Tricking Caller ID Boxes, Robocalls Posed as Emergency Calls

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Nobody likes robocalls--political propaganda delivered via telephone by an automated service, rather than a live, phone-banking volunteer--but evidently the 2010 elections saw new levels of obtrusion, as consulting firms managed to game caller-ID systems and wrap said propaganda in envelopes of implied medical emergency, posing their calls as coming, for instance, from a hospital. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Jake Wagman details the practice:

Sherry Wright received a phone call last month that her caller ID said was from a nearby hospital. She picked up the phone, bracing for the worst.

"First thing that came to my mind was that something happened to a family member," said Wright, of tiny Turney, Mo., in the northwest corner of the state. "I was thinking car accident."

The call was about a family member, but nobody had been hurt -- the voice on the other end was a recording attacking Wright's mother-in-law, Judy Wright, a candidate for the state Legislature.

Just before the Nov. 2 election, hundreds of Missouri voters received similar automated calls targeting Democrats running for the statehouse. ...

But those calls actually came from a political consulting firm in St. Charles, which was apparently able to manipulate caller ID devices to make it seem as if the calls were coming from emergency officials. ...

Candidates in Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Florida have complained about allegations of similar caller ID chicanery.

Read the full story, including the contents of some of these calls and a discussion of whether this practice is legal, at the Post-Dispatch.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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