How do I stop harassing fax calls?
September 1, 2005 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I just moved and got a new phone number that I'd rather not change. Twice every night at 4am, the phone rings and there's a fax machine on the other end. The caller ID shows "Unknown name, Unknown number." Besides leaving the phone off the hook or hooking up a fax machine (that I don't have), what can I do to stop these calls?

Let me also add that the phone company says there's nothing they can do but allow me to pay $5/month for a service that blocks calls labeled "Unknown number," but I'll be damned if I'm paying money to stop this harassment. I'm afraid that hooking up a fax machine will only encourage the calls and won't reveal anything to me, but I'm starting to think it's worth the risk.
posted by Gudlyf to Technology (19 answers total)
The company I have my phone with allows you up to 5 numbers that they will block for free. Ask your company if they offer something similar. I'm thinking you could *69 and then block that specific number. I would assume this is an automated thing and that the number doesn't change from night to night. I guess you could try *69 several nights in a row to see if the number changes. If it does then my idea won't work :(

Good Luck!
posted by LunaticFringe at 6:53 AM on September 1, 2005

I'd hook up a fax machine. There's a good chance that will lead you to finding the identity of the caller.

Also, why don't you just call the phone company and say "please block whomever just called me, they keep calling all the time and it's bothering me?"
posted by rxrfrx at 6:56 AM on September 1, 2005

I think hooking up a fax machine before you go to bed would be an effective and potentially fun way of finding out where the call is originating. Seems the obvious fix to me.
posted by glenwood at 6:57 AM on September 1, 2005

Here's an idea - borrow a fax machine for a night and hook it up so you can see what they're faxing you. Then you might be able to tell who's sending it, and you can call them to tell them they have the wrong number.

Alternate idea - forward your calls to a fax number for one night.
posted by kdern at 6:58 AM on September 1, 2005

If your computer has a modem, you can probably find fax software to use instead of looking for an actual fax machine. I think both Windows and OS X come with some kind of fax software.
posted by odinsdream at 7:05 AM on September 1, 2005

If your computer has a modem

God, I just love hearing that. It's like 1987 all over again. Someday soon, people are hopefully going to be saying "What's a modem?" as well.

Mighty Fax has a free trial that would work for the purposes of receiving whatever that fax machine is sending that one night. To buy it outright, it's 19.95.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:18 AM on September 1, 2005

A somewhat similar thread.
posted by JanetLand at 7:21 AM on September 1, 2005

You could also *69 and then Google the number to try to figure out where it's coming from, and then call them. At 4:00 a.m., of course.
posted by Framer at 7:30 AM on September 1, 2005

I had this same problem, and I set my computer's modem to receive faxes for the night. Turns out I was receiving statements from a bank in Estonia. I found the bank's site, wrote an email, and the problem was solved.

I had previously contacted both the phone company and opened a case with the local police. This was as frustrating and pointless as you'd imagine.
posted by patgas at 7:32 AM on September 1, 2005

I think everybody has the right idea. Hook up a fax machine or your fax software for a night, and you should be able to discern the sender from the cover sheet, or at least the fax line. Even without a cover sheet, the fax line should give you a number to which you can send a return fax.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:40 AM on September 1, 2005

I used to work for a business directory company, like the Yellow Pages but more specific. Every year, in order to verify the companies' listings information, we'd fax them forms with our record of their name, address, what they did. They then would fax or send them back to us.

They would do these mass faxes at 4 in the morning. And inevitably, there'd be a couple of people who would call us and scream holy hell (rightfully so) because someone had accidentally transposed some company's fax number (or the company had gone out of business and some poor soul had inherited the number) and a situation like the one you described would occur.

Of course in those situations, we would fix it right away. I'm assuming this mystery company that's bothering you would do the same if you could only figure out who it is. The problem with *69'ing them is that it's usually a fulfillment house that does the faxing rather than the company itself, but you could try that route and track them down using Google before you hook up a fax machine.

On the other hand, what if you were to turn your ringer off at night for a little while?
posted by veronica sawyer at 7:41 AM on September 1, 2005

I get calls from about 5 fax machines a day at work, because my number used to be a fax number, and could never really do anything about it. But we recently got call display, and I've found that faxing them back and telling them they're not reaching a fax machine to have cut the number of them dramatically. I still do, however, have the trouble of those numbers which show up as unknown. If I could receive the faxes and figure out who they were from, I think I'd have much the same success with getting them to stop as I do with the known numbers. Thus I second the advice to hook up a machine, get a number and contact them to stop.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2005

The problem with *69 is that I don't have that feature on my line, and the line is listing as an "Unknown number" anyway (via caller id). As I said, calling the phone company did nothing -- they cannot block one number without my paying a monthly fee (no f'ing way). So I guess I'll attach a fax machine and pray it has a way of contacting someone on it. Thanks all.
posted by Gudlyf at 8:44 AM on September 1, 2005

Should just mention that there's a good chance it's not a fax - plenty of remote devices (coke machines, water level sensors, air condition monitors, etc etc etc) call home on a regular basis.

I'd still try the fax/modem route first, though.
posted by Leon at 9:01 AM on September 1, 2005

If I could receive the faxes and figure out who they were from, I think I'd have much the same success with getting them to stop as I do with the known numbers.

I have received junk faxes with opt-out phone numbers that were continuously "busy," which led me to believe that they weren't trying to be sweet and helpful about removing my number from the list. Sometimes knowing where the call is coming from won't help. And if your number is on a list that's been sold, faxes will keep coming from other places. I've been waiting 11 years for them to stop entirely, but I still get the calls, oh, about every two weeks or so.
posted by JanetLand at 9:03 AM on September 1, 2005

Call the phone company back and put some pressure on them. Their claim they have no other solutions is bunk. includes some information on 'traps' and call tracing (a service I remember being shilled by BellSouth back in the stone ages when I still had a land line). You don't say where you are so I dunno if there's some state laws on your side in this. The above link mentions CA.

Being called at 4am definately is outside the range of acceptable contact for sales calls and you can inform the phone company that you intend to file suit under the private right of action against telemarketing violations. In order to do so you must know who you're suing and ask them who you need to subpoena. Obviously the real goal is just to make it stop but the phone company is going to continue to drag their heels untill you make it clear you're not going away.
posted by phearlez at 9:21 AM on September 1, 2005

I had this problem, too.

I called Qwest, my phone provider, and they said to log the precise time when they called and gave me a phone # to call to report it. They traced the phone # back on their end and put a stop to it.
posted by SpecialK at 10:09 AM on September 1, 2005

This happened to me too, and faxing back eventually eliminated all the calls (took about a month--my number had belonged to a mortgage broker so the calls were coming from multiple faxes). Turned out the phone company had assigned our residence a phone number that had been active commercial only a month earlier. That was how I learned that when you sign up for new service, you have the right to (*hint*) insist on a number that's been disconnected for at least X number of months. No more midnight calls--sweeeeet!
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:56 AM on September 1, 2005

Check with your local hospital's labratory. This sounds a lot like a nightly lab report fax batch being sent out.
posted by Elvis at 10:48 AM on September 2, 2005

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