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Unknown Caller
posted: 9/19/02

This morning I was running a little late, you know, on account of the foot, and the phone rang. Let me just say, no one really calls. So when someone calls, it's usually someone without any good reason.

It was 8:55am. This is five minutes earlier than, by law, the telemarketers are permitted to telemarket. Allow me to paraphrase:

This is Joe. I've been trying to reach you for some time. You have been chosen to win a vacation from a drawing you entered. The vacation is worth over $1,100. Please call me as soon as possible at...

Oh joy of joys. I've won a vacation from a drawing I never knew about! And it sounds spendy.

Christ. Can't these people do any better? And by the way, this is like, the third one of these that I've gotten over the last couple of years. Same script. So wait... maybe they really have been trying to contact me...

No, I didn't pick the phone up (on account of the foot). And on this point, it's become a little bit of a war.

I moved to the D.C. area about five years ago. Now, I've had an unlisted number for at least a decade. Which, by the way, does you no good if you subscribe to any magazines, or get any catalogs, or have a web site. Because people are going to sell your info. Because people are evil and bad.

When I first moved here I was getting, and I tell you no lie, on average, six telemarketing calls a night. You know, you'd pick up, there would be the second or two lapse of dead air, and then they'd say, "Could I speak to whoever is in charge of the phone bill?" (Yes, "whoever.")

One time I had a woman say that to me, and I responded, "Oh, you mean the CEO of Phone Bill. Well, I'm just the assistant to the CEO of Phone Bill, let me see if he's in. [Pause a couple of seconds.] [Phone muffled:] Yo! CEO Bill!??? [Back to telemarketer, who is now laughing:] No, the CEO of Phone Bill is out." By now we're both laughing. And then I hung up.

Eventually the calls started to cheese me off badly enough that I called the District Attorney's Office to see what one could do. Basically, there's very little. These people got hand. There are lots of regulations, they can only call from 9am to 6pm for example. You know, so only nine hours of nuisance a day. The only real weapon you have is the following sentence: "Put me on your Do Not Call List."

All of these telemarketers have Do Not Call Lists. If you ask to be on their List, they cannot legally contact you again. It's not enough to hang up on them, or ignore the call. They can call you back. You have to pick the phone up, and tell them "Put me on your Do Not Call List." It's a pain, but it works, somewhat.

So I started picking up the phone, waiting for the dead air to lapse, and saying, pretty much immediately, "Do Not Call List." Nine times out of ten I'd just hear a sigh on the other end of the line and a resigned, "Okay." And then we'd both hang up. After a couple of months of this, the calls started to decrease. One time I got a call over the weekend at some odd hour, I think it was like 9am on a Saturday, and I said to the woman, "Listen, I've already asked to be on your Do Not Call List, and now you're calling me again? This is illegal." The woman got all jittery and apologetic and hung up. In reality, she had never called before. I was just fucking back.

I still get lots of telemarketing calls. And I still answer a number of them. One improvement over the last couple of years is the addition of Caller ID to the household. I got ID. You gotta have ID. Now, you must understand, many folks have Caller ID Block. So you gotta get Caller ID Block BLOCK. Nobody out-paranoids me. Nobody.

You know those people who call and get your machine and say, "Are you screening? You're screening aren't you? Pick up, it's me." You know something? Hell yes I'm screening. Every single call. At least, I was.

But now, with The ID, I don't even have to screen. I take a look at The ID when there's a call, and if it's a number I don't recognize or someone I don't want to talk to, I don't even have to screen. I don't even have to think about it anymore. The ID tells me what I need to know, and I move on. ID rocks. I have The ID at work, too.

If folks have ID Block, they come up as Unknown Caller (the only tricky one is Out of Area, which can really mean anything, but frequently means Unknown Caller, which frequently means ID Block, which frequently means...), or, most probably Telemarketer. So... I usually pick those up, say, "Do Not Call List," and hang up. I've only had a few misfires over the years with this method. Once I hung up on a car dealership, where... the car was awaiting pickup. The claim ticket had a note on it that said, "Guy hung up on me, said Do Not Call List. [Asshole.]"

The ID also tracks every call placed to my house. So I come home and the phone is flashing and beeping and burping with info. And I'll scroll through the calls, and I usually see three to five "Unknown Caller" and an "Out of Area" and maybe a call from a live person who might actually know me. Don't mess with the ID. The ID Knows.

Anyway, my point? Unknown Caller/Out of Area, Out of Mind. I got ID.

[Postscript: I've just heard about Call Intercept. Yep, added.]

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