Coping with Unwanted Telemarketing Calls — The Night Owl Way

November 10th, 2017

This has happened to most of you. You’re preparing dinner or are otherwise occupied. The phone rings, and perhaps the Caller ID indicates a company with which you’re familiar. But when you answer your phone, it’s someone, a stranger, live or recorded, with a bogus offer for a product or service.

One that I receive frequently comes from some alleged travel service claiming that I had stayed at one of their hotels, and they have such a terrific deal for me. But I have to stop what I’m doing, write down the phone number and call them to find out. Of course I never stayed at any of their hotels or resorts, whoever they are.

Now I haven’t checked out any of these offers. I assume they are mostly scams, for why would they call people with fake claims, often using a false Caller ID? A spoofed Caller ID is illegal in the U.S., a violation of the Truth in Caller ID Act. Indeed, this shady practice is also employed by collection agencies, and even if they have a legitimate reason to call you, the practice is still illegal.

Normally, I ignore such telemarketing calls, but sometimes I have a few moments for payback, especially if there’s a live caller at the other end. If it’s a recording, it doesn’t matter what I say. They won’t hear me.

The simplest response is just to inform them that I’m on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry. You can put all your phone numbers on the list, and legitimate telemarketers won’t call you unless you’ve previously done business with them and haven’t opted out of callbacks.

When I remind a caller about it, they will often apologize and promise to take my number off their list. Indeed, it’s always possible they are telling me the truth. But it’s up to the telemarketer to purchase the full list of numbers on that registry, and it can cost a lot if a company is marketing to the entire country. If they violate the law, they can be subject to a fine, though I suspect that doesn’t happen very often except in extreme cases.

Perhaps the worst offenders are companies, or hackers, who call and claim your computer has a problem, and they are ready to fix it. Sometimes they assert they are from “Windows technical support,” but they never explicitly state they are from Microsoft. In every case, the Caller ID will be generic, and doesn’t present a company name. Regardless, you can bet that this call is bogus.

Now the obvious solution when you receive a call of this sort is to hang up. The clear goal of these callers is to somehow gain access to your Mac or PC via an online tool, and perform their mischief. They might install ransomware, meaning you’ll have to pay them to regain use. Or they might claim that you have a virus or another problem that they’re happy to fix — for a price.

Indeed, a former client of mine once fell for such a scam, even though I tried to explain to him to be careful about unsolicited phone calls.

So he was having a problem with his Mac mini, nothing serious, and asked if they could help. Evidently they did something that cleared up the problem, but the price was outrageous. He reported paying nearly $400 for their services. Lest we forget, that generation Mac mini cost him $599.

He was lucky his Mac wasn’t hacked. But the next time he called me to help him out, I told him that I expected more than my usual rate to help. After all, he was willing to pay total strangers far more than I would have charged for simple maintenance.

In any case, sometimes I like to mess with the people who claim to know about my computer problems, at least when I have the time. Their reactions can be humorous.

So I might ask what computer they’re talking about, and they’ll often respond, “Your Windows computer.” My favorite response is: “Only fools use a Windows computer. Are you a fool?”

They will usually hang up, or offer a vulgar response first.

Sometimes I’ll address the logic of the situation: “How do you know what kind of computer I have? Are you hacking it?”

That usually shuts them down, until the next call.

Just the other day, I asked: “Which computer are you talking about?” His response: “The one you use for all your work.” I then said: “I use several. Which one are you talking about?”

On that occasion, the caller switched to vulgarisms and hung up, only to call back a few moments later. This time the Caller ID represented a foreign country; New Zealand I believe. When I picked up the phone, I heard a few epithets before he hung up, for good.

I’m sure most of you know that not all of the people who call you have bogus offers to separate you from your hard-earned money. Some may be legitimate telemarketers that received your number from a mailing list service or a company with whom you’ve dealt. But you have every right to ask those companies not to call you. But even if your phone numbers have been  stored on the National Do Not Call Registry, it doesn’t mean you won’t receive any telemarketing calls, but the activity will be sharply reduced.

On your iPhone and other smartphones, you can block a caller, but if the ID is spoofed, it’ll just be different the next time. I do not, however, recommend that you actually talk to those people, as I do sometimes. But I enjoy upsetting their “programming” when I have the time.

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7 Responses to “Coping with Unwanted Telemarketing Calls — The Night Owl Way”

  1. Jim Polaski says:

    Good column and I reposted this to my FB timeline for my friends to read!

    BUT you forgot the scam where they call, sometimes laughing( a young female) and first asking “Can you hear me?”. The purpose is to record you saying “Yes” which they then use to hook you into things since you have said “yes” verbally!

    There’s always another scam!

    Don Crabb’s “Digital Czar”!

  2. Gregg Butterfield says:
    I bought one of these for myself and one for my mother, who has dementia. She would spend her whole day answering calls from telemarketers. Not a comfortable situation. The Sentry does have a white list and a black list, but it’s primary means of protection is different. First it has a message that says that you are on the no call list. Next, it asks the caller to dial zero to leave a message. A legitimate telemarketer will hang up after the message. A caller with a real need to leave a message will dial zero and do so, and will be added to the white list as a result. A computer will not know (at least today’s telemarketing computers) to dial zero, so it will not be able to transfer to a real person to leave a message. So far this machine has worked extremely well for me and my mother. She is irritated by the phone ringing once and then not ringing again, but she’s getting used to it. Considering a very scary series of calls I got once from a telemarketer who was irritated that I hung up on him, the Sentry has been a very good investment.

  3. dfs says:

    My strategy for dodging a lot jof unk calls: whenever my phone rings I check the caller’s area code. If it’s one I’ve never heard of, I simply don’t answer.

  4. John B says:

    I do the same thing with “Windows support” calls if I have some time, my goal is trying to keep them on as long as I can. I always ask how they know there’s a problem with my computer, and accuse them of “hacking.” I ask if they’re watching me right now. “I’m waving at you, Todd, can you see me waving?” I also ask about details of the “problem,” and have gotten some very interesting, if vague and nonsensical, answers. Another fun thing is I just go along and tell them I’m following their instruction. “I did click the button, Jim,it’s not doing what you said, maybe we should start over.” If I keep them on long enough, I inform them I don’t own any Windows computers. Funny thing, I’ve talked to people whose accent was so strong I could barely understand a single word, yet every swear word came through loud and clear.

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