‘Optimus’ robo-call epidemic: Dark Side of Campaign 2016?

Receiving endless robo-calls from 703-663-4117 or other numbers? A modest proposal for dealing with automated “survey” harassment, Election 2016-style.

This photo purports to depict one of the Usonian robo-dialers currently employed by Øptimus. (Original image via Wikipedia entry on robots, as satirically altered by CDN)

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2016 – In recent weeks, hundreds, perhaps thousands of hapless area households—including ours—have been driven crazy by repeated calls from 703-663-4117. This past Sunday afternoon I decided I’d had enough.

Does phone harassment have anything to do with this Usonian house in Oregon. (Image via Wikipedia entry on Usonia, CC 2.0)
Does phone harassment have anything to do with this Usonian house in Oregon? (Image via Wikipedia entry on Usonia, CC 2.0)

Caving briefly to the incessantly ringing phone calls I’d been resisting for the past week, I finally picked up the phone and listened to one call long enough to hear that “Usonia Research Group” was on the other end. Or actually, it was “Usonia’s” robo-caller conducting some kind of alleged “survey.” Here’s how my next moments unfolded:

The first question Robo-Rep asked was if it was actually I who had answered the call. “If yes, press one. If no, press 2.” Just for fun, I pressed 2.

Lucky me. The Robo-Rep promised to call back later. (Which, of course, they did.) Obviously, I’d wasted my time and (better) their time in picking up the phone in the first place. Thanks a pants-full guys for interrupting my day. Again.

But via this brief exchange, I now know that whoever you are, you’ve designed and launched an endless robotic loop that will dial my phone number again and again until you damn well decide you’re ready to stop.

The problem for me is this: I refuse to give in to this kind of harassment. For that reason, I’ll either continue to refuse to pick up the “Usonia” calls and thus continue to get the calls. Or I’ll keep inputting Choice 2 on the initial query, denying them the precise quarry they’ve fixated on, which again means they’ll never stop calling—and I don’t get to say a single word on the matter. Ever. So much for First Amendment rights.

Well, the one thing I have that this Robo-Rep doesn’t have is curiosity. As well as malice aforethought for being forced to endure the vicious and continuous disruption of my privacy.

“Usonia”: Not exactly designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

A Google search quickly reveals “Usonia”—a name that’s oh-so-cleverly cribbed from Frank Lloyd Wright’s term generally used to describe his line of middle-class-priced housing—is either an alternate name for this outfit or some secret identity for an allegedly Washington, D.C.-based outfit calling itself Optimus Consulting, LLC. Checking further indicates the D.C. locale is the local offspring of a mother-entity coincidentally named Optimus Consulting, LLC of Delaware.

The mystery deepens upon further research, which reveals that Optimus DC actually operates at several addresses. One is 709 8th St. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. If you’ve recently been getting insistent harassing messages from these folks, here’s their phone number should you decide to give them a call to express your opinion: 949-228-6162. Not a D.C. exchange, by the way.

Oh, and there’s another Optimus at 1100 H St. NW, Suite 1100, Washington, D.C. 20005. Phone number listed: 202-808-8716. Just sayin.’

There are actually something like a zillion companies called “Optimus” peppered across the known universe. This particular variant, however, is distinguished by the rakish slash that subdivides its “O”—as in Øptimus. Clever ruse. That initial “zed” may be increasingly meaningful to this shadowy company’s growing legion of robo-dial victims than might be intended.

Further investigations revealed that Øptimus Consulting’s registered address is located within the UPS Store located at 611 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C., 20003. Here’s what the storefront looked like in July 2015, courtesy of those ever-useful, ever-invasive streetscape snapshots readily available via Google Maps:

Secret bunker of Øptimus. (Snapshot via Google Maps)
Secret D.C. bunker of Øptimus. (Snapshot via Google Maps)

Øptimus’ D.C. HQ, located in “Apt. 274” apparently has a corporate neighbor, Keith Roofing, which is domiciled in “Apt. 248.” Nu Pro Mobile Auto Glass shares the same space. But as anyone who uses the services of a local UPS Store already knows, these “apartment numbers” are actually mailbox numbers in the UPS facility and are not “apartments” at all.

No doubt there are additional fine and upstanding businesses “domiciled” at this location, which is actually a good thing for small businesses that can’t afford an actual office at D.C. square footage prices. But none of these other businesses call you multiple times a day over multiple days, do they?

“Solve Your Biggest Problem with Øptimus.” Does that include phone harassment?

Here’s what Øptimus says it does on its current website:

Screenshot taken from Øptimus home page. They should add "Disrupting your life" to their list of features.
Screenshot taken from Øptimus home page. They should add “Disrupting your life” to their list of features.

What Øptimus actually does in reality is continually disrupt the serenity of its thousands of hapless victims with its robot calling system dialups. Apparently, it gets paid to do that, too.

Capabilities Øptimus offers to their clients include “opinion monitoring” and what they call “experiment-informed voter contact.” That means they’re prepared to drive us crazy: “…our philosophy of obtaining reads of the electorate with larger sample sizes (more accuracy) and at much more frequent intervals (dynamic feedback) has proven to be an invaluable approach.”

This so-called philosophy explains why page after page of call-reporting websites are loaded with complaints about the number 703-663-4117—along with hundreds of other nerve-jangling, time-wasting junk callers.

Unfortunately, however, call reporting websites are pretty much just complaint receptacles. They offer no assistance for helping you track down harassing callers or actually stopping the calls. You do have some proactive options you can take, and our final section lists a few of those available options based on your phone service.

But isn’t this whole routine getting just a bit tiresome? Wasn’t federal legislation passed years ago supposed to put a stop to this kind of asininity and nonsense? Well, it was. But the loophole in that legislation that grants a waiver for political phone calls is big enough to drive a truck through, which is exactly what those friendly Usonian folks at Øptimus are doing to who knows how many exasperated Americans.

A Modest Proposal

While we’re on the subject, it’s been reported that New Hampshire voters have been routinely lying to surveyors, pollsters and their ilk for years. Maybe even a few Iowans aren’t exactly forthcoming to pollsters, as we recently saw in the results of that state’s caucus. Perhaps it’s time for the rest of us follow suit. New Hampshire residents already know the stakes: “Live Free or Die.”

Let’s resolve to take down these proliferating legions of pollsters, eliminate their income sources and confound their game of reporting the political horse-race stories they gin up—stories that allow so-called journalists to avoid the substance of political campaigns while creating phony grudge matches, particularly geared toward sliming the Republicans, their unfavorite party.

So the hell with these pollsters. Let’s skew their alleged data—not only the Øptimus-generated data, but the data of every single company that makes a buck trying to second-guess, maneuver and manipulate the American public in such a way as to appear to meet their clients’ agendas.

To that end, let’s answer those robo-callers with a new and forceful message. Let’s resolve to pick up and press a few random buttons every time we get one of their harassing phone calls. If enough of us do that, we’ll succeed in rendering their precious data—so carefully and relentlessly gathered—completely worthless.

Let’s also resolve to lie everywhere and always to these intrusive boors, just as politicians, pollsters and so-called journalists routinely lie to us—particularly the real-life clowns who take those precinct “exit polls” the networks love to use to dampen the enthusiasm of those who might vote for a non-socialist candidate.

Such a concerted response might help put an end to the current American Idol model of outrageously intrusive voter sampling and electoral gaming, getting rid of the media’s horse race mentality and restoring some sanity to what remains of the American experiment. And perhaps some peace and quiet for the rest of us as well.

Alternatives: Blocking Ruthless Robo-Bastards

The National Do Not Call Registry (cited above) doesn’t prevent political organizations, charities, or telephone surveyors from calling you… whenever.

However, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules prohibit all non-emergency robocalls to cellphones — including political ones — unless the owner specifically agrees in writing to accept them. So if Øptimus calls your cell phone, you can report them.

If you have a cell phone, be aware you can select one of dozens of free call-blocking apps available via the App Store or Google Play. If you feel like you’re drowning in apps already, ask your wireless provider about other free call blocking services that may be available.

If you have a landline phone, open up your paper or online user manual or find the file online through your telco’s website. It is amazing how many brands of phones—even older models—have call and caller-blocking features. They’re free, so you don’t have to pay your provider extra for the privilege.

If you have VoIp, sign up for Nomorobo, which offers a free robocall blocking service for VoIP telephone customers. However, do be aware that Nomorobo isn’t available for traditional analog landlines or wireless phones.

Best of luck in reclaiming your privacy and your freedom.

Live Free or Die!

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