The Hangup Calls

My telephones (cell and land line) have become effectively useless, thanks to the ridiculous number of robo-calls that I get.

I’ve solved the problem by turning all the ringers off and adopting a policy of “don’t call me, I’ll call you” – basically, a 1st generation firewall. If someone needs to talk to me on the phone, they pretty much can’t unless they email me and schedule a time. So I’ve got to thank the robo-callers for making telephones no longer an important part of my life. I used to spend a huge amount of time on the phone but now when someone emails me, it goes like this:

Them: “Marcus, would you have time this week when we could re-connect?”
Me: “I don’t do ‘connect’ anymore. I only schedule calls that have a clear agenda.”
Them: “Oh, well, I’d like to catch you up on what we’re doing with ${stupid product}”
Me: “I don’t care about ${stupid product} and I don’t like to use the telephone any more. So, no thanks.”

I may as well just say “you kids get offa my lawn!” and wave a razor-sharp sushi knife at them. My email volume has dropped off, but I still get a ludicrous number of robo-calls.

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.

The democratic party used to call for money (I have never gotten a call from the republicans because they assume they own this part of Pennsylvania) but now they have stopped since I took to saying “I want far-left extremist candidates and you won’t see a cent from me until you ditch accomodationists like Nancy Pelosi and have some genuine communists on your slate. No, seriously.” It freaks out the poll-takers, because they don’t have a box on their form for “wants communism.”

Anyhow, if you happen to be one of the anonymous heroes who is doing hangup calls – take it a step further and call me and give me your boss’ home and cell phone numbers. And their mailing address, too. I know bad people who’ll take it from there for a surprisingly small amount of money.

That, by the way, is how to resolve the whole robo-calling thing: make phones useless for rich people and politicians. Since most robo-call legislation contains cut-outs for the politicians (so they can shovel their important messages at us!) it’s usually legal to robo-call with a political message. If I had the cash to burn I’d set up a call center in India to annoy the shit out of the political parties by calling all of their operatives, constantly, and have someone with a thick accent ask them “WHY CAN’T YOU BE MORE LIKE ALEXANDRIA OCCASIO CORTEZ?”* Remember – if it’s a political message, it’s OK. You could, theoretically, spam the crap out of Donald Trump’s cellphone, if you could get the number and stuck to political messages like “Vote for Hillary! She won the popular vote!” It would interfere with his tweeting but it might trigger a presidential concern for robo-calls.

How is it that any politician, corporate big shot, media giant, or politician’s phones are not ringing constantly?

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The phone companies have adopted a cute story in which they claim that robo-callers are able to avoid being shut down because they buy S7 access and are therefore able to use fake origination numbers. Unfortunately, most people accept that as true – ignoring completely the fact that the same phone companies have incoming call records and can tell what percentage of their customer-base is getting robo-called by what other percentage of their customer-base. After all, they sold them the S7 access and, while S7 allows you to take your origination number it doesn’t allow you to fake the peering point that the call was carried into the backbone from. In other words, they know who’s the robo-callers – it’s just that they make money from them, and us. And now some of them are selling robo-call blocking as a service to premium customers. In other words they are willing to sell out their S7 customers that they sold us out to.

(* Don’t forget to whitelist AOC’s number)


  1. Enkidum says

    For what it’s worth, I live in Canada and since they passed anti robo-calling legislation a while back, I hadn’t had a single spam call for years until a few months ago, when I (and most of the rest of Toronto, if my social circle is anything to go by) started getting calls in Mandarin telling me my visa has been revoked and I need to call the embassy at this number to sort out the problem. So we basically sorted out the problem here with the stroke of a pen.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    My policy is never to pick up unless I recognize the number. For the lat year or so I have been getting calls that, after I fail to pick up, leave a voice mail message in Chinese. I asked my co-worker what they say, and it’s something like “Nobody is home.” I dunno.

    Last week I got an unusual one: they spoofed my own number!

  3. cvoinescu says

    Enkidum @ #1:
    For what it’s worth, I live in Canada and since they passed anti robo-calling legislation a while back, I hadn’t had a single spam call for years until a few months ago […]

    The same happened in the UK about a decade ago, and it worked for a few years — zero calls (it was never as bad as in the US, though). For the last few years, though, I am getting actual people calling, and more recently robo-calls, some of which try to disguise themselves as real people (they say “uh” and “ehm” and “sorry, I didn’t catch that”, they even ask questions and wait for answers). All are illegal: they’re cold calls (accident compensation, PPI repayments), phishing attempts, or attempts to install malware.

    The latter go like this: “Hi. This is [name] from Windows Technical Department calling. Can I speak to the main user of your computer? […] We have received a notification that your computer has a large number of errors”*. They walk you through to the Windows event log, which is full of innocuous “errors”, then tell you to download and execute something, or grant them access to desktop sharing. Or: “Hi. This is a call from BT [British Telecom] to inform you that your IP address has been hijacked by someone in a foreign country”. Then they show you how, if you search for “” with a small typo (“whatismy1p”), Google gives a cached hit that shows an IP from Mountain View, CA (no points for guessing why). Interestingly, if you spell “whatismyip” right, Google shows your own IP in the results (so they’re doing the right thing, but at the wrong stage). After that, we’re down to install this shit and/or let us drive your computer for a while. Or, a recording: “This is a courtesy call from BT. We are hereby informing that your Internet access will be terminated today. This is because your computer is being used to launch attacks on our network [or send spam, or host pornography]. Press 1 to agree to terminate your Internet access; press 2 to speak to technical support”. I have not followed this one through, but I can’t see how it would be any different.

    * All quotes are from my memory (which is not what it used to be — at least as far as I remember).

  4. Dunc says

    My landline is broken, and I’ve deliberately not had it fixed because nobody I wanted to speak to ever called me on it. (Unfortunately, paying the line rental seems to be unavoidable if I want an internet connection…)

    The only annoying spam calls I get on my mobile are from my mobile provider themselves, trying to offer me upgrades. They don’t seem to be able to understand that I don’t want an upgrade as long as my phone continues to work, so I’ve just stopped answering them.

  5. anat says

    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.

    In the early years of the century someone at Amazon’s call center allegedly won several promotions for ‘assisting’ the most customers. His strategy was to respond to each call with ‘This is Amazon dot com, how may I help you?’ and hanging up.

  6. says

    Enkidum – I’m Canadian too and they haven’t stopped for me. I’ll still get calls that are just clicks, for fake furnace cleaning companies, and alleged credit card problems (my favourite is when they’re calling from Visa/Mastercard as if it’s one company).

  7. says

    Reginald Selkirk@#2:
    Last week I got an unusual one: they spoofed my own number!

    I got one of those, too! Naturally, I picked it up – and it was a robo voice telling me that they were calling from Verizon and they needed me to dial a certain number in order to calibrate my phone better.

    That was when I hung up. Because I know Verizon would never call a customer in order to make anything better.

  8. nickmagerl says

    “My policy is never to pick up unless I recognize the number.”
    That’s the answer!
    I got caught up in a scam several years ago with one result being an avalanche of robo calls from several area codes in the Southeastern U.S. I stopped answering all calls from any unrecognized number and calls from those numbers dropped off to nothing in 3 or so years. If someone wants my attention they can leave a voice mail.

  9. says

    I haven’t gotten even a single robo-call in my entire life. The number of marketing calls I get from actual people is less than one call per month. I do answer phone calls from unknown numbers.

    My telephones (cell and land line) have become effectively useless, thanks to the ridiculous number of robo-calls that I get… So I’ve got to thank the robo-callers for making telephones no longer an important part of my life.

    This makes me wonder about the phone companies and their business strategies. Personally, I don’t use mobile data at all. If there are no Wi-Fi hotspots nearby, I simply don’t use the Internet. I send text messages very rarely (I prefer e-mail for written communication). Those phone calls that I make are the only way how phone companies can get any money from me. If I and my circle of friends stopped making and answering phone calls because of robo-callers, then my phone company wouldn’t get any money at all from me.

    By the way, I got rid of my landline as soon as I acquired my first mobile phone. If I no longer needed to make phone calls, I wouldn’t hesitate to ditch my mobile phone either.

    Dunc @#4

    The only annoying spam calls I get on my mobile are from my mobile provider themselves, trying to offer me upgrades.

    Yes, I get these too. My mobile provider keeps offering me different more expensive tariff plans. I also get calls from other mobile providers who offer me to switch to them.

  10. says

    I have about 1 unwatned call per month, perhaps even less. It is definitively much less on the landline.

    I never got a spoofed call, only unknown numbers calls, and never even in one case of an admitted robocall, I still was talking to actual person.

    I sometimes pick up unknown calls, sometimes I do not, but mostly I do, because one of those unwanted calls from unknown number it was hospital informing me that they had to take my uncle in on an emergency.

    What is it we are doing righ here in EU so we do not suffer this plague?

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    More details:
    I am cell-only, having dropped my landline several years ago.
    I sometimes receive work calls at home from my employer; this used to be a pain because my employer formerly insisted on blocking their number; which meant I had to pick up all number-blocked calls. Thank goodness they stopped doing that.
    The call that spoofed my own number came while I was out of the room so I can’t be sure how I would have reacted. If it happens again I will not pick up.

  12. kestrel says

    I have to answer the phone because sometimes it’s actually a customer who would actually like to buy something or needs to ask me a question. I have to answer even if I don’t recognize the number. However, my phone will helpfully label some calls as “Likely Scam”. The other useful thing about my phone is I can block people. I block all telemarketers. I know they just use a different number but that’s fine, I’m making them have to use a different number every single time.

    I have not gotten a call where they hang up, but I did get a series of missed calls from the same number, so I called back thinking it might really be a person who needed to get in touch with me. However I got a recording saying the number was disconnected. Not sure how that works… but I blocked that number anyway.

  13. Curious Digressions says

    I cancelled my land line when I was getting nothing but spam calls on it, several years ago. Before I cancelled it, I had a message on the answering machine (waaaay back) saying that I’m screening my calls due to too many marketing calls and if you’re not a marketer, leave a number for me to call back. If you are a marketer, give me a number so I can call back with my penny whistle. No one took me up on that.

    I’m getting to a similar point with the cell phone. I haven’t changed the voice mail message yet, “leave a number if you’re not a robot”, but it’s close. Apologies to all synthetic persons aside, if I want to talk to you, I’ll call you back.

  14. Raucous Indignation says

    I received a from a Beto supporter that started with “Hey!” asking for time and money. I replied by text, “Hey! Beto can snort my taint!” Not original, I know, but I always enjoy using it in polite company.

  15. bmiller says

    My policy is not to answer an unrecognized number. I deal with more robocars when I work the front desk at my employer than I do my personal phone. I only have a cell phone, of course. No need to pay for service on my old land line.

    I have gotten quite a few random Chinese calls. I understand they are phishing to panic immigrants.

  16. sonofrojblake says

    I offer the following strategy for anyone (although mainly men, as you’ll see) answering what turns out to be a human spam-call:

    I used to try to be helpful. “Oh, you’re calling about the collision I had that wasn’t my fault? Which one? In the last three years? I’ve had three in the last week, I really don’t know why people keep driving into me. Do go on…” They hang up. I got bored of that though.I do know they work from scripts and I do know from acquaintances who’ve worked in call centres that they’re not supposed to hang up on you (at least in some cases – presumably the ones calling Marcus aren’t getting monitored that closely… yet).

    About this time last year a nice lady with perhaps an Indian accent rang up and wanted to ask me “just three marketing questions that would take no more than three minutes”. My immediate response, in the creepiest sounding voice I could manage, was “What are you wearing?”. It is a sad indictment of the kind of world we live in that she immediately saw where that was going and hung up.

    A week or two later another nice lady, this one with a Geordie accent (I do like a Geordie accent), rang to talk to me about the collision I’d been involved in that wasn’t my fault. “What are you wearing?”. A moment’s pause. “What do you mean?” she said. I would have thought it obvious. “What sort of clothes do you have on?” She hung up.

    The third lovely caller wanted to help me claim back my mis-sold PPI. “What are you wearing?” Quite a long pause, before… “Why do you need to know what I’m wearing?”. Ooh – a detailed question. I’m going to need to provide a detailed answer. “How am I supposed to masturbate to the sound of your voice if I can’t picture you while I’m doing it.” Freethought Blogs commentariat, let me tell you he did not like that AT ALL. He swore at me quite a lot, but he did hang up.

    And that was the last such call I received. I assume I am on some sort of list. Possibly a register.

    And before you judge me, remember: they called me.

  17. ridana says

    Back in the before times, you could pay to have your landline unlisted. I did not want to pay for this, so I had my phone listed by a nom de fon. This way, when the telemarketer asked for that name, I would immediately reply, “What are you selling?” This threw them off script, and while they fumbled for a response, I could hang up.
    For reasons far too complicated to explain, Comcast roped me into internet phone through an illegal bait and switch, but despite my specifically requesting the alternate name listing, they listed me with my real name. This has been a pain, and I’m looking for alternatives, though I may end up going back to Ma Bell.
    I’ve though about just buying a burner phone, but I’m not entirely sure how that works, and I’d rather not have to keep telling the 3 or 4 people who ever need to call me what my current number is all the time, not to mention official business uses. Even if they never call me and I never call them, they need a number on file I guess.
    I don’t have a cell phone, keep hearing horror stories that make me further resolved not to have one, and don’t have caller ID, or an answering machine anymore. 99.9% of the calls I get are sales and/or bots, so I wish I could just not have a phone at all. Given how often Comcast service goes out, that’s frequently the case anyway. And that will probably be the death of me – I’ll need to call 911 just when the service is down.

  18. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Enkidum & 6 Tabby
    I, too, am Canadian and I don’t think I have ever gotten a cold call, maybe one or two years ago but I do not have a landline. I have had about three of the fake Canada Revenue Agency calls in the last year or two but that’s not the same thing.

    Years ago when I lived in Ottawa my number was one digit from the local Via Rail arrivals number! I soon had the rather spare schedule memorized and just answered the questions.

  19. jrkrideau says

    @ Marcus
    Turning off the ringer probably is a great way to go.

    I believe the great Sir Ronald Fisher when asked how he got so much work done said he did not have a phone in his work shed.

  20. Some Old Programmer says

    The overseers are sometimes careless in how they incentivize the serfs. I have a good friend who worked an IT support line in the 1990s. Their average call duration was monitored, and escalating punishment was dished out when it went above target. So when the techs saw their average was getting too long, they’d just disconnect a number of callers. I wonder if management ever figured out why customer satisfaction with their support line was abysmal.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    For maybe two decades now, I’ve recorded a message on my answering machine starting, “You’ve reached Pierce Butler’s screening and answering machine at …”

    Nearly all spam callers hang up without leaving a message, but that still leaves me (if at home) with multiple interruptions per day. Sooner or later I’ll get around to adding a line to the effect of “Solicitors and surveyors, delete this number from all your lists and hang up now” and see if it leads to any reductions (as it should, by US law [I think]).

    They rarely call on weekends and never between 9 pm and 9 am – I don’t know whether due to regulations with serious enforcement, or just very low sales rates at those hours.

    Today I got a weird one – a message over a minute long of completely unintelligible bass audio-hash noise, but in a rhythm, with pauses, exactly like human speech. Probably a misrouted call from the not-too-distant future…

  22. chigau (違う) says

    I was getting calls from people who wanted to do some astrology for me. They have not called me since I pointed out that they are demon-worshippers.
    The bunch that were calling me about the condition of my credit cards…
    after a few times taking to the person in the call-centre, telling them to take me off the list … now I connect to the call-centre, say hello, put the phone down, and go do something else for a few minutes.

  23. says

    Back in the before times, you could pay to have your landline unlisted.

    That was a good example of the phone company trying to get their customers into an arms-race. Apparently certain marketing companies could actually buy lists of unlisted numbers for a price.

    I’m surprised they don’t offer robocall blocking for a fee. Then they could sell the robocallers unblocking for a fee. And then they could offer “super block” for a fee…

  24. johnson catman says

    We have a phone through the cable simply because it was cheaper to bundle than not. When we started getting robo and sales calls, I went on the web page for my account with the cable company and set the phone to accept only white-listed numbers. We only have about ten numbers white-listed, all family. That has worked to keep the phone quiet so far, and when it does ring, we know it is someone we know.

  25. says

    sonofrojblake @#16

    And before you judge me, remember: they called me.

    Why should we judge you? I was laughing while reading your comment.

    My own way of dealing with spam callers is to practice my debating skills on them. During the call they are desperately trying to stick to their scripts and control the flow of the conversation. That makes them excellent targets for practicing my skills of taking control over the conversation and making it go my way.

    Still, I do find it sad that we are unloading our frustration on innocent wage slaves who are stuck doing shitty jobs. I’d much rather unload my anger on the real culprits (their employers as well as the telecommunications companies and politicians). Unfortunately, as it always happens, the real culprits who have caused this problem are beyond our reach.

  26. sonofrojblake says

    Why should we judge you?

    LOL. It’s FtB. Judging is what a large part of the commentariat are here for.

    I do find it sad that we are unloading our frustration on innocent wage slaves who are stuck doing shitty jobs

    Until pestering people who didn’t ask to be pestered is the only job, I’ll continue unloading my frustration on the people who chose to do it in return for money. I suspect that before that happens, the pestering will be entirely automated.

  27. says

    Yesterday I commented that I get marketing calls very rarely. Of course today I had to get one.

    This particular caller had a really annoying and sneaky script.
    She: “Hello, we are making a sociological survey. Would you have a few minutes to answer a couple of question?”
    Me: “OK, as long as you don’t want to sell anything to me.” (I was commuting at the time, so I had nothing to do anyway.)
    She: “What is most important in your life right now—family, job, health, or something else?”
    Me: “Entertainment, I assume that’s ‘something else.’”
    She: “In what field do you work?”
    Me: “I’m an artist.”
    She: “What health complications worry you most?”
    Me: “Don’t know, my eyesight maybe.”
    She: “Do you think that in addition to food people need also vitamins and…”
    Me: “No.”
    She: “Would you be interested in receiving offers for food supplements, vitamins, and beauty products?”
    Me: “You just lied to me and screwed me.” At this point I hung up.

    The one thing that pisses me off about marketing people the most is their endemic inability to get straight to the point. Just tell me what you are offering, how much it costs, and what technical specifications it has. Don’t waste our time with pointless verbosity. Give me the specs, and I will decide whether I want your stuff. But no, a real marketing person will never do that, instead they will insist on pointless verbosity and intentionally hide facts about their product. Thus it takes me an eternity to decide whether I want their product or no. That’s inefficient communication and a waste of time. And it’s not just my time that marketing people are wasting. They are wasting also their own time. I am somebody who will never ever buy any food supplements, I consider them snake oil. It would have been in that lady’s interests to quickly find out that she’s wasting her time talking with me.

  28. bmiller says

    Unfortunately, as it always happens, the real culprits who have caused this problem are beyond our reach.

    Unless one is television host John Oliver, who obtained the numbers of the FCC Commissioners and had some fun…

  29. voyager says

    I’m Canadian and we only get one or two nuisance calls a month, usually for duct cleaning. My husband likes to play with them by pretending to be hard of hearing or stopping their patter mid-sentence to ask what the weather is like where they are. Sometimes he’ll keep the person on the line for 10 minutes or so asking annoying questions and saying he’s lonely and he’s so glad they called to talk. His goal is to make the caller hang up, but if they don’t he’ll finally say he just had his ducts cleaned by someone else…sorry.

  30. EigenSprocketUK says

    In the UK you can decline all marketing calls quite easily, but the bad operators still cloak war-dialled spammy calls as “information providers” and occasionally “surveys”. Opt out all you like – it won’t stop the war-diallers.
    Notably most of these calls now have fake numbers, often appearing to be from the same local area, or numbers which are simply impossible to call back or report.
    I put in a complaint to OfCom (the UK regulator of all phone companies, amongst other things) about why they weren’t putting pressure on all UK CPs (communications providers) to block the incoming S7-originated or VoIP-originated (but still S7-transited, I think…) for those upstream providers who habitually allow all the spammy calls through.
    To my surprise, I received a reply… from a real person. Though it was not as enlightening as I had hoped.
    Ofcom referred me to the IETF “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR)” initiative, which apparently will enforce valid originating numbers, and will force phone companies to relinquish their numbers if they make nuisance / spammy calls.
    However, this is still years from being implemented. By which time the spammers will have come up with something else, I suppose.

  31. bryanfeir says

    Also in Canada. I get duct cleaning calls fairly regularly.

    I just tell them that the heating in my house is all radiators. (Which is true.) They hang up pretty quickly.

  32. Dunc says

    I once got a call from a company trying to sell me a conservatory… I live on the 3rd floor. I was jolly tempted to get them to send somebody out to give me a quote.

  33. jrkrideau says

    And from Canada. I believe CMHC will tell you that duct cleaning under normal circumstances is not worth it. This info is quite old so new research may supersede my info which came from the head researcher on the project.

    On the other hand, one could “mis-hear” and try to get a quote on individual bird or by flock. Is Mallard cleaning cheaper than Muscovy cleaning?

  34. ridana says

    I got a robocall from Siri this morning which began, “This is not a sales call. We are calling you in response to your inquiry about obtaining a back brace for…” *click*
    I’ve gotten similar calls claiming I made first contact so I assume this is an effort at plausible deniability in case someone tries to report them for sales calls. “We were just replying and oops, mis-dialed the number. So sorry!”

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