Pranks for nothing: anonymous, international version.
November 21, 2013 10:44 AM   Subscribe

For the last day, my phone has been targeted by the "have two random cellphones call each other simultaneously and see what happens when someone picks up" prank, similar to what is available through websites I won't advertise here. (Google, "have two phones call each other prank." Yes, I looked up the 4 I could find, and registered on all of them to have my number's still happening.)

If you're not familiar, here's what it looks like at the user end:

1) I get a "call" from an international number (always different, seemingly at random, so far have included Russia, Mexico, India, etc.). I don't pick up (but voicemail does; see below).

2) The voice mail I get is actually a confused person saying some version of "hello? hello? who is this? Is anyone there? etc."

3) My phone software (Android) actually lists these on my call record as "calls dialed." (Interesting: if it doesn't go to voicemail, it registers as a "missed call'.).

4) I called my carrier and they said that they don't have phone records that these are outgoing calls I am dialing, so I am not being charged any international call fees (I was concerned that might be a motive). They put also a block on international calls on my phone....but they are still coming through.

5) In the last 24 hours, I have gotten close to 30 calls--none came in overnight (they stopped between 8pm and 8am, interestingly enough). but they have come in anywhere from one minute apart to 20 minutes apart.

There is no way to trace the origin of the pranker and because my billing is not being affected, my carrier says there really isn't anything they can do about it short of changing my number. I can't think of anyone in my personal life I could suspect/contact as a possible culprit. The only causal possibility I can think of is the Whatsapp update yesterday (which I just signed up for and haven't actually used to send messages yet), but I haven't read evidence that this is happening to anyone else--or maybe a really aggressivem abusive scam telemarketer based in South Asia I had to file an FCC complaint against, but that incident was months ago. (My number is not posted on Facebook, in directories, etc.) It seems distinctive to me that all the numbers I am being spoofed with (I am in the U.S. with a U.S. number) have exclusively been international numbers, all different, from multiple countries.

I am not actually that interested in the technical details of what this is or how it is being done--my questions are:

1) Does anyone have experience with this, with regards to how to prevent it in the future, how personalized this might be (i.e. how worried I should be about other forms of harassment)?

2) Should I just cut bait and change my number now? The international block isn't working, and the best I've been able to do is use Blocker to only permit calls in my phone directory--which isn't sustainable for work/personal business. My carrier can't think of any other possible solution either.

(Anonymous in case this is a stalkerish personal attack.)
posted by anonymous to Technology (5 answers total)
Are they actually international numbers? That is -- are the people who are leaving voicemails speaking in American English as you indicate, or are they in all sorts of languages, if they are supposedly a variety of international numbers? Not that it makes much of a difference, but from your description it sounds that spoofed numbers maybe be another layer of this.

Alternately, have you tried answering, and asking the other people if this is something that has been repeatedly happening to them too? That could help you figure out if it's a one-to-many issue (if it's specifically targeted at you) or a many-to-many issue (where someone dumped a bunch of numbers into a pot to mess with each other).
posted by brainmouse at 10:54 AM on November 21, 2013

I agree with brainmouse that the caller ID is likely spoofed as well. I am not sure how committed to your number you are, but if it were me, I would wait a week or so before I changed my number. If it truly is a prank and you show no reaction, it will likely stop. Is there a way to set your phone to only accept calls from people in your address book? I can do that with Google Voice.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:33 AM on November 21, 2013

Mod note: From the OP:
So I listened to more of the messages, and the latest ones start with the ringing, and then a pick up, and now the folks picking up know my first and last name. I received 37 calls just today.

I looked at the FCC complaint form, and there doesn't seem to be a good way of filing online or using the faxable form--it's one complaint per number (and I have 37 origin numbers) and there's no real field to indicate what's happening. But this is a corporate abuse, not a 15 year old asshole.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 5:44 PM on November 21, 2013

I would talk to your local police department. I would also, after running it by the police, change my number. It sounds as if they are spoofing your caller id with your name and number (or maybe it is the correct caller id). If you don't already block your caller id info, start now.

I have (had?!) a guy stalking me on the internets and truth be told, there was not a lot a could do. It was sort of a whack a mole thing. I would shut down one avenue and he would pop up in another.

I would simultaneously get a google voice number and a new cell number. Give out the GV number to your family and friends. Do not give out your cell to anyone but really really trusted people like your parents maybe. With GV you can either put it on do not disturb or set up different groups to allow certain calls in. You can also make people identify themselves to ring through. You can put the people on your contact list as a straight through call.

Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:20 AM on November 22, 2013

You should immediately change your voice mail greeting to the generic robot-voice "you have reached this number" message, so that it doesn't include your name. (OR, you could change it to "This number is being used for spoof calls." Etc. But definitely remove personal details!)
posted by anaelith at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2013

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