Don’t Answer

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Don’t Answer: a reader asks…

My phone is now ringing several times a day for seemingly no reason. Sometimes there’s a voice at the other end, and sometimes it just rings one to three times and then stops.

For the hangup calls, whatever you do, don’t call back the number that called you – this is a scam! Creative scammers have discovered that they can use a robo-caller to dial random numbers, ring once and hang up. When someone calls back, they get put on hold and per-minute charges start rolling up. This is a variation of the 900 number service that makes hefty charges to your phone account when you call them.

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While this is annoying, there’s only so much you can do to stop it. First, you can report the numbers to your phone company and ask that they be blocked. But you’ll quickly find that the numbers are always changing so it starts to feel like a game of whack-a-mole. Second, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. But I warn you, this may be a lot of work for little to no benefit. There’s not a lot of enforcement going on because it takes a lot of work to track down the perpetrators since they’re always changing the number, and will often move their working location around the world and run their calls through multiple switchboards to make tracing the phone number almost impossible.
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For those times when you answer the phone and hear a voice, often it will start with a question like “can you hear me?” or even just a hello with a pause. Our natural inclination is to respond, but we’re really talking into a recording machine – there’s no human on the other end. It’s an automated process that captures your voice. When you respond you’re doing two things: First, you’re giving them a sample of your voice so that they can then duplicate it for identity theft. Second, you’re letting them know that the phone number is active, which gets your phone number added to more scam lists.

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Unfortunately, your best defense is to stop answering your phone when you don’t know the caller. Use Caller ID to screen calls and let calls go to voicemail. Legitimate callers will leave a voicemail which you can listen to and decide if you want to call them back. It’s unfortunate that our telephone system has been hijacked by these scammers. The result is that more and more people are ditching their home telephones and solely using mobile phones. But even those mobile phones are starting to see more and more scammers. Like email, text messaging and social media, bad actors are ruining the experience for everyone.
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usnational-donotcall-registry-screenshotI’m not sure how effective this is, but another easy way to cut down on the sheer volume of scam calls is to register your phone numbers with the US National Do Not Call registry. Visit https://www.donotcall.gov/. There is also a place to report unwanted calls (after you’ve been on the registry for a month). Once your phone number is on the list, it stays there until you take it off.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Chris,

    When I get scam calls, I take the time to go into contacts and block the caller. Is this a useful practice? Since they change numbers so often, perhaps it is a waste of time.

    • Hi Jill, thanks for your comment! Since blocking callers on a smartphone is so easy (2 taps on iPhone) there’s nothing wrong with doing that. You’re right that scammers change phone numbers often, but the incidence of scam calls is usually much greater on a landline than a mobile number. For landlines, blocking a number can be a lot of work.

      If you haven’t already, you should register your phone number on the national Do Not Call registry. That’s at https://www.donotcall.gov/ and you can register all your phone numbers, which might cut down on the volume of scam calls you get.

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