03 September 2023

The Digital Detective ~ Robocall Killers

Minutes ago my phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID. Usually it shows ‘Spam Likely’ and I swipe it off the screen. This time it gave a name I didn’t recognize. An unknown caller could have something to do with business, insurance, medical… who knows? I answered. Here are tips I’ve discovered to deal with telemarketers.

old-fashioned telephone receiver

Tip 1

Like everyone else, I say hello immediately. I quickly say hello again and, hearing nothing, I’ll immediately hang up: a 1, a 2, click! Type A people do that– state your business or leave. Occasionally I catch half a syllable from ‘Mary’ or ‘Hector’ or ‘James’ from Indianapolis (INDIAnapolis) just as they might have caught my second Hello, but I’ve evaporated. I identified a spammer and dealt with the problem.

How does this benefit?

Robocaller machines initiate spam calls. I’m making educated assumptions, but it takes a couple of seconds to transverse the continents to India and then another moment or two for their operative to punch the connect button. They might hear my second hello, but by that time, I’m already gone.

But what if the call was important?

Naturally, they’ll phone back. In the course of fielding zillions of these interruptions, not one has called back. I suspect they’re geared to use auto-dialers but don’t permit manually dialing out.

Opinions to the contrary abound. Hanging up confirms a real person is at your end of the line, and, the belief goes, your number is marked for endless re-dialing. But, unless a robodialer hears the three tone SIT (special information tones) indicating “not a working number” or “number not in service”, it knows it has reached a valid telephone. It will try and try again no matter what.

Tip 2

Have you received a call from a cheery voice who asks, “Hello? Can you hear me?” Or a man who says, “How are you today?”

It takes training oneself, but don’t reflexively answer yes, okay, fine, good, lovely, peachy. You do not want professional spam callers to hear those words. Why?

Your voice is recorded on a separate track from theirs. That makes it easier to race through a recording where your mention of details can be readily found and identified. But it also makes it easy to manipulate the semblance of the conversation based on affirmative answers about the audibility of the call or the state of your day. With a push of an on-screen button, a trivial program can take your answers and turn one conversation into another:

“Hello? I’m calling on a recorded line. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Good. How are you today?”
“Okay, fine.”

Misusing your answers can automatically result in repurposed recordings like:

“Hello? I’m calling on a recorded line. May I have your permission to continue?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Excellent. Can I sign you up for toxic chemical carpet cleaning, a new water hardener, a vacation to exciting DoofusLand, and a subscription to Mayonnaise Monthly?”
“Okay, fine.”

I stress reports of manipulated recordings are anecdotal chatter on discussion boards, but accusations recur and cherry-picking a victim’s responses is easier than you think. The result is that recipients claim they never intended to buy or even give telemarketers permission to call them. I’m not aware lawbreaking telemarketers have attempted to mislead the FTC, but simply initiating pre-recorded calls violates FTC’s own TSRs– the rules for telemarketers.

old-fashioned desk telephone


The National Do-Not-Call Registry (888-382-1222 / https://www.donotcall.gov/) would be a good idea if spammers paid attention to it. Register all the same; it might dissuade one or two.

This article doesn’t delve into some technologies such as STIR/SHAKEN, which caused a brief 4½% dip in telemarketing attacks, only to climb more than ever before. One of the more common tricks is to spoof the victim’s area code and exchange (first six digits) to hint to the recipient of a neighborhood call. Others will throw false caller IDs on the screen such as Amazon, Apple, or Google.

Visit your App Store. Following is a list of apps you might find useful. Some rely upon collected databases of known spam numbers. You might hear this in action if your phone chirp or rings once and then stops. It had experienced a delay finding the number in a database. While useful, database apps don’t stop spammers from spoofing valid numbers.

Let us know your experience and useful tips.

ActiveArmor EyeconNumbusterShould I Answer
Call BlockerFind Caller Reverse CallerTruecaller
Calls BlacklistNomoroboRoboKillerYouMail


  1. I'm like you, Leigh, I hang up immediately when I hear that dark gap of silence. And if by some chance there's a person, and they ask "How are you" or "Is this Mary", I say, "Who is this? Why are you calling?" And hang up. As you say, if it's important, they'll call back.

    1. There was a telemarketer who sthick was to ask for Dinah. By chance, my housekeeper/den mother is named Dinah. I'd say honestly, "She'll be back Wednesday. Call then." It was just enough to throw him off his game.

  2. I go further, Leigh. I simply don't answer the phone until I hear the voice of someone I know. I encourage people to leave a message so I will pick up the phone. It is terrible, but I'm told there is no telemarketing anymore. Every supposed sales call is spam to collect info.

    1. That well could be, Melodie. My answering machine died, so I can no longer hear messages without picking up. But yes, that definitely solves the problem.

  3. Elizabeth Dearborn03 September, 2023 13:58

    Ha ha, Leigh, people who know me would never say I was a Type A personality, but a few years ago when we had bill collectors calling here because of husband's medical debt, when I saw the collection agency's acronym on the Caller ID, I started answering, "State your business. You have five seconds." They never did state their business & were calling three or four times a week over an alleged debt of about $100.00, which only existed because of a mistake the Dept. of Veterans Affairs had made. After we got them to fix it the collection calls stopped happening.

    A former boyfriend used to work in telemarketing & told me some very funny stories about it. One time his company, based on the East Coast, had a contract with Sears (remember Sears?) to sell aluminum siding to people in Hawaii. I guess they thought the Earth rotated in the opposite direction, because they were calling when they believed it was six hours later in Hawaii ... but it was six hours earlier, i.e., 9:00 a.m. Eastern = 3:00 a.m. in Hawaii. But the punch line is, lots of folks in Hawaii were awake then, very friendly, & were happy to have aluminum siding put on their house!!!

    1. I miss Sears, Elizabeth! Forever warranty tools, solid appliances, better than original car parts… what wasn't to like? Okay, okay, so young man's fashion left something to be desired.

      After I had kidney stones removed just before covid, I started receiving calls from a collector. She was pleasant at first, but I was pretty certain I didn't owe anything. When I received confirmation from the hospital that my account was clear, she became audibly angry. I'm guessing she was on commission.

  4. SA has been slow on the telemarketing uptake, but is making up for it in spades. We tend to have heaps of calls with no-one on the other side - not sure how the cost of this call helps them or what info they're collecting, but equally irritating....
    Another spam-catcher app to add to your list is Tellow.
    "Mayonnaise Monthly" :-) :-)


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