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The Village Idiot: E.T., robo-phone home

Jim Mullen • Updated Jul 7, 2017 at 2:00 PM

I still have a landline telephone. People ask me why. I actually keep it because that’s how I get my internet out on the farm, but that’s not what I tell them.

I say things like, “I keep it in case my pager’s not working.” Or “It’s how I receive faxes and dial up AOL.” Or “I just love to listen to all the other people on my party line.” Because saying that you still have a landline is like telling people you still have an outhouse and wear a powdered wig. It’s not something you brag about.

Even though I rarely use the landline to call out, plenty of people use it to call in. While I rarely get a nuisance call on my cellphone, I’m averaging eight a day on the landline. And it’s a new type of nuisance call: It’s almost always a computer. You can tell because it’s from a number you don’t recognize, but in your area code. After you say “hello,” there’s a long pause. After you say “hello” a second time, it’s obvious it’s a computer and you hang up. 

But sometimes it starts its message right away.

“We’re calling to alert you of credit card fraud” is about as far as I get before hanging up. I’m on the Do Not Call list, but I’d have to listen to the entire recorded portion of the nuisance call to tell a real person that. Is it worth the wait?

Wait, the phone is ringing right now. It’s from a town I’ve never heard of in Wisconsin. I didn’t pick up. They left a message saying that they’re going to help me clean up my debt. I don’t have any debt that needs to be cleaned up, but if I did, is that the way to get out of it? Wait until some random stranger calls you on the phone? Maybe that’s how you got into debt in the first place.

I’m going to turn off the ringer since none of my friends use the landline number, but it bothers me that I have to do that. It’s not the interrupting phone calls that upset me so much, because scammers are just trying to make a dishonest living. At least they’re trying. I wish I could say as much for the phone companies.

The FCC reports consumers received about 2.4 billion robocalls last year – per month! Remember, if you’re on the Do Not Call list, these calls are illegal. Call me a control freak, but I don’t think strangers should be allowed to invade my home to sell me things or scam me. If a real person called me this many times a day, I could have him arrested for stalking.

It bothers me that I can’t do anything about it. But the reality is, who can you call to complain? Here’s the weird thing: The phone companies know where most of these calls are coming from. They could block most of them, literally, with a phone call. Why don’t they do that? Hmmm. Could it be about money?

I also have a cellphone. I get about one nuisance call a month on it. And when it happens, I simply block that number. It’s quick and easy and oh, so satisfying. They can never call me again. That’s something you can’t do on a landline. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the millions of things you can’t do on a landline that you can do on a smartphone. Maybe that’s why last year was the first year that more than 50 percent of the country had gotten rid of their landlines. Of the remaining 50 percent, a large percentage had both a landline and a cellphone.

Some of us can’t cut the cord yet for one reason or another. I think that’s what the phone companies want: for all of us to cut the cord. They don’t want to have to fix lines and come to your house to repair things. If a few billion robocalls won’t get you to cut the cord, maybe they’ll try something else. Like charging you for robocalls.

Gotta go, the phone’s ringing.

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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