Scam for the Times

Cell phone pedophiles getting rich on our children

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: March 1, 2007

Scam for the Times

Once again, I wish could catch someone who's violated my world, strip them of every and anything they have, and drop them off butt naked on a deserted island all alone with only a male gorilla in heat as company.

I'm talking about the scam artists or "con" men (or women) that live off the cuff, surviving by ripping people off. You know the type. Over the hill teenage rebels, unemployed, slick cheaters who just can't get it together enough to make it with a honest day's work and a little self respect.

Scams, or "con" games have existed for centuries. Dishonest people putting intelligent effort into ripping honest people off for their money. So many have risen and fallen that it's doubtful there is anybody who can't remember geting ripped off and having had their privacy violated during their lives.

With each generation, comes new scams and later, ways to combat them.

(Politics and private interest laws come into mind...but that's another story)

One of the most time tested and proven methods of prevention is education. Teaching and informing others of their existence helps prevent a scam's longevity. Unfortunately, there will always be scammers and victims, along with a sense of violation.

Starting in the early 1940's and up until just about 15 years ago, comic books had an advertisement that offered a self defense course and a life sized "practice dummy" for only $1.99. Over the years, I have met virtually hundreds of men who, along with myself, remember ourselves as kids scraping together the change to get a money order to send to the New York address for something that never came in the mail. Somebody made a lot of money off pre-adolescent boys for years.

Mail order scams are as old as the postage stamp.

During the mid to late 1950's, with the advent of rock & roll, the popularity of teenage music radio shows and "45 rpm" records, the "payola scam" had radio stations and DJ's playing music & artists for a secret fee. This gave the impression that the music being played was actually popular and in demand, thus boosting record sales for marginally talented singers & musicians, and also helped establish some record companies, some who exist to this day. The payola law put an end to this, but not before millions were made.

In the 1960's & early 1970's, you could easily phone a telephone operator and verbally bill long distance to another number. That scam was soon discovered, and problems were rectified, usually after some poor unsuspecting soul received a large bill and complained.

In the 1980's and early 1990's, "976" phone numbers and off shore area codes offered everything from phone sex to jokes to job offers that charged $3.99 a minute. The calls usually took 3 to 5 minutes to complete and usually lead to a continuing series of calls that resulted in high phone bills. These numbers still exist, but now must have a warning about charges and require that the caller be an adult over the age of 18. That hasn't completely done away with victims, but at least we all know about the scam.

With the popularity and increased availability of cell phones beginning in the late 1980's, cell phone number account codes were easily "caught" in mid air, enabling scammers to use other people's numbers to make phone calls, again, only found out when an unsuspecting consumer received a large phone bill...and usually after the fact.

Now, with the easy availability of computers over the last 10 years, credit & credit card fraud, and identity theft are on the upswing. Hackers have been able to break into sensitive Government and personal medical files. Nothing seems safe from those who manipulate technology for a scam to make easy money at the expense of honest and unsuspecting consumers.(Let's call them "gorilla dates")

Seeking justice takes on a new meaning here...know what I mean?

And like pedophile predators who prey on the young on the internet, scammers are now preying on the young by manipulating the long time teenage characteristic & folly of being "cool" as bait.

Starting out with music in the early 1950's, leading up to today's perversion of the public music airwaves and mockery of clothing & hair styles once considered uncouth, teenage consumerism is a profitable, albeit exploitive, market.

The latest scam hit me recently. Despite my cautions, I still couldn't help feeling victimized and violated when my teenage step son ran up a $3700.00 cell phone bill.
(Like beepers in the 1990's, teenagers are just not "with it" unless they have a cell phone)

After the usual parental anger, yelling, lecturing, and the inevitable "how could you do this to us?" question, I was struck by my son's honest and remorseful "I didn't know" answer. At age 14, we really couldn't hold him responsible for having a whole lot financial experiences to look back upon that could of prevented this.

(I seriously fantasized about playing cupid for somebody and a healthy gorilla as my stress release mechanism at the time)

He unknowingly, honestly, and unintentionally became a victim of the latest phone scam. Foolish as it may have been, he deserved a break because of his naivet?®, but now stands educated.(Believe me!) All I wanted in return was the full story on what happened. Here's what I got:

"Lavalife" is a phone and website service that offers young adult entertainment bordering on sexual solicitation. The scam is on their cell phone service. Offering sexual alluding jokes and flirtations in the way of text messages, the service asks a few questions that require "yes" answers. One asks if you wish to continue receiving text messages, but without indicating a duration.

Capitalizing on teenage fascination and impatience in reading small print, which also states the charge of 10 cents per text letter, the service thereafter sends an uninvited, non ending series of text messages 24 hours a day, charged whether the cell phone owner answers the calls or not.

And that is how my phone bill came to be over $3700.00 for just one month, and why my son now has a text message restriction put on his cell number. With the help of the phone company and a letter to the service, the issue was painstakingly resolved in my favor.

Technology has evolved to the point where we can keep a safe reign on our children 24 hours a day, but we need to be careful who we allow to put hands on that reign besides us.

Scams and con games will continue to exist and evolve in sophistication. I just hope this bit of education helps out some parents before their next phone bill comes.

...and somewhere out there, somebody is due a serious ass whupping!
(I wish it could be a one way ticket to a deserted island... where company's waiting!)

About Frankie Firme:
Frankie Firme is a parent and grandparent who remembers being young and foolish...but getting a few breaks.

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