Phone Wars

The last 48 hours has been pretty horrible for my peace of mind. On Friday morning my cell phone started ringing. And then it rang every single hour for the rest of the day. 13 calls before it stopped for the night.

I never answer when it’s out of area and I don’t know the number, so I googled as usual. Sure enough it’s a reported overseas telemarketing scam. A clumsy one, at that. They basically just ask you for your credit card number. They’re using several numbers, most of which originate from a Slovakia country code, but they’re also doing some spoofing and using Kentucky, California and Washington DC area codes.

From the sound of it they’re using an autodialer and hammering people hourly until they finally give in and answer. Some of the reports say threatening to call the police gets them to stop. Others say nothing stops it, and the calls just start back up again.

By the 9th call I was going crazy. I can’t just turn my phone off, what of daycare calls? I did some research but there’s no way for any wireless provider to block numbers unless you opt into a $5/month family protection plan. At call #11 I opted in.

I immediately blocked all spammers who had called me in the last week, Identified by searching the 1-800-notes website for complaints. For about 90 minutes I had relief. Then it got worse.

I stated getting caller ID blocked calls. Again, like clockwork once an hour. Finally they stopped and didn’t call back for the rest of the night. The next day it started around noon, calling approximately once per hour from a blocked number.

I spent Friday night researching my options, looking for any way to prevent anonymous calls from coming in. Apparently it’s easy on a landline, but no providers offer that option on wireless. I started looking into jail-breaking my iPhone. I found two apps that sounded like they could help, but couldn’t be sure from descriptions that they could definitely be configured to stop anonymous calls. That was the kicker, I had all kinds of options if caller ID info was there. Otherwise nearly none. Which makes no sense to me. Why can’t you code something to look for caller ID data, and if none exists perform an action?

So then I found out about Youmail. It’s a free third-party web based voicemail service that has lots of options, including addressing anonymous callers. I read some reviews and signed up. Now any caller coming in would go to my Youmail voicemail instead of me wireless carrier system. Then I set Youmail to deliver a custom message to all anonymous callers. The message was, “Boop boop beep! We’re sorry, but this number has been disconnected.” This, I thought, would fix it. It wouldn’t stop the anonymous callers from ringing my phone, nothing could stop that, but it could tell them that they were hammering a disconnected number.

On Saturday the calls started again around noon. I turned my ringer and vibrate off, figuring anyone with a true emergency would call my husband if I didn’t answer. I figured I was just waiting them out. We went shopping, went to a birthday party, went out to eat, and all the while the blocked calls hit me once per hour. Around call #6 I checked my Youmail account. No record of the calls. No messages, no hang-ups. I tested my setup from my work phone by blocking the caller ID and it worked as it was supposed to. That’s when I realized why the calls hadn’t stopped.

The autodialer wasn’t waiting for the voicemail. In the brief gap between the ring and the transfer to the mail system it was disconnecting. So I never had a chance to make them think my number had been disconnected.

Fuck. I spent the next 2 hours stressing out about it. The calls were driving me crazy and I felt like a hostage. If I browsed on my phone I would be interrupted by a call. If I kept it out on the table the screen would light up with a call. The harassment was out of control.

So then I started thinking, what else can I do? I have a google voice account and a work iPhone, how could I make this work in a way that will return my sanity? Here’s what I did last night:

I forwarded my cell phone to my google voice account. On google voice I created a “whitelist” group of just the contacts that I wanted to get straight through to me. The rest were set to only notify me by email, which isn’t set up for push notifications. The whitelist group is set to forward to my work phone. I can get texts and browse the web just fine on my personal phone, as well as place outgoing calls. But the only ones I receive get double-forwarded through a google voice whitelist.

Interestingly, I checked Youmail this morning and found the very last blocked call last night did get through to the disconnect message and created a call record. I don’t know if they then stopped because of the time of day (they stopped in the evening on Friday, too) or if they understood the disconnect message.

Likewise, I don’t know if the lack of calls today means they gave up on me or if they’re giving Sunday a rest. We’ll see this afternoon, since they started up around noonish yesterday. If nothing comes in today we’ll have to see Monday if it was just a day of rest thing.

I’m sharing this because Ive found in my researching that it’s happening to a lot of people right now. Three different complaint sites are overwhelmed by people describing this same activity within the last few days. And seeing as no telecom service is interested in providing us with solutions I figured I would share mine.

I’ve had this phone number for 10 years. I don’t want to give it up. I’m hoping somehow I’ll get purged and forgotten so I can return order to my phone life. But if not I guess I’ll just have to abandon this number. Which of course will only help until the next time an overseas credit card scam operation shows up.

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About Smapte

I crochet. I crochet a lot. My speciality is amigurumi dolls based on pop culture entertainment, such as LOST, Star Trek, Mad Men and Firefly. I also crochet beanie hats with food items on them such as pancakes, sushi, burgers, spaghetti, or whatever sounds hat-worthy. Visit me at ThatThingILike.wordpress.com or Xanadoodle.wordpress.com.

Posted on February 12, 2012, in Misc and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. huh. is this why it seems like my landline (which is purely the ‘business’ line for the house) has been ringing pretty regularly? there’s been an uptick in this sort of thing?

    • I don’t know if there’s been an uptick across the board. All I know is that anecdotally I see a huge number of reports of this caller behavior and they’re all since jan 30. Some go back as far as November but the big upswing in reports of the hourly harassment are from within the last 2 weeks.

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