Marcus suggests a solution to something that has also puzzled me

Like pretty much everyone in the US (is this a problem in other countries too?) I am so plagued with robocalls that I have stopped answering the phone and wait to see if I know the person who is leaving a message before picking up. But very often, the phone rings, the answering message picks up, but then the call is immediately cut with no message left. That puzzled me because I assumed that these calls were entirely automated and a computer would leave a recorded message. Was the computer able to distinguish between an answering machine message and a real person in a matter of a second or two? That seemed pretty sophisticated. Sometimes I do get a recorded message but that is rare.

On the other hand, even if a human being was on the other end, a second or two would not be enough for them to recognize an answering machine and they would likely start speaking before realizing that and hanging up. But they never do. It is always a second of static and then the line is cut.

So it was a puzzle.

But Marcus Ranum has a theory.

Just now I got three in a row where all I heard was the boiler-room call center ambient sound, then the caller hung up. That made me wonder what’s going on. And, I have a theory!

My theory: somewhere in a call center, someplace, a wage-slave has realized that they don’t actually have to annoy anyone – they can just ring the phone, get a pick-up, wait a few seconds, and disconnect. Depending on the monitoring system their capitalist overlords have in place, it may look like they are doing their job and annoying people but actually they are only slightly annoying people and the end result is the same.

If I’m right, then I am now less annoyed by the hangup calls than the stupid recorded messages which you cannot even unload stress on by verbally abusing.

So according to this theory, the human beings at the other hand are happy when no one answers because they can then place a lot more calls and get paid more.

It’s as good an explanation as any.


  1. bmiller says

    Maybe everyone with access to computer power should do what the amusing John Oliver purportedly did….set up computers to robo call the FCC Commissioners at all their numbers..

  2. says

    I think some robo callers dial before allocating a human for the conversation.

    When you pick up a sales person is allocated and you get the sales pitch.

    If no sales person is available then the robo just hangs up.


  3. Trickster Goddess says

    I never let suspected spam calls go through to the answer machine because that just means I’ll have to waste time later going through the menus to delete the message. Instead, when the phone rings and I see by the call display that it is probably spam*, I hit the answer button, followed about 0.36 second later by pressing the disconnect button. If it was a legitimate caller they will likely redial immediately thinking it was an accidental disconnect.

    *Likely spam calls: Anything from a toll-free number; any number that doesn’t have a name with it in the call display; and any number that appears to be coming from the same exchange (the 3 digits after the area code) as my number, or any number close to it. Oddly enough, I have never known anyone, even neighbours in the same building, who have a number in my exchange.

  4. Henry Gale says

    call center overlords monitor average talk time. if your number is too low you’ll get fired.

    they also monitor how many calls were disconnected within x seconds. if you’re hanging up on people then your number will be higher than the average of the call center.

    the issue here is likely a version of the one ring scam:

    if they can get someone to call back a long distance charge may apply or other nefarious trick.

    bonus -- if you want to read about life working in a call center check out

  5. Holms says

    So according to this theory, the human beings at the other hand are happy when no one answers because they can then place a lot more calls and get paid more.

    Having worked in a call center in the past, I can assure you they don’t get more pay based on the number of answered calls. Commissions are based on successful sales.

  6. Jenora Feuer says

    I think Steve Elliott has it. Machine makes call, detects pickup, then goes to see if there’s a human available on its end to attach to the call. If there isn’t within a couple of seconds, the machine hangs up.

    From the point of view of the people setting up the call centres, this has the advantage that the people spend as little time as possible on the phone waiting for someone on the other end to pick up.

    If you assume that the purpose of the setup is to have to pay for as few people as possible and keep them on the phones as high a percentage of the time as possible, then this setup makes perfect sense. In other words, perfect late-stage capitalism.

    That’s been happening here lately as well. Including times where half the phones in the office will all start ringing at once.

  7. bmiller says

    The Chinese spam targets immigrants with…questionable….status and urges them to pay up or be deported.

  8. lorn says

    It is possible you have it right.

    But, sad to say, it is also possible that what hey seek, or default to, is simply finding active telephone numbers and people who pick up. Any or all of those facts about your number can be sold for a few cents.

  9. lochaber says

    basically what bmiller@8 said.
    I get a fair amount of Chinese language messages. No idea what they are saying, but after googling, it sounded like a deportation threat scam, claiming to be from an embassy or immigration law firm or similar. I’ve no easy way to verify this, but it makes sense, there is a pretty large population of people of Chinese ethnicity in my area, and I assume there is a greater probability of someone in my area code being an undocumented immigrant from china, then, say, some random area code in rural Iowa or West Virginia or whatever (I’m in the SF Bay Area…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *