"Hello? Hello?" -- Weirdest Telemarketing/Scam
January 8, 2018 6:27 AM   Subscribe

So there's this number that calls me three or four times a week (usually before 9am) and leaves me voicemails saying just "Hello? ... Hello? ... Hello?" My phone flags the number as "Suspected Spam Caller" so I've never picked up, but what the hell is going on?

By the voice, it seems to be the same woman on the other end of the line every time, but she still hasn't figured out how voicemail works after over a month of this.

My voicemail doesn't have a "Please leave a message after the beep" prompt or anything, but neither is it reasonable to imagine that anyone would mistake it for me answering the phone. (If you call me, the message you get is my voice saying "You've reached 256's phone" followed by a lengthy beep.)

She leaves between two and five "hello"s on my voicemail every time, but has never uttered a single other word to give a clue as to why she's calling.

I'm becoming sorely tempted to pick up just to find out what her deal is, but the last thing I want to do is encourage her (or the spammers/scammers she works for) to call more often.

Any ideas what this is all about?
posted by 256 to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My guess is you are meant to call back and it's a premium rate telephone number
posted by KateViolet at 6:31 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

It might be this scam: FCC warns consumers about new 'Yes' phone scam

Basically they try to get you to say "yes", which is recorded, and then used to make it appear as if you have given permission for something.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:33 AM on January 8, 2018

Response by poster: For the record, I am in Montreal and the calls are coming from a British Columbia number. Which makes the timing even weirder if they are actually in BC rather than spoofing the number, since it would be like 4 or 5 am there.
posted by 256 at 6:37 AM on January 8, 2018

Did you look up the number on 800Notes or similar?
posted by Seeking Direction at 6:40 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It might be an automated system that waits for you to say something back THEN connects you with an actual operator selling/ scamming things. This allows them to spend less money on actual humans, who are only connected to those who stay on the line.

If it's not an automated voice and is an actual person, it might be a person with dementia repeatedly calling an old number, which sadly happens.
posted by bluecore at 6:40 AM on January 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have received calls like this when I pick up the phone and just listen I hear "Hello?" "hello?" once I say hello back they make an excuse about their head phone not working. I believe it is actually a robo call where the system is waiting to hear you say hello before going to the recorded sales pitch.
posted by tman99 at 6:48 AM on January 8, 2018 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I've gotten this call too. If it goes to voicemail, it seems to be a person thinking I've picked up and trying to get a response. The female voice sounds so friendly I thought perhaps it was a student, so the next time I answered it.

Me: "Hello."
It: "Hello?"
Me: "Yes?"
It: "Hello?"
fumbling sounds on other end, slight giggle
It: "Sorry about that, trying to get my headset on! (subtle giggle) My name is Stacey and I noticed that you've stayed at one of our resorts..."
Me: "I'm sorry, I haven't and I'm not interested."

click. fin.

I thought that was the end of it, but the EXACT same voice with the EXACT same dialogue and intonation from a couple of different numbers has called since. It is so manipulative it just makes me LIVID. Or, perhaps there is an entire wing of a large call center somewhere in Omaha staffed by fumbling Staceys trying to get their headsets on. I just thought of that.

So the setup was a very good computer simulation of a hapless and slightly off-kilter telemarketer.
posted by Tchad at 6:56 AM on January 8, 2018 [19 favorites]

I've gotten this same call. Same women, I assume. It's a recording. I don't know what the scam is, but it's obviously a scam - I suspect it's targeting people who have answering machines (not voicemail) where you can listen to messages while they are being recorded and pick up the phone mid-message to speak with the caller. Voicemail on cell phones doesn't allow this, but landlines tend to have answering machines.

I'd check and see if your carrier allows you to block numbers - maybe you can block it. Otherwise, you should be able to set your cell phone to send calls from that number straight to voicemail.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:57 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I agree that even though it SOUNDS like a real person, it's probably a recording. The "let me fix my headset" bit is classic. You might be interested in Reply All's investigation into odd spam calls where the intention is to keep the person on the line as long as possible by playing odd recordings. This doesn't sound like what's happening to you, but they talk about a lot of phone scams in this episode and their intentions.
posted by LKWorking at 8:48 AM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I thought of that Reply-All story too. Somehow keeping you on the line is a weird way to syphon money from the local telecom company. But probably just regular telemarketer spam, chapter next.
posted by acm at 9:58 AM on January 8, 2018

I believe it is actually a robo call where the system is waiting to hear you say hello before going to the recorded sales pitch.

100% this. And the robot is not smart enough yet to figure out that it has voicemail rather than a live answer.

The "awkward salesperson" is becoming a whole genre in telemarketing. You hear it on radio ads sometimes, too, where the guy reading the copy says stuff like "the number to call for your FREE copy is...uh...oh here it is: 1-800-..." I guess the idea is that it's not a slick sales pitch (which we are trained to tune out) but instead it's a relatable, trustworthy person who just wants to help.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:25 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would assume its a spam call unless you know otherwise, as spam calls have become inevitable.
posted by theora55 at 1:50 PM on January 8, 2018

ooh, I get this too, but from a lot of different numbers and voices over the years. My outgoing message is very short - it just says "leave a message". When a telemarketer calls in using an automatic dialer, the don't actually pick up the phone until the dialer says that they have connected. That slight delay is just enough time for my message to play and the beep to sound, and when the actual person gets on the line, they can hear that the line is open, but don't realize that they are just speaking to voicemail, and they start saying "hello... hello? hello.. hello?" and eventually hang up.

Once I figured out that was what was happening, I have always made my outgoing message very short, because it's kinda funny, and I get less stupid telemarketer messages that way.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:39 PM on January 8, 2018

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