Robocalls

Land Line

At home we have a POTS line. POTS stands for plain old telephone system. A POTS line when used for voice, as opposed to fax, is now commonly referred to as a land line. We have an analog telephone that gets all it’s power from the telephone system to which it is attached. The theory is that in an emergency, with all power out, we will still be able to make a telephone call with this line, such as calls to emergency medical services, or to the fire department. We also have what is known as an answering machine attached to the same line. The phone rings and if no one picks up on the fourth ring, the answering machine turns on and plays back the outgoing message. The tone sounds, and then you can leave a message of up to thirty seconds on the answering machine. I’m spelling all this out for those of you unfamiliar with concepts like POTS, land lines, answering machines, and analog phones. I know about these old timey things because as a child, my family participated in a party line phone system, but I’ve also worked in IT troubleshooting digital phone systems as a small part of my work so I am very much aware that the phone company we use has lots of services that would, for instance, eliminate the need for an answering machine. I hate the phone company we use and so engage in as few services as possible. I’m just here quietly tending my resentment garden. Move on, nothing to see.

Under Siege

We have had this phone number since 1996 when we moved into this house. We have given it out to a lot of people and services. Since we acquired cell phones we vastly prefer to receive calls on those numbers, and have spent years attempting to direct everyone to call us on our office phones or cell phones. There are some services that unerringly call the land line when we’re at work, office lines when we’re at home, and cell phones when we can’t pick up. But though they will descend to their own particular ring of hell, they are not what has us under siege. Do you know about the National Do Not Call Registry? Wonderful concept. You go to that web site and enter the phone numbers you want placed on the do not call list. Companies that comply, delete your phone number from their lists and robo dialing computers. You know that saying that goes “if phone numbers are outlawed, only criminals will have phone numbers?” No? Well, now criminals have our phone number, and I’m talking real out-and-out criminals. If there are real businesses that do not adhere to the do not call concept, they are not the thugs that are calling us. These scammers use blatant lies and cunning trickery in an attempt to defraud us. I am very afraid for people without the cognitive skills needed to deal with these scam artists. About eighteen months ago the calls started to increase in number. Now we get about six and more a day. We’re under siege.

Hog Wrassling

First I can tell you what does not work. Politely and otherwise asking how they got the number. Explaining patiently and otherwise that the number is on the do not call list. Remonstrating with the caller and asking them to please make sure to remove us from their list. Asking for a supervisor. Asking the name and location of the company calling. Asking for a dial back number in the case of those seeking identification information. The list of attempts I’ve made to quell the number of calls has only increased the number of calls. Never wrassle with a hog because you both get dirty and the hog likes it. Just the fact that a live person picked up is enough for these scammers to verify that this is a good number, a number worth keeping, and a number worth trading and selling. Chris Blasko is my hero.

Solution

Because there are a few services and people who still call the number, I held off a long time, but I finally tried a solution about two weeks ago. Now when you call our home number you hear an official sounding “this number is no longer in service” outgoing message. Complete with the official tones telling the robodialing computers to forget the number, the new outgoing message is now getting a different result than we have been getting. Previously we were getting messages that sounded like boiler rooms with lots of people in them with scammers repeating our names (Joseph? Joseph? pick up please Joseph!), and other very weird stuff on our answering machine. Now we’re getting a bit of dead air and then, as if by magic, a dial tone starts. I think this solution is working. Legitimate callers should still be able to leave a message for us but it’s doubtful that they will do so. In any event, we won’t be picking up. This will only work if we do it 100%. Hopefully, eventually, the robocalls will die out. Hopefully.

The Message File

I did some searching for the exact message that the phone company in my area code uses to warn callers that a number is no longer in service but I didn’t find one. I usually only get small blocks of time to do any given task. I did this in the car while waiting for my daughter’s aide to take her out of the car to report to work so it may not be perfect. Here’s a copy of the finished file after some trimming in QuickTime:

“We’re sorry your call CAN NOT BE COMPLETED” (.wav file, 2.5 MB)

Again, I only had a limited amount of time to edit it so I chopped off a useless intro and copied it a second time in case the computer didn’t catch the tones up front. I sampled about a dozen different files and it’s interesting to note that there are regional differences in the style and delivery of the message. However, they all use the three tone warning at the beginning of the message, and it’s that three tone warning that tells the computer to automatically remove the number. Or maybe they have their computers set to try again in case the situation is temporary. I can’t guess all the permutations so I’m just going with the idea that the computer receives the tones, and the computer deletes the number. With a human caller they most likely won’t remove the number. Doing nothing is in their best interest. Since numbers represent assets, they probably don’t want to be the one to delete an asset. I’ve determined, however, that nearly all these calls are initiated by computers.

If you want to discuss this, catch me on Twitter at @blacktelephone

Gaynor

Team Training February 2002 Gaynor came into our lives during the second week of February 2002 and died this past Sunday, May 18, 2014. She was fourteen years old. Gaynor met us during a Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) team training in Oceanside, California. Team training is where they match up dogs with recipients and […]