A post by Maynard

Maybe you knew this already; maybe you don’t need it because you’ve gone entirely wireless. But some of us still use land-lines…

Of course we’ve all signed up on the National Do Not Call Registry. (Anyone not familiar with this government listing service can go to the official website, or check its Wikipedia entry.)

Unfortunately, there are legal exemptions, such as pollsters. Other unwanted callers claim to have an existing business relationship with you, or they just ignore the law. Some use false Caller IDs such as 000-000-0000 or 123-456-7890 (and I’ve gotten calls from both of those today).

My phone was quiet until a couple of months ago, when it started ringing off the hook. I don’t know what unleashed the flood. Maybe the political season started it; maybe my number escaped into the wild. Anyway, the nuisance factor got bad enough that I started cursing Mr. Bell.

(I’m wondering, is this just me, or have the rest of you been likewise inundated in the recent era?)

What can you do to shield yourself? In theory, you can report violators. But that’s probably an exercise in impotence and frustration.

A more practical (partial) solution is to find a tool to block calls.

1) You can pay your phone company for the service. But I didn’t want to add to my phone bill.

2) There are a number of call-blocking appliances, such as this device sold by an Amazon vendor (and click on the “Explore similar items” link to see that there are a number of such devices). This model goes in the $70 range; not cheap enough to buy on a whim.

3) Maybe you don’t need a dedicated appliance. Panasonic cordless phones now include a call blocking feature. (If other brands of phones offer this, they don’t trumpet it in their product descriptions.)

It looks like the Panasonic call blocking is the same as a dedicated blocking appliance, except that the Panasonic list of blocked numbers is limited to 30, and the appliances will store hundreds. But if 30 enemy numbers is enough for you, then check out the Panasonic cordless product line. It’s an extensive selection, offering more or fewer extension phones, and varying ranges, not to mention an answering machine option.

If you want blocking and nothing else, the cheapest, most minimal phone I see is this Panasonic model KX-TG6511B, currently listed on Amazon at $34.54 postpaid.

The phone block is easy enough to use. When you receive a call from a bad caller, you just push some buttons to save the number on the list. In the future, when that incoming number is detected, the call will be intercepted by the phone and the caller will receive an error tone, indicating a line not in service. You can always peruse and edit the list of blocked numbers.

You can also set up the phone to block all unidentified incoming calls, although this might be overbroad for most users.

I just got one of these phones, and I appreciate the feeling of being slightly more in control of my home environment. I get that Chris Matthews tingling (or was it a trickle?) down my leg as I watch those unwanted calls get electronically repulsed.

If you’ve got a moment to spare, you might try feeding those mystery phone numbers to a Google search engine. For example, here’s a search on “123-456-7890”. You’ll find some interesting reports, such as this “800Notes” site or the “WhoCallsMe” site.

As an amusing aside, here’s something you shouldn’t try yourself, because this can only be done properly by professionals, and the rest of us would make a pathetic mess of it. But comedians have been known to play games with telemarketers. For example — and be warned before you click to this guy’s page; some of his work is less than tasteful — a man named Jim Florentine has done a number of commercial recordings of his interactions with telemarketers. He posts some short samples on his page, such as (these are links to mp3 files) “No, No”, “Ridiculous”, and “Broken Record”.

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11 Comments | Leave a comment
  1. jimbo says:

    Way back in the early days of caller ID, I bought a standalone caller ID display box from Radio Shack. It blocks anonymous numbers and will store any number you tell it to block. This appears to be the case with the devices you talk about. The fallacy with them is that the telemarketers seem to use an endless supply of numbers and area codes. It’s like spammers who change their address with each batch of crap they put out. In other words, blocking one number will not guarantee you won’t be bugged by dozens of others.

  2. Gordon says:

    This is old tech but use an answer machine to screen all calls. Many of us that still use land lines use this technique anymore to frustrate unwanted calls. They are beginning to become harder to find; however, V-Tech makes a nice little cordless and inexpensive model ($39.95) that I bought from Office Depot that works just find. One small glitch though; it fads in and out slightly if you have another phone on the same line, which is discussed in the manual. Anyway, telemarketers hang up leaving no message (except for robo-calls) and anyone that knows me will start talking until I pick up. Since the unit uses a “memory chip” instead of a recording tape it records until the caller quits talking for several seconds (VOX) instead of the 10-15 second limit some types have.

  3. WalkStar says:

    Thanks Maynard! Useful tips that can also be rattled off at cocktail parties!

  4. aardvark says:

    One of my sons has fun and goes televangelist on them.

  5. strider says:

    Other than an old school answering machine, the landline is now a black hole for spam.

  6. _CarrieP says:

    Whenever I feel like having a bit of fun with the unsolicited calls, this is what I say to them:

    I’m so sorry. I’d really love to talk to you but can’t right now. Since you know my name and home phone number, I feel like we know each other already and I’m certain we’ll become fast friends. So can I get YOUR home phone number and your name and I’ll call you back later…say right about dinnertime?

    Works like a charm! 🙂

  7. Maynard says:

    Actually, I’m already bumping up against the 30-number limit of my phone. Maybe I do need a dedicated device with a bigger list. This one looks interesting (same item on Amazon (apparently same seller) costs more; I guess the better listing is on eBay); will block 1500 numbers.

    Then again, maybe I’m becoming obsessed.

    • aardvark says:

      Ditto problem – I just upgraded telephone service in order to block obnoxious harassment lately and got the 30#limit. BUT>> now I have MORE features PLUS unlimited long distance at — get this – LOWER cost!! Many people are unaware customers can often do old-fashioned bargaining nowadays as companies are keen to keep long-standing customers and will often make concessions! As my mother is wont to say, “All they can do is say ‘no’!”

  8. Shifra says:

    Thanks, Maynard, this is really helpful! (Unlike the new BOR “tip of the day” feature. To use his own words, very dopey segment.)

  9. larrygeary says:

    Since I’ve made a couple of political contributions and contributions to charities, I am inundated with calls on the land line. For years I’ve had calls on the land line forwarded to my cellphone on busy/no answer, so I didn’t have to give out my cell number. The automated dialing systems these places use usually detect the transfer and disconnect the call, but I sometimes get one ring on my cell, plus the annoying notification of a missed call I have to dismiss.

    I’ve turned off the ringers on all my land line phones and disconnected the caller-ID boxes and now tell people to call me on my cell. I’m considering suspending my land line service for six months or so to save money and maybe cause the solicitors to go away. It’s kind of ridiculous to be charged $45/month before I even make one call.

    By the way, since you can do phone banking for candidates from home, candidate calls can now show up with the real name and phone number of a person you don’t know, not just a number that is obviously a solicitor, like area code 877.

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