VOIP, Good or Bad?
Dear Ms. Smartphone: For many years I have rented out my house in West Marin with full utilities, including the phone line. As costs go up I am thinking of uninstalling the landline and putting in a VOIP (voice over Internet phone) instead. But I am also concerned as the renters are senior citizens who may be less familiar with the VOIP. Do you have thoughts on VOIP, goor or bad? Dale, Inverness
Dear Dale: VOIP is not cut or dry, particularly when you live in an area that is prone to fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. VOIP, which was introduced to consumers about fifteen years ago stands for ‘Voice Over Internet Protocol’. If you call for emergency help from a landline, say to 911, there is a database that can pinpoint your address. VOIP calls are transmitted like messages over the Internet, and harder to pinpoint geographically.
I imagine that a number of residents in West Marin continue to hold on to their landline, because they believe that the old fashioned service will be more reliable after a natural disaster. In the past the telco service was 99.1% reliable because it was engineered with redundancy over copper cable lines. Today, more modern parts of the network rely on fiber optics or wireless transmissions. You are not likely to know which parts these are, and hence, if your residence would be impacted by this change.
When VOIP was first introduced it created a lot of fanfare, but that was largely before personal cell phones. Today VOIP has several disadvantages, especially if your tenants are less familiar with the technology. Many people confuse it with a landline. The base station for the phone connects via a plug into the wall, and is subject to the same downtime of either the electrical system or the Internet During the 2019 fires, VOIP lines failed. Sometimes the Internet bandwidth was inoperarable. Other times homeowners forgot to keep the batteries charged, so that the phone could connect when the electricity did not. Perhaps you can educate your tenants in the intricacies of VOIP, good or bad.
However, there are other aspects of VOIP that you should make them aware of. VOIP has become more susceptible to robo-callers. Off-shore call centers work hard to uncover working VOIP numbers, and seem to bypass the “Do Not Call Registry.” In 2022, the FTC arrested a bunch of scammers after a multi-year (and Wired) sting.
Besides the barrage of annoying junk calls, there is a more sinister side. VOIP scammers are able to hijack a legitimate calling name or number that shows up on VOIP caller ID (This is called spoofing). Then, using that number they can trick another family member or close friend to answer a call. Alternatively, scammers may ask a potential victim to call a phone number attached to their VOIP account or enter personal information like a credit card number. While not all scam calls will end up draining a bank account or transferring money, VOIP criminals are hard to track down. They literally obliterate and expunge the numbers they leave behind.
Be VOIP Aware:
It’s confusing in this time and age to find the right solution and since these are your tenants, not your elders, it’s going to be hard to counsel them in good phone behavior.
But do not assume it is just about age. Although seniors are most vulnerable to VOIP scams, 47% of all phone fraud occurs among people younger than 50 years old. In fact, Nextiva reports that just of the total dollar losses reported, just 5 percent occur from people 80 and over. (Note: like most Internet polls, interpret and repost with caution).
It would be useful to know if the neighbors near your home in West Marin have also cut out their landline service. And you could check in on the local fire station and police station to see what they recommend. Now that the Apple 14 phone purports to connect to satellite service when cell towers fail there is a backup option, of sorts assuming you have their latest device. Finally, you might check the County for programs that will help your renters get up to speed with more modern telcom. If they are income qualified they will be eligible for both pre-paid or discounted monthly wireless service and phone devices. This will certainly help them if you must take out the landline and they have not yet acquired expertise with mobile phones. But you may want to keep the landline, and not a VOIP in place until they do.