Am I being scammed? If so, how does it work?
October 24, 2013 6:22 PM   Subscribe

A solicitation telephone call from a long distance number leaves a message saying I've qualified for blah blah blah. This happens literally twenty times a day from 10 - 12 different numbers. I was out of town for a few days and my voicemail box filled with these messages. They're not calling any more (more or less), but I think/worry that in getting them to stop, I somehow played into their hands. Did I?

When I got home to find that my voicemail was full, I was furious, so I found all the numbers associated with these calls on my caller ID, and called one to give them a piece of my mind and to say "stop." The response then led me to call each one separately to halt the calls.

When I called each number, I got a recording that said "Press any key on your keypad to be removed from this list." Initially I tried to wait on the line to talk to a human being to say "take me off ALL your lists" but nothing happened. So I pushed a number. The recording said "thank you" and dropped the call.

It appears that the numbers I call do not call me again. So in a way I'm satisfied. But it makes no sense to me that this would benefit them in any way. What do they get out of it if I call back and can't claim my "prize" (which would of course be some scammy thing that I have to pay an arm & a leg for but which they say is free)?

So that made me think that there's some benefit to them that lies simply in my calling the number. They are all long distance numbers, but the long distance fee goes to the phone company, not them. And if it were a fee-based number I would expect them to try to keep me on the line.

So is there any way that simply connecting with the number, however briefly, would cause my telephone number to be charged a premium that would be sent to them?

I guess if I just wait a month and look at my phone bill I can figure it out better, but I'm having a hard time letting go of the question. I know from friends who are more tech-oriented not to respond to scam emails but just to delete them, because by responding I would confirm that the email is in use, but I can't just delete 12 to 20 voicemails a day, every day for the rest of my life.

Can anyone explain this or think of any reason other than pure spite that any scam artist would do this? I tried to explain the question to AT&T but they just wanted to put me on a DNC list and that wasn't my question, ha.
posted by janey47 to Technology (7 answers total)
Scammed? I don't think so.

Annoyed? Yup.

Have you put your number in the Do Not Call list? It really helps. I stopped getting calls a few weeks after I registered.
posted by zizzle at 6:30 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There is a market for phone numbers that have been validated as residential telephone numbers. Lists of these numbers are sold to survey and market research firms or telemarketers. There are a number of ways to validate a residential phone number, some valid, some scammy. By calling back and pressing 1, you've proven to the company that your phone number connects to a human, and for a lot of these companies, that's good enough for them to claim your phone number is a residential number and put it on a list for sale -- even though the method you describe doesn't strictly prove your number is residential.

I'm not saying for sure that this is what happened to you, but it is similar to other methods for validation I'm aware of.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:34 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know but I can tell you for a fact that the Do Not Call registry is a total failure. That is, once you register reputable firms won't call you. The jerks still will, all day long. I have registered and reregistered ten times and I still get 40+ calls per week.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:38 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As to your question about whether it does them any good if you can never reach a human: I bet the messages asked you to call a different number. In my experience, the new number connects to a call center where a decent human doing a bad thing to get by tries to get you to pay $99 to "secure your reservation" for a "free" trip in the future.
posted by reeddavid at 6:59 PM on October 24, 2013

I used to get multiple calls a day on my cellphone (we don't have landlines). I found a silent ringtone (yay!) and created a contact named "Do Not Answer" and put all those numbers on it. Over a couple of years, the number of calls I was getting slowly declined, and now I get maybe one or two a week.

And I'm in totaly agreement with BlahLaLa - the scammers don't care about the Do Not Call registry, because I've been registered on it for years. They hide behind multiple numbers and false fronts so you can't get to the real company to report them.
posted by telophase at 7:45 PM on October 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yup....the registry is worthless. Not just because these types don't care about it but because many of these annoying phone calls are not even prohibited by it.

The Do-Not-Call registry does not prevent all unwanted calls. It does not cover the following:
calls from organizations with which you have established a business relationship;
calls for which you have given prior written permission;
calls which are not commercial or do not include unsolicited advertisements;
calls by or on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations.

When I get these calls (and I get a fair amount), I first just do a simple Google of the number. With the dashes too so it comes out ###-###-####. With that simple search, you will see if the number is showing up on the myriad of scam-call complaint sites. Then at least you have a handle on the legitimacy.

I also take a position that if the number is not in my phone book and/or no name is shown, then it is straight to voice mail. If the person is someone I know and want to talk, they can and will leave a message.

Finally, never get into the button pushing game. If a call is part of a some silly push-a-number-to-get-you-off-a-list routine, it is almost always a scam setup to let the call be routed so you can be sold something. They are poking you to see if the number is valid. That is all it is.

Once they get you on the phone, they have no end of preset scripts they follow to counter your polite answers and refusals. The phone caller's job is to keep you talking at any cost until they find an angle to get money out of you. The solution is simple: hang up the phone with no fanfare and get on with a more meaningful part of your life.

Whatever this person or persons are calling about, it is 99% likely they are trying to extract money from you whether you owe money or not. Let them do the foot work and leave a message. You owe them nothing other than an answering service (and not even that really).

The telephone is for your convenience.
The answering machine is for theirs.
posted by lampshade at 8:04 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's my solution to the uselessness of DNC lists. My official residence number is a VOIP line that never rings, because I don't have a phone connected to it. I give out this number in all situations where a home phone number is required.

Every voicemail to this line immediately generates an email with the voice message transcribed to text. I can see at a glance if it's something I want to respond to. Glance and delete (the email) is my usual protocol. Vonage offers unlimited voicemail, so I don't have to deal with the voice messages themselves, and the queue is never full.

For my real, personal communication I use my cell phone, and give that number out only to family, friends and people I want to talk to directly, like the plumber who's coming tomorrow or whoever.

Granted, this costs $30 a month, but I think it's well worth the cost to be freed from unwanted solicitations. Which I guess is to say, I value silence.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 6:27 AM on October 26, 2013

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