May 4, 2016

Getting phone calls seeking divine assistance? You may be a victim of 'spoofing'

David Lazarus
Los Angeles Times

May 3, 2016


Prophet Manasseh Jordan
Prophet Manasseh Jordan
Prophet Manasseh JordanLong Beach resident Greg Vogel can't heal the sick. Nor can he see the future.

So he's tired of being confused with a young televangelist calling himself Prophet Manasseh Jordan, who say he can do both these things.

Vogel, 59, says he's received dozens of calls from seekers of divine assistance, who tell him his number appeared on their caller ID screen during Jordan's robocalls. That's a telecom trick known as "spoofing," which is how telemarketers try to fool people into picking up the phone.

"I don't know why he's using my number," Vogel told me. "But for the last two years I've been getting calls from lots of people who think they're going to reach Prophet Manasseh. They're usually disappointed when they get me instead."

Robocalls and spoofing have grown into a major annoyance. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 3 million robocall-related complaints last year.

Jordan's robocalls, which have been posted online, typically promise a "financial blessing" if you call him back or send him an email. Doing so will result in solicitations for donations to curry additional favor with the Almighty.

Oral Roberts popularized so-called seed faith — giving money to receive money — in the 1970s. It's now a mainstay of televangelism, with the likes of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar being among the more prominent practitioners. Hinn serves as a sort of mentor for Jordan, appearing with him at faith-healing events.

Jordan, 25, is a relative newcomer to what's known as prosperity gospel, although his website says he "began ministering at the tender age of eight." He is the son of Master Prophet E. Bernard Jordan, who has his own ministry and describes himself as "your most trusted name in prophecy."

The younger Jordan's New York ministry has been sued repeatedly over his robocalls, most recently in March. A class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York by a pair of Californians alleged that Jordan's robocalls were part of efforts to "commit willful torts for his own personal gain." The lawsuit was settled — as has been the case with most suits brought against Jordan — a few weeks later.

Jordan has been sued 19 times in federal court over the last four years for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and other charges. This year alone, he's been sued four times.

I was unable to reach Jordan. But Angelo Ellerbee, a spokesman, emailed me a statement from Jordan that he said would address "the matter in question" — that is, robocalls and spoofing.

After comparing himself with Martin Luther King Jr., who was "a prophet in his own right," Jordan says in the statement that "prophets prepare people for a day that is coming. It is in my heart to prepare the people for what God is saying for this time: stop the violence, shootings, the wars. It's a message of love."

I'm not sure how that squares with robocalls that tell people God is trying to give them some cash, but OK.

The lawsuits against Jordan complain that he harasses people with his calls. Vogel's situation is different.

If he's being spoofed, it's likely the use of his number is purely coincidental. I found posts online saying that Jordan's robocalls use a variety of numbers. There's also a chance people are misdialing a number given in some of Jordan's robocalls, which is very similar to Vogel's.

"People tell me I should just change my number," Vogel said. "Why should I? It's my number."

He said the calls from Jordan's followers come in waves, with each new iteration of robocalls. "They're mostly people from rural towns, almost always women, who sound like they're looking for hope," Vogel said.

He shared with me some of the numbers of people who've called him. I was able to connect with Lekya in Williamsburg, N.Y. She declined to provide her last name.

Lekya said she responded to Jordan's robocall because "he speaks right to my situation."

"I'm a believer," she said. "When he calls, it's like going to church."

In this case, however, it was more like going to Vogel's house, which was no doubt as unsatisfying for Lekya as it was frustrating for Vogel.

He told me he's contacted Jordan's ministry and asked that his number not be used. That got him nowhere. Beyond that, his options are limited.

If Vogel doesn't want to change his number, he could consider getting in line to sue Jordan. The Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits anyone from using "misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain anything of value." It includes penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

However, spoofing is legal if it can be shown there was no intent to cause harm.

Otherwise, the best bet if a number is being spoofed is to screen all calls using an answering machine. You also can file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

As for robocalls, I wrote the other day about a bill introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) that would require phone companies to offer free call-blocking technology such as Nomorobo. This would be a big help.

And it wouldn't require an act of God.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-lazarus-20160503-column.html
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