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On Aging with Dr. Roger Branch Sr.: Not an app for everything
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Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

    Will Rogers — unique humorist, cowboy philosopher and gentle gadfly — typically began his monologues with "All I know is what I read in the newspapers..." Given current criticism of newspapers, those words might draw a cynical laugh now. As a working journalist in the past, I still put great stock in newspapers as reliable sources of information, but not so much in supermarket tabloids or cable news outlets with their revenue-generating talking heads.

    The August 3 issue of the Statesboro Herald had two stories on the front page that are important for seniors. The lead story was about an up-tick in workplace accidents among older workers. I wonder if anyone thought about the fact that not so long ago older workers sustained injuries but they work working for themselves on farms or in businesses. There also were laborers in such settings who got hurt. These injuries never made it into official statics. So, maybe some or all of the "change" is a statistical artifact.

    The other story of concern is the robo-call epidemic. These calls are annoying. They interrupt what I am doing. Even if that is mostly nothing, it is my preference. The calls that I get mostly come on my old-fashioned phone, requiring me to get up, avoid falling down and answer the phone. Most of them now are completely automated. There is no chance to vent anger and frustration. "I pay for this service; leave me alone." No, the voices just drone on and on.

    There is another problem. Many robo-calls are scams intended to separate us from our money. They might offer appealing deals for all sorts of things. Others use scare tactics. They might say that you owe money to the IRS and must send payment to some address to avoid prosecution. Another purports to be from a sheriff saying that you are in trouble over jury duty. As soon as people catch on to one scam, another pops up. People who do not work in legitimate labor have plenty of time to devise new ways to steal.

    Of course, these problems fall disproportionately on the elderly. After a long life of welcoming phone calls because they came from family and friends, it is hard to remember that the person on the line might be a thief. It has taken us years to learn that we must always keep our houses and automobiles locked. Keeping a lock on our tongues when we talk on the phone is another step into a new and dangerous world.

    The article never explains why the privacy protection of federal and state Do Not Call lists suddenly quit working. I was on both and enjoyed years of peace, but that has evaporated. Have the robo-callers become so smart that they evade detection or has enforcement of no-call protection been abandoned?

    The news story focuses on cell phones. It states that phone companies are working on apps that will protect against scammers. They are not ready yet. Besides, there is a problem for the elderly. Many still rely on traditional telephones and the apps are for cell phones. Even if they use cell phones, they might not know how to navigate the world of apps. Finally, will new apps cost money? The world of electronic business is not famous for kindness to slow learners, especially the aged poor who cannot afford new smartphones every year.

    Back to the issue of Do Not Call protection, what happened to that? Granted, there have been massive failures in protection. Employee records were compromised in South Carolina, exposing thousands to potential identity theft. Secret federal files were stolen and published. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's e-mails were hacked. We are told that governments and all sorts of businesses spend billions on cyber security, one of the fastest growing specialties in the world. Is protection impossible?

    If it is possible to design airplanes that cannot be detected by radar, why is it impossible to develop the technology needed to stop robo-callers? The cat-and-mouse games of blocking them is not enough. They must be found, arrested, stripped of their wealth and jailed with long sentences. It is true that these scams are often international operations, but there is international police cooperation and financial inducements that would encourage other governments to track down thieves. In truth, part of the operation is always in this country, therefore subject to the criminal justice and penal systems of the United States.

    To put more teeth into enforcement, existing laws that provide special protection for the elderly should be made a part of the charges in all cases of fraud and identity theft when the victims are seniors. At every level, the government can and should do more to protect senior citizens. Educating them would help. Enforcement is a duty. Greater cooperation in shared information and technology among government agencies, phone companies and cyber innovators would help to find solutions sooner.


    Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.



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