Land line telephone that only rings for known numbers
February 12, 2021 12:15 PM   Subscribe

My elderly parents' land line is a disaster - most of the calls they get are spam or solicitors, to the point where a ringing phone is habitually ignored. I'd like to set up their land line phone to route all incoming calls straight to voicemail or an answering machine… except for their contact list.

Ideally calls from whitelisted numbers would ring audibly; calls from all other numbers would only ring for the caller, who could then choose to leave a message. Bonus if legit new numbers could be easily added to the whitelist while checking their voicemail.
Does anyone have any suggestions?
posted by Haere to Technology (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My dad had this functionality through his landline back when he had it. He did it through the telephone company, I believe. It was maybe "trusted callers" or exactly a white list.
posted by chiefthe at 12:21 PM on February 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bought a physical device (that I never actually ended up hooking up) for my mother, who had dementia. I was hoping to be able to call her while I was at work, but ultimately she ended up in assisted living before I needed to set it up. The one I got was similar to this one (same brand, not sure of the model though).
posted by clone boulevard at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2021

When I last had a landline and caller ID, I set my phone to change the ring tone based on certain pre-identified phone numbers. I changed the ring tone for certain callers to a nice cheerful melody, and all other numbers to the most boring, least obtrusive beep. I think it was a GE phone with a corded base unit plus a cordless secondary receiver. Perhaps your parents could learn to pick up or not based on ringtone?
posted by oxisos at 12:28 PM on February 12, 2021 isn't exactly what you're asking about, but it'll block a lot of robocalls/spam. You can block calls to a landline for free, apparently.
posted by adekllny at 12:52 PM on February 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I would suggest either talking to the phone company about it, or just giving up on the landline.
also sign them up for the do not call registry, it does help.
posted by evilmonk at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2021

This phone is what we bought based on Wire Cutter advice here. It actually comes with a freakin fold out flow chart for the set-up. The way I configured it only 5 numbers ring through immediately, all others must push # and say their name and then it will ring the phone and replay what they gave as their name (if I answer it).

So if I hear it ringing I know at least it's (probably) not a robo caller, then I can decide if I feel like answering it and if I'm too busy then presumably they will leave a message (i.e., local voice mail kicks in if it rings the real phone and nobody answers).

I have a home number that has only 5 unique digits in it, so somehow folks manage to get me instead of who they really want (go figure). And then of course add the robo callers. This has changed the number of daily rings on the home phone dramatically. Now somehow they need to solve the freakin cell phone problem.
posted by forthright at 1:46 PM on February 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

One possibility is to get "call manager" (or whatever your local service call it), where the caller must announce themselves, THEN the service calls you "you have a call from so-and-so. Do you want to answer?" It's a few bucks a month. No special phone needed.

Which cuts out 98% of the spammers as they just play a recording and thus cannot cope with the call manager.
posted by kschang at 8:06 AM on February 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Laura Daily of The Washington Post did a good roundup last spring of services that block phone spam. The article is aimed at newly working from home employees, but the information therein is relevant to anyone who has a phone.

If your parents have VOIP landline service that is bundled with internet service, then Nomorobo, as adekllny suggested, might be their best option.

It's free for people with landlines, and the way it works is that your parents' phone will ring simultaneously at their home and through the company's screening system. If Nomorobo recognizes a bad number, then it will disconnect the call and your parents will hear only a single ring. If the number is not in the Nomorobo database of phone scammers, then Nomorobo will let the call go through.

Re: setup: "Some carriers, such as Spectrum and Cox, offer one-click setup, while others offer step-by-step instructions where you use your online account to turn the service on," which took her five minutes, said Daily, a Comcast customer.

Nomorobo is not an option if your parents jump on the phone as soon as it rings (longtime habits are hard to break), or if they have an analog landline that uses copper wire, which can't accommodate simultaneous ringing. Here are the alternatives available to users of analog phones, according to Daily:
Check with your provider to see if it offers any of the following features: no solicitation, which asks callers to press one to complete the call; security screen, which requires callers to enter their 10-digit phone number or be disconnected; or caller ID with privacy, which intercepts calls that don’t show a caller ID and requires callers to record their name, and then you decide which calls to accept or reject.
posted by virago at 1:49 PM on February 14, 2021

Another option that's free is sign them up for Google Voice.

You can screen voice calls by forcing caller to state their name or company, just like call manager, unless calls are known to Google, like "Walgreens Pharmacy" or already are in your contact list.

Google Voice has a built-in call manager where you can block robocalls. What's even better, when that number calls they get "The number you dialed is not in service" (but to everyone else it goes through!) But you need to hang up and mark that number as spam.

And you don't really even need a smartphone, just a regular PC, though the companion smartphone app makes it easier to manage.
posted by kschang at 11:36 PM on February 15, 2021

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