I would like to know about the (999) 999-9999 phone number that keeps popping up on cell phones. -- B.L.P., Tulsa.
Blockbuster calls?: After we wrote about this March 22, Owasso resident S.F. called our voice mail to say that when he read that column, about the Inola resident receiving (999) 999-9999 calls, he concluded, "There is a 99.99 percent chance it is Blockbuster Video calling to tell you a rental movie was overdue. That's what comes up on Caller ID when Blockbuster's automatic calling system calls you." Not working number: If you dial (999) 999-9999, AT&T's synthetic operator says that "your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number and dial again." Caller ID spoofing: However, using a telecommunications technology called "Caller ID spoofing," any telemarketer can disguise his real phone number by telling the system to identify it as (999) 999-9999, or any other number he pleases. That's the number that appears on your Caller ID. The reason this is advantageous is that savvy phone customers check their Caller IDs before picking up incoming calls. When they see "caller unknown," they don't answer, foiling telemarketers. Callers fire back with more interesting numbers. Death's own number: Any number can be chosen by spoofers, but the Thai horror film "999-999-9999" makes this situation a little more worrisome. The film blends "The Ring's" concept: "Once you watch the video and get the call, you're doomed" with "Final Destination's" concept: "If you're due, death will find you no matter where you hide." In the 9's movie, a transfer student gets attention at her new school when she recounts mysterious deaths at her old school following some (999) 999-9999 calls. Calling "the number of death" supposedly grants each caller's wish -- but for a heavy price. Despite her warnings, her new-school chums can't resist, and they meet a grisly end. Technology gods: Spoofing technology is available from companies selling phone networks to large corporations. They work through what's called a PBX, a switching center for a company's individual phone extensions. One useful feature is the system's capability for programming any number as the identifying number on outgoing calls. This is used to spoof the Caller ID system, making the caller anonymous. Still legal: Caller ID spoofing firms have been around since 2002 and supposedly have offered law enforcement agencies and collection agencies the ability to scam the scammers. They are mostly used by unscrupulous telemarketers and companies that don't want their calls avoided due to Caller ID recognition. Regardless, Caller ID spoofing is not yet illegal.
Submit Action Line questions to 699-8888. Action Line pursues consumer complaints submitted with photocopies of documentation to Tulsa World Action Line, P.O. Box 1770, Tulsa, OK 74102-1770.