A reader wrote to tell us his young daughter got separated from him and his wife during Mardi Gras. Instead of it being a desperate situation, she called and told him where she was. “I found her in short order,” He says. His daughter uses an old LG flip phone with $10 a month service from Kajeet.com.
This made us think of other ways out of tough situations. Since she had an old-fashioned flip phone, it lacked apps, including the Uber app for calling a cab. With services like Uber and Lyft, no cash is required because a credit card is linked to your account and charged automatically. So if you have no money — say you’ve been robbed or lost it — you can still call a car to drive you home. Our Mardi Gras reader thought it would be nice if his daughter could order an Uber with her flip phone, and asked about “Texber.” As we wrote recently, Texber was supposed to let you call an Uber through text messaging but it never got off the ground. Despite much fanfare, the website isn’t there and the only “Texber” app in the app store does something else.
But that sent us on a quest to look for another way to use Uber or similar services. If you want to call Uber from your computer, you can, but the first time out you have to go to m.uber.com to request permission and sign up for an account. After getting it, you can call an Uber cab at m.uber.com from then on. This would be handy for those without phones. They could call from their computer, but unless they have a cellular connection built into their laptop and are willing to lug it along, they’d have to borrow a phone or a computer for the ride back, and log on to m.uber.com again. But often you can get access to a computer at a library or a hotel.
Another alternative is to get a cheap smart phone. We saw the “LG Tribute Duo” at Sprint.com for $30, with service at $35 a month.
The Persistence of Flip Phone Users
Hard to believe, but not everyone wants a smart phone. Last year, 24.2 million flip phones were sold, two million more than the previous year. Flip phone users praise their long battery life –two weeks to a month without a recharge, and the peace and quiet of not knowing what your friends and acquaintances are doing every minute.
The happiest flip phone users seemed to be TracFone users, who can pick them up in many drugstores stores for around $15. We have one flip phone and one smart phone. Joy uses the smart phone for navigation, photos, text messaging and apps. Bob likes the flip phone. He uses a printed map or asks for directions if driving out of state.
- Roomi, a free app for Android, iPhone or from roomiapp.com, helps you find an apartment to share, or a roommate for the apartment you’re in. Right now, they’re just in a dozen or so major cities, the latest of which is Boston.
- “Robinhood” is a free app for Android or iPhone from Robinhood.com. It lets you buy stocks without paying commission. Given that a typical brokerage fee is $10 a trade, the Robinhood people say they’ve saved investors over $22 million so far. You can trade any of 5,000 stocks and ETFs (exchange traded funds) on the U.S. exchanges, but no options or mutual funds. You have to give them your Social Security number to get started because it’s required by law.
- “Via” is a new app that competes with Uber and Lyft, but is only in Chicago and New York so far. If you find yourself in either place, you can really save money. If it’s not rush hour, rides in Chicago are a flat $4 (no tax) and $5 plus tax in New York. The reason they’re so cheap is that you have to share the ride with others. “UberPool” is similar. “Lyft Line” is in six cities.
Numbers Report: Robocalls
Most of the calls to our landline phone are “robocalls” — calls made by a robot. It may not surprise you to know that they want to sell us something. Every second, 963 robocalls are made in America according to YouMail. That’s 2.5 billion robocalls in March alone. For four months, Atlanta has been the most robo-called city.
Getting on the “Do Not Call” list is not enough. Call-blocking apps are better. We use the free “TrueCaller” app on our Android phone. On the iPhone, blocking is built in.
Ransomware on the Rise
Just the other day we got a call claiming to be from a “Microsoft Windows expert” who could improve our computers. We hung up; Microsoft doesn’t call you, you call them.
Most likely, this was the beginning of a “ransomware” attack. “Ransomware” is a kind of computer attack that either steals your data or locks it up in a file that needs a complex code to open. It’s called “ransonmware” because the crooks say your files can be recovered if you pay a fee. One time, Joy thought a call was legitimate and after handing control of her computer to the bad guys over the internet, the destruction began. She hung up when Bob urged her to and had to totally reformat her computer. (Joy is really too trusting. Bob, on the other hand, is a cynical reporter.)
Ransomware infections more than doubled last month. Every month this year had more attacks than the month before, according to Enigma Software. They looked at more than 65 million ransom attacks going back to 2013 and found these attacks hit hospitals, school districts and government offices, not just personal users. Here’s the report.