Between the 2016 political elections, tax season and the usual robocall/telemarketer harassment, being anywhere near a telephone these days can be a major pain. True, you can screen unfamiliar numbers and let them go through to voicemail or the answering machine, but there are other ways to deal with them. Signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry is one step, but a lot of sleazy robomarketers ignore it. You can also block numbers from unwanted callers, but those unwanted callers keep coming up with new numbers. What to do, what to do…
Let’s start with illegal robocalls, those automated spam calls that blast you with an annoying pre-recorded message. Most of the major phone companies aren’t much help, but the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission and have been battling illegal robocalls for years. The FCC has a complaint form on its site for harassed consumers and the FTC has an information page and an informative graphic to explain its efforts against the practice.
The FTC has even held contests over the years to ask the public to contribute their own ideas and solutions consumers could use to help fight back. Last year’s winner of the Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back challenge was a mobile app called Robokiller.
Another winner from a previous year: A free service called Nomorobo, which works by using a feature known as “simultaneous ring.” When simultaneous ring is enabled, your phone will ring on more than one number at the same time. When the Nomorobo number is set as a simultaneous-ring number, it grabas the call first. If it’s legitimate, the call goes through to your number. But if Nomorobo detects the telltale signs of a robocall, it hangs up for you.
The FTC’s robocall challenge also generated a collection of tips and tricks a few years ago that reportedly cut down on automated calls for some people. Some suggestions include investing in call-blocker hardware or services, or even putting the three-note “disconnect” tone at the beginning of your greeting to trick some systems to automatically hanging up.
Need more suggestions? Consumer Reports has done “Rage Against Robocalls” investigation into robocalls and reviewed several call-blocking options.
So what about telemarketers, those humans whose mission is to talk you into giving them money for something. As with the members of almost any civilization, some members are professional and well-behaved, and some are vile scum. A former telemarketer told the Lifehacker site that if you do happen to pick up an unwanted call, say “Please put me on your do not call list” and the well-behaved telemarketers will honor your request.
As for the autodialers and vile scum, you could always try a product like the TeleZapper, (which has been around for years and you can still find on Amazon), that simulates the disconnect tones when it senses the handoff from automatic dialer to telemarketer and dumps the call. Just look for a “call blocker” in your shopping searches.
But there’s also a newer approach emerging, one that takes a piece out of the person trying to waste your time by wasting their time by making them talk to a bot. These bots use a set of pre-recorded vocal responses to react to what the telemarketer is pitching and keeps them in an endless loop of pointless conversation — so telemarketers have less time to bother other people.
The Jolly Roger Telephone Company is one such service and it was created by a guy who had enough when a telemarketer got aggressive with his son. So he created a voicebot to keep the telemarketers chasing their tails. Then he wrote up instructions on his blog so other people could use it. Basically, when the telemarketer asks for you, say, “Just a minute” and then loop in the bot’s phone number on an Add Call or three-way call. The Jolly Roger Phone Company has a lively YouTube page full of real encounters with telemarketers. The site has US, UK and Australian numbers to use for the bot.
A similar Canadian bot called Lenny, which uses recordings that sound like a rambling old Australian man, has even busted political fundraisers. Lenny also has his own YouTube channel.
So here’s to all the creative types who fight telephone abuse! And since this is March already, don’t let your guard down against the annual surge of scammers pretending to be from the IRS either by phone or phish. And if you get a live fake IRS call — just give ’em a free cruise on the Jolly Roger.