To the honorable Angus S. King, Jr. and the honorable Chellie Pingree:

Some years ago, and several times since then, they told me that good business practice requires good will, and that a successful business transaction requires good intentions from both parties to the transaction. Of course, good record keeping, honesty, and accountability make for good business practice too, but without the presence of good will on the part of both sides, that is, good intentions, things fall apart and collapse into grief, betrayal, thuggery, fraud, rapscallionism, and plain old unvarnished crime.

The same could be said for social relations and the day-to-day process of making and completing individual social transactions. I’m not saying, that in a person-to-person social transaction, that you can easily tell if the other person is a fraud, huckster, thug or rapscallion, or what his intentions are, but at least in a person-to-person social transaction you have other clues to help you decide. His bodily movements, and gestures, his manner of dress, cleanliness or composure, his use or misuse of your common language, facial expressions, winks, nods, furtive glances – all are helpful in deciding whether good will, that is to say, good intentions are present.

This August 2017 file photo shows a call log displayed via an AT&T app on a cellphone. YouMail, which offers a robocall-blocking service, says 2.9 billion robocalls were placed in April 2020 in the U.S. John Raoux photo/Associated Press

On the telephone, or over the internet, these extra clues are missing, swept away by the electronic winds of our modern media, and there is very little evidence left behind to let you know the identity, let alone the intention, of your caller. Or, if damage is done, who done it.

When caller ID became available for the first time, we welcomed the event as a great help in letting us know who was calling and their phone number. And, with their number and identity known to us, we could often make a good first judgment about the caller’s intentions, whether or not to answer the phone, or even how to answer it – joyfully, fearfully, suspiciously, ho-hum, or, no thanks.

The second stage, as caller ID evolved, came with our ability to set our phone to withhold our own, outgoing name and number, as well as set our phone to reject calls for which the caller ID was withheld by the caller. Neither of these two, new capabilities was an advance in our search for truth, privacy and transparency, good business and social responsibility. Or more bluntly, folks who hide their identity are probably up to no good.

The third stage in caller ID evolution brought a series of non-informational messages such as, Incoming Call, Private Caller, Out of Area, Wireless Caller, Unknown Caller and VOIP Caller – none of which tell you anything about who is calling you, where they are calling from, or what their intentions might be. And, in case you decide afterward that their intentions proved damaging and harmful, you have no record traceable back to the source. At this stage, caller ID brings us useless information and shields would-be miscreants. That’s not good.

And now, in the fourth stage, I understand you can download a software app, which will allow you, prior to placing a call, to set your phone to send out a caller ID with a number and a name of your choice, and not necessarily your own – the ultimate electronic deception and you don’t even have to keep bottles of snake oil on your person to carry off the scam.

While it might be fun for some folks to place telephone calls to a distant cousin or former neighbor in Las Vegas, Cochibamba, or the Cameroons under a false caller ID number and name, such as County Sheriff, KGB, or Treasury Department and tell them that all their bank accounts will be closed unless they pay a fee, I don’t think anyone could call this good business practice, a patriotic social transaction, or in any way American.

It’s outright fraud and should be illegal. It encourages ill will, malignant intentions and criminal behavior and in some cases can do as much damage as a loaded firearm.

Currently between seven and 10 times a day, my phone rings with a false caller ID and someone I never heard of, who wants a check for twelve hundred dollars so I can collect the one million dollar sweepstake prize, which they say I have won, but didn’t know I had entered.

I beg you, please, Sen. King and Rep. Pingree, please draw up and propose legislation to make the purchase, possession, sale or use of such software a serious crime. It is a dangerous electronic tool, and of no use to callers of good will and benign intention. So far, I have been able to avoid falling victim to these fraudulent and threatening appeals from unknown miscreants over the telephone, but there are others for whom this behavior may prove disastrous.

Orrin Frink is a Kennebunkport resident. He can be reached [email protected]

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