When it comes to robocallers and telemarketers, there are two kinds of people: those who would rather be dropped naked into a pit of snakes than answer an unfamiliar phone number. And those who WILL answer, but only so that they can scold, tease or otherwise torment the caller or machine on the other end of the line.

“I talk dirty to them,” says Roger E. Cyr of Auburn. “I say things that would make a porn star blush.”

“If I accidentally answer the phone and it’s some telemarketer,” says C.J. Tolini of Sabattus, “I start speaking French. They hang up on me and then I block the number.”

One woman said she keeps a boat horn nearby and blasts it into her handset whenever she gets a nuisance call. Others answer the phone and identify themselves as a police officer, FBI fraud investigator or deranged murderer — anything to keep the nuisance caller off balance.

Go ahead and have fun with those callers if you want to, but just about anybody with a phone will agree heartily on one thing: The number of uninvited calls has reached the point where it’s more than just a nuisance. It can be downright troublesome, especially for those who can’t simply ignore calls.

“I wish I could,” says Anna Pittman, who lives in the Lewiston-Auburn area. “My daughter has a lifelong illness and I get calls from so many — pharmacy, specialist on call, insurance and more — that I cannot avoid the unrecognized number. Often the call ends up being some robocall for telemarketing and I block the number.”


So far, Pittman has racked up a list of 82 numbers she has blocked, but the calls just keep coming, many of them from robocallers who have masked the number so that it appears legitimate.

“Wish I could just not answer,” Pittman says.

Debbie Baker Reed, of Bethel is in a similar situation. She can’t simply dismiss any calls that come her way, but the number of them that turn out to be telemarketers is frustrating — so frustrating that she eventually snapped.

“I have a child with medical issues and her providers call from different numbers,” Reed says. “I often answer the calls for that reason. One day, after getting calls about my vehicle’s ‘extended warranty’ three times from three different numbers, I spoke to the representative and told a horrific lie — I said my vehicle was totaled in an accident that took out my whole family, and it was painful to keep receiving those calls. I believe they finally removed my number. Not my proudest moment.”

We’re not talking about just a few random calls here, either. Some of our readers report getting nearly a dozen bogus calls a day, from live or recorded voices wanting to talk about credit ratings, car warranties, student loans, vacation bargains or tax problems that could land a poor soul in prison. One local woman said she got a whopping 33 such calls in one afternoon in mid-March.



According to Hiya, a Seattle-based spam-monitoring service, more than 26 billion robocalls — which use computerized auto-dialers to deliver pre-recorded messages — were placed to U.S. phones in 2018, up from 18 billion the year before. In its analysis of a month’s worth of calling data, Hiya found that each of its app users reported an average of 10 unwanted robocalls in a month’s time. Many more incoming calls, about 60 on average, were from unrecognized numbers or numbers not linked to a person in the recipient’s address book.

Gross, right? And it’s not getting any better, in spite of efforts from groups such as the Federal Communications Commission to crack down. Robocallers in particular are getting smarter, experts say. Spammers are capable of spoofing the area code where you live so that an incoming call appears to be local — or even one from a legitimate business you’ve used. High-tech methods enable scoundrels to generate calls from anywhere in the world, falsifying caller ID technology to cover their steps.

It’s a problem and everyone with a phone knows it. So, how do people deal with it?

In a variety of ways.

“Never answer unknown calls,” says Marry Anne Courbron of Greene. “They can always leave voicemail, which my phone transcribes to written word. At a fast glance I can see what it is. Also at the end of day I go into recent calls and block, then delete, the phone number of every one.”

“On my phone, the only time my phone rings is when it’s from a contact that I have assigned a ringtone to,” says Gail Lebrun-Botma of Lisbon Falls. “Other than that, my phone is silent.”


“I never answer unknown numbers — if it’s important there’ll be a message left,” says Barbara Dupee Kazimer of Lisbon. “If no message and I’m really curious, I’ll just Google the number. Often they come up as known spam numbers. If they do, I do a block afterwards.”

“I have a Google call screener on my phone that picks up my calls for me, tells the caller to state their business, and then it’s transcribed on the screen as they speak,” says Amber McCaslin Taurasi of Gardiner. “At any moment I can disconnect or pick up the call. Works great. Spammers hang up, real people state who they are and I answer.”

Unfortunately, Taurasi’s cool call-screening gizmo is available only on one particular phone at the moment: the Google Pixel 3. But fear not; there are dozens of similar apps on the market for both Android and iPhones and some of our readers have reported using them with some success.

Richard Bevins, of West Gardiner, discovered an app by taking on one of the spam callers directly.

Sort of.

“My Verizon phone is registered in Acton, Mass.,” Bevins said. “One day a couple of years ago, I got several calls from telemarketers from a number in Acton. I hung up on each one. Just for the hell of it, I called the number the calls came from. Nice man at the other end. I told him why I was calling. He didn’t make the calls, but he told me about a program called Hiya, which tracks spoof calls. It is a free app which you download to your phone. If it sees a potential spoof number, it alerts you before you take the call. A seriously good app.”


Hiya, as it turns out, was recommended by more of our users than any other phone app. So what does it do to help weed out those bogus calls that are always plaguing your phone?

“Hiya gives you the context you need to make and receive good calls,” according to the Hiya website. “Thanks to Hiya’s expansive algorithms, tens of millions of users are protected from unwanted robo and spam calls across the globe.”

We don’t really know what that means, either. The app comes with a built-in call screener, a blocked list and additional options available through a paid version of the program. Plenty of users seem to like it, but be warned. The app also demands a lot of permissions, including full access to files such as images, video and audio, the user’s contact list, device location and wifi settings.

Readers also recommended the apps Mr. Number, RoboKiller and Nomorobo for screening and blocking calls.

The company YouMail, which collects data about robocalls, also offers a blocking service they say will send spammers scurrying like cockroaches from the light.

“YouMail uses its patented technology to automatically compare that number against a giant (and growing) library of over 100,000 BAD numbers,” according to the YouMail website. “If it’s a BAD number, we’ll know it and ‘answer’ the call with a ‘this number not in service’ greeting and a funny tone. This takes you off their lists and stops them from calling you from ANY number they might use. FOREVER.”



With Mainers receiving an estimated 11 million robocalls each month, lawmakers are looking for ways to target the weasels behind the calls. State Sen. Justin Chenette of Saco is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit telemarketers from using robocalls by making it an unfair trade practice. State Rep. Ryan Tipping of Orono has a bill that would fine companies using robocalls pretending to be something they are not.

Will it help? Meh. Since it’s been revealed that many of those robocalls originate from far-flung parts of the world, chances are good that the people behind them don’t care much about local laws. We’d have to catch them first, and with the spammers already using the latest spoofing technology, that’s already proving difficult.

So what’s to be done? For some, the only option is to accept that there will always be nuisance calls and to find a way to make it fun.

“I just block the calls,” says Rachel Rodrigue Nadeau of Lewiston, “but once in a while, for kicks and giggles, I’ll answer and ask, ‘Have you found the Lord?’

“I sing Adele’s ‘Hello,'” says Casey Tripp of Sumner. “Or Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’ — they usually hang up.”

“A stepdaughter and her husband use what I call a riskier technique,” says Cal Brown of Litchfield. “If they don’t recognize the caller number, Jim answers when he’s home. He tells the caller to “Hold on, I can’t talk right now. I just stabbed my wife and she’s still squirming and I need to finish the job. Give me another 30 seconds.’ All the while he’s talking, she’s screaming, hollering and pleading in the background. . . .  My fear for them is that someday he’ll have visitors with blue lights and a lot of explaining to do.”

Not that we’d recommend any of that. Neither does the FCC, which advises that you never interact with a caller, live or robotic, in any way. Don’t talk to them, don’t sing to them and whatever you do, don’t press any of the buttons on your dial pad because that’s exactly what they want you to do. For some reason.

It’s all very ominous, and it’s enough to make a person long for the days of rotary dial phones — a time when the most serious nuisance call you’d get was from some snickering neighbor boy wanting to know if your refrigerator was running.

By the way, sorry about that. It seemed funny at the time.

Top 5 robocalls

Interest rates: The robot tells you the good news. For a limited time only, you are being offered a loan with zero percent interest. Would a robot lie to you? Go ahead and buy that McMansion you’ve had your eye on, sport. You deserve it and just about everyone must be living in McMansions these days: in March of 2018 alone, more than 120 million people got this zero percent offer via robocalls.

Credit cards: “Greetings, human. We are saddened to inform you that your credit card has been compromised and you must provide your security information so that we may address this matter. Do it now, human, before some scammer in Des Moines goes out and buys a huge screen TV on your dime!”

Student loans: In this scam, the caller advises that your student loan debt is way, WAY overdue and that to avoid being arrested and possibly flogged, you must send money now via MoneyGram or whatever. I almost fell for this. Was just about to send a load of dough to the caller when it occurred to me: I didn’t go to college.

Business loan: Woohoo! A friendly voice has called to inform you that you’ve been preapproved for a business loan! Break out the bubbly, friend, it’s time to open that clothing-optional bait store you’ve been pondering for years. It’s about time, too: In March of 2018, 54 million people received this offer, yet I still have to wear pants and a shirt when I go out for bait.

IRS: In this one, a stern voice warns that you have tax debt and if you don’t pay up at once, straight to prison you’ll go. I would actually welcome one of these calls. I have so many thoughts on the Federal Reserve, fractional reserve banking and the Glass-Steagall Act, I’ll bet I can make the caller cry, even if it’s a robot.

Source: YouMail

— Staff Writer Mark LaFlamme

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