dsc 1176From left are FCC consumer bureau assistant chief Keyla Hernandez-Ulloa, VA veterans engagement program analyst NaShid Dickerson; and FCC consumer education and outreach specialist Alma Hughes.

Article by Mary Alice Murphy; Photo by Sandra Michaud

[Editor's Note: Thanks to Sandra Michaud for attending and recording, plus taking a photo, at the event that this author could not attend.]

The Silver City Public Library served as the venue for the Federal Communications Commission staff members, along with partnering host United Way of Southwest New Mexico, to talk about communications issues and answer questions from the audience on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.

Lyle Ishida, FCC chief, consumer affairs and outreach division, spoke first. "We are here to listen and share information on consumer issues. We are the consumer team."

Keyla Hernandez-Ulloa, associate division chief, said: "We look at building partnerships. We are 10 in our office, trying to serve the 329 million Americans, so partnerships are really important."

She talked about telephone issues, slamming and cramming. "You need to understand your bill. Slamming is when the phone company switches you to another carrier without your knowledge. If this happens to you, you should file a complaint at FCC.gov/consumers or call us at 888-225-5322. Cramming is when a third party places charges on your bill without your consent. They usually start out as a small charge, a dollar or so, but they usually grow. You need to get back in the habit of checking your phone bill, not every month, but remember to check it for other charges. New charges can include things like horoscopes, sports cores, cartoons or newsletters. Even an extra $1 a month adds up. Talk to your provider and file a complaint with the FCC. We also hold webinars, write newsletters and do email blasts if you want the information."

Alma Hughes, consumer education and outreach specialist in the same division, started out with concern and said, she found out in Arizona that "they get robocalls," followed by laughter from the audience. "It's happening to all of us. It's happening all over. Robocalls come with scams. If you don't recognize the number, don't answer. If it's something important, they will leave a message. You don't have to be polite. Protect yourselves. We have a whole glossary of scams that come over the phone. This being tax season, there's a new IRS scam. The IRS will never call you. If they need to get hold of you, it will be by mail."

She talked about the grandparent scam, where someone calls and tells you your grandson is in jail and they need bail to get out. "We love our grandchildren. It sounds really real. I was scammed by this. It was a learning lesson for me. I lost about $289. Do not ever give out personal information. If they are asking for your credit card number or your social security number, or even what your middle initial is, hang up. How about the scam about your computer acting up? Anyone have that? Sometimes, the phone will ring once. Do not call that number back."

Hughes also talked about spoofing. "Sometimes, they are spoofing your number or the number of someone you know. If it's not the person you know, hang up."

"You should all have a password on your cell phone," she continued. "Your carrier has free apps to kill robocalls. Take advantage of them."

A man said his service provider was trying to make efforts to stop robocalls.

Ishida said wireless carriers have proprietary apps. "They are trying to reduce robocalls. We know that it must be working, because complaints are down. We are trying, however, to find scammers to penalize them with fines."

"Our best line of defense is an educated consumer," he continued. "1) never send money to anyone who calls you first. 2) Do not give out any information to anyone who initiates the call, and 3) don't engage with them, even trying to mess with them, as that just gets you on the list."

He asked everyone there to pick up brochures and information to pass around to friends and family. "Nobody should lose their life savings or their identify to scammers."

Hughes said they hear a lot of stories when they travel to different states. A man in his 80s was receiving harassing calls that if he didn't pay thousands of dollars he would be arrested. "When he went to the bank to get money out, it being a small town, they know their customers, and the bank contacted a family member to stop the transaction. But he kept getting the calls and more threats, so he went to a different state and withdrew the money and sent it. Just a few months later, he died from the stress. We hear this same kind of story over and over and it's so sad."

She continued by saying there are legal robocalls, from the doctor's office, for instance.

NaShid Dickerson, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program analyst in veterans engagement and special emphasis, spoke next. "We are interested in reaching out to veterans about the VA services. We want to establish partnerships and collaboration to assist veterans. I served 12 years in the Navy. I have taken advantage of all the benefits and services the VA offers. It includes burial benefits, disability benefits, health care benefits, home loans, and lots of others. Contact me, and I'll help veterans. At www.va.gov, you can see our services and find our current benefit guide."

A woman asked what she should do if she gets a call from an organization that she would like to donate to, but she knows she shouldn't call the number back.

Ishida said she should go online and find a phone number for the entity. "They will be so happy you called. They will thank you for telling them about what you suspected was a scammer and will be happy to accept your money. I emphasize, for almost 100 percent of incoming calls, don't give them money, don't give them information and don't engage. Observing those three rules will cut robocall scams."

A man from United Way that that at work he received a call that his Social Security number had been blocked. "First I called the sheriff, then I reported it to the Attorney General's office."

Hughes commended him for acting appropriately: "It's a scam. We get the same calls, including at work. We have to protect ourselves. It OK to be discourteous to thieves. It's OK not to engage."

A woman asked about the Do Not Call list.

Ishida said it is easy to lose faith in the Do Not Call list, but it does protect the consumer from some calls, but spammers don't obey the law.

The same woman asked about junk mail.

Ishida said that is not in the realm of the FCC to address. "You need to go to FTC.gov to the complaint portal."

The woman asked about television.

Ishida said the FCC regulates broadcasts.

The woman said she has only an antenna. "Albuquerque has quite a few stations, but we only got three before things went digital. With the antenna, I get PBS from Las Cruces, but every few weeks, the few stations I get, one disappears. It's hit or miss after they went digital. We were told we would have access, but not in podunk Silver City."

Ishida said when things went from analog to digital, people could get a box to give you the same stations they had before. "The airwaves were put up for public safety. But then what we're going though now and will end in July is broadcast transition. We are in phase 8 of the transition. An auction was held of spectrums. In 2017, the results were announced. So how does it affect you? New Mexico stations have already transitioned. You probably need to rescan your TV. The FCC has a whole call center to address your issues. It's 888-225-5322. Press 6 to get to the subject matter experts. They are there from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. to serve all time zones."

He said for more information on the transition, people should check out FCC.gov/broadcasttransition. "Or just browse broadcast transition and go to the FAQs (frequently asked questions). We have a couple of videos at FCC.gov/outreach or FCC.gov/consumers. Your problem with stations disappearing could be a combination of getting the broadcast from Albuquerque and equipment being down. Call the stations and ask them how to find the channels. The broadcasters should know if their repeaters are down for a short time."

The woman said it can be for two days or 12 days or more. "I'm not kidding."

A man in the audience said each translator has a call sign. "How do you choose who gets the call signs? I'm talking about the repeaters. What I'm asking is who does the FCC license them to."

Hernandez-Ulloa said if she got his number or email address, she could get the information to him. "We're generalists here. But I will find someone to give you the correct information."

A man said he either streams shows on his computer or gets them through his antenna. "In Montana, the repeaters are put up by volunteers and they go down a lot."

The same woman asked about the changing spectrum.

Ishida said the spectrum is what the broadcasters are transmitting through. "You shouldn't notice any change. Some broadcasters gave spectrum back to the FCC. Wireless companies bought them to improve their services."

Another woman noted that spectrum is the same thing as frequency, and Ishida agreed.

Hernandez-Ulloa said the rescanning helps find the missing channels. "The subject matter experts, who are engineers and lawyers, will have the answers for you. Our media bureau gets the reports on outages."

Ishida said policy issues are addressed by the media bureau. "We will get whatever information you need to you. We promise to get back to you within a few days."

Dickerson said those having trouble should call the stations. "The more people that call puts pressure on them to resolve the issue."

Ishida said they had to end the meeting because another meeting with a smaller group would discuss broadband deployment.