Monday, November 17, 2014

On Killing Rachel...

HALLIE EPHRON: Every day when the phone rings, usually at around 1:00 (the time I am settling in for my daily nap), I bolt to my feet (because hope springs...), rush into my office. Check caller ID. 

Usually there's my friend, Norc J Chicago 312-578-7715. Don't know Norc J or anyone in Chicago. Then my buddy Unknown Name 446-3314. And a little while later, his sibling, another UNKNOWN NAME 856-376-5266. Then the mysterious CANDY MINI MART at 607-562-3887 (area code Ithaca).

And on it goes.

When I don't recognize the number, depending on my mood, I either hang up on it or let my answering machine pick up -- usually no one leaves a message... except the company that is trying to sell my a security system because I am such a vulnerable senior
citizen. Robocallers do not get irony.

But last week I got snookered. The caller ID was my home phone. The one that was ringing. I picked it up and heard, "This is Rachel from Cardholder Services..."

Rachel? I slammed down the receiver. Rachel used to call several times a day for months... nay, make that years. There seemed no way of stopping her. And then Rachel stopped calling. I thought, maybe I'd found the magic DO NOT CALL registry (I register for all of them - I think it's where these robo callers go to get there phone lists). Or maybe the feds or phone company had finally silenced Rachel. 

But no, here Rachel is again. I'd blast my Vuvuzela at her, but she's just a machine. She sounds so cheery. I HATE RACHEL!

Have you found a magic way to stop these annoying calls, and what do you do when you get one?

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh Hallie, Rachel calls us too--and here I thought we were her special friends...She does sounds cheerful, doesn't she?

We have caller ID on our phone screen, so if it's a number we don't recognize, we've taken to lifting the receiver and slamming it back down. Someday maybe it will be the New York Times calling to interview me or John for some Really Big Story, but I guess we're willing to take that chance!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah, the DO NOT CALL list only works for certain entities. And the most frustrating part, it relies on companies to obey the law. SO if a company decides they don't care about the law, they just call you anyway. So much for the rules.

There is a way to fight back, though it's complicated. I'm not sure about the details and I'm in a hotel room on the way to the airport and can't look up specifics,, pant pant... BUT--if you  ask the caller specifically "What company is this?" and then say "I am asking you to take me off your list"  then say: I am writing down the company name and time and date, and am  keeping track of your calls, and if you call me again I'm going to report you to the Attorney General's office" or something along those lines, it can be a deterrent. 

I do it all the time. Does it work? It might.   And can't hurt.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We use our land line so seldom that we don't get many Rachels, and when an unidentified number calls, I don't answer. Rick, however, likes to answer and tell the poor sales schmuck that he's going to report him or her to the FCC.

I am starting to get some calls on my cell phone, which is highly illegal. I have an app called Mr Number that identifies most of them as spam. If you answer one and it IS spam, you can add the call to Mr Number and it will be blocked from your phone.

HALLIE: Mr. Number?! Sounds like something I need.

Here's what PC Magazine says about it: "Just because you have a smartphone doesn't
mean you want people calling you all the time. Enter Mr. Number (Google Play, Free), a handy little app that makes it easy to block calls and text messages from specific numbers, area codes, code prefixes, or just everyone. It's dead simple, but surprisingly powerful, and comes with reverse call lookup to boot."

Sadly I think it's just for android phones, and I gather there's something for iPhones in IOS 7 and 8 ... too complicated for me to follow but nice to know.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: We don't have a land line. At all. Since both the Hubby and I have cell phones, it seems redundant to have (and pay) for yet another line. We gave up our land line years ago and never looked back.

Occasionally, I'll get a "Rachel" on the cell, but since I never pick up for people I don't know (actually, I rarely pick up at all, and would much rather text, but I think that's a generational thing and another post), it's just not an issue.

RHYS BOWEN: We wage a constant war against unwanted calls. When it's a real person I try to outsmart them. You know the ones from India who tell you they are from Microsoft and there is something wrong with your computer? I say "Sorry we have all Apple computers." But the recorded ones? John's answer to this is to take the receiver and put it in front of the TV, then walk away. We take small pleasure that we've tied up their line for a while! And of course, being mystery writers, we can kill them in our books.

HALLIE: So do you have a land line? Do you even answer your phone?? How do you handle unwelcome calls. Has anyone conquered Rachel? 


  1. I am notoriously bad at answering the phone at all unless it's family calling, but John takes great delight in telling the spam callers off. Unfortunately, it never seems to stop them from calling back. Sad to say, cheerful-sounding Robo-Rachel is alive and well and calling out number. too . . . .

  2. Condolences, Joan.

    Remember how much fun it was when a ringing phone meant someone actually wanted to TALK to you? Though I'm with Susan, coming around to the joys of messaging.

  3. Ssomeone used our landline number to take out a car loan, then skipped town. The company that owned the loan sent a tow truck to repossess MY CAR, tucked safely in the garage. I called the police who told me not to answer the door to strangers. I also receive cell calls from Jamaica which I don't answer.

  4. Oh my, Margaret ... you do live an exciting life! The kind of excitement we all could do without. Great idea of the opening of a novel, though...

  5. Got them all the time on my landline and get them ALL the time on my cell. Often they are from states (only the state shows up in callerID) where I have work projects, so I usually don't answer, but plug the number into an internet search. There are a number of forums that track calling scams, etc. That usually tells me whether the call is legit or not. But, a BIG nuisance!!

    I would take great delight in reading a Ten Little Indians-type mystery in which a series of scam callers are systematically eliminated....

  6. I'm sorry for you, Hallie, and all, but relieved to know I'm not the only one getting these weird calls on my land line! I keep my tel on my office desk on the ans. machine 24-7, but get a lot of hang ups! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  7. We rely on caller ID and the answering machine to screen calls. Unfortunately we can't do without the land line because our house is in a dead zone and we need it to call out in an emergency. The worst spam calling is now thankfully over until the next election. I gather those calls are exempt from the do not call list. Between candidates, pacs and the bear hunting issue here in Maine we were getting eight to ten robo calls a day for weeks. Right up until 9 at night, too, which on occasion is past our bedtime. Very annoying!

  8. Like Susan, we gave up our land-line years ago. All we were getting was political robo-calls and other annoyances. Because we are all on the same cell carrier, my family and I can call each other for free. Haven't missed the land line. When a state pops up where I don't know anyone, I don't answer.

    I do a lot of texting - my dad, my husband, my kids, etc., but sometimes I really want to say, "Just pick up the phone and call already." I absolutely refuse to text and drive, so I've gotten into trouble a couple times when my husband has texted me to pick up something at the store, and I don't get his message until I get home.

  9. We have a land line...with one old fashioned dial extension that hard wired into the wall. In a hurricane with power out and cell service disrupted, it's the only phone on the block that works. Sadly no caller id on it.

  10. FChurch - Love the idea of Ten Little... but what should we call it? Ten Little Scammers? No, that gives it away. Because the punch line somewhere about 3/4 of the way through would be what these people who do not know each other have in common.

  11. I have Caller ID, in addition to an answering machine. I NEVER answer the phone except if the caller is a friend or relative. If it's someone else, and they leave a message, I'll listen and determine whether or not I should answer. Most of the time it's Rachel or one of her cohorts, so I don't answer. I've been having my own name and number show up on Caller ID, too, and of course I don't answer those. I know I'm not calling myself! Interesting to learn that it's probably Rachel calling me!

    I do still have a land line, and keep my cell phone only for the free long distance or for emergencies out on the road. I seem to be the only person among my family and friends who rarely uses the cell phone.

  12. In the past year, we gave up our land line since we mostly used our cell phones and we changed service providers. For the first few months, an unforeseen benefit was the freedom from the constant robocallers, but alas, somehow they now have my cell number and call daily. I never answer unfamiliar numbers. If it's someone I know or need to talk to, they will leave a message and I can get back to them. And the NO CALL lists? Worthless!

  13. I think they fired Rachel becausethe last call was from Janice.
    Then there was Paul/Dave from the "shipping department" of "free" home alert systems. I read yesterday that these companies (5 different company names involved) and principals were shut down and fined millions of dollars. Of course no one who was scammed will see a penny of the fines as the money was spent on luxury homes, cars, and boats.

    Pols and charities are exempt from DO NOT CALL as are companies with whom you do or have done business.

    I screen the caller id and don't answer when I don't recognize the number or name.

  14. Some charities have their own 'do not call' forms on their web sites. I've gotten myself off the call list for a bunch of them that way.

    They call me and they're immediately on my DO NOT GIVE list.

  15. Cardholder Services: what exactly do they intend to gain? Maybe your card number and all the security stuff that goes with it, I guess. The last four digits of your SS# can open a LOT of doors, and it makes me extremely nervous how many entities ask for that particular number.

    For awhile I was getting as many as five calls a day from this one company (what they wanted is blocked from my mind, thank goodness), and I was ready to scream. Which I did, one day when I'd finally had enough and decided to "stay on the line" to talk to a "representative". The poor guy. I'm afraid he took months' worth of frustration, full force.

    However, they have not called again. Knock wood. I also reported them to the Do Not Call Registry, since their number came up the same every time. So I'm not sure which action did the trick.

    My big question is how do these companies think you will fall all over yourself to buy their product when they harass you to death? What universe do they live in where that's a positive thing?

  16. Hallie, I've taken to telling ANYONE who calls asking for money that "I never donate to anyone over the phone". Period.

    My husband is a very soft touch, though, and I can see into the future where he gives away the ranch to some scammer with a halfway decent sob story. Sigh.

  17. When I dropped my land line and got a cell phone, the calls stopped. But I used to get them from collection agencies all the time for the people who had had my number before. They always called when I was at work, and after months I'd finally call them back, and they'd stop for a while, but then they'd call again.

    The worst was when I got a collections call for someone with my last name who used to live in the same building as me. Not my condo unit, but a different condo in the same building.

    My parents just recently had someone with a blocked number they accidentally answered the phone for, and it was a friend trying to get a hold of them. And he'd been trying for weeks and they weren't answering because of the blocked number. It's important to answer the phone!

  18. What Cardholder Services is after: here's an article that explains...

  19. Mark Baker, yikes! Makes me grateful I have a somewhat unusual name.

  20. My business line (which I keep because it allows people looking for an attorney-- or for me personally-- to find me) is a land line that works when there is a power outage and also would allow 911 to find me. It has caller ID, and if a call looks like it might be a client, I pick it up. If I'm dubious, I let it go to voice mail and check the message; when it's a client or acquaintance or someone inviting me to speak, I'll call back. When it's a poll, survey, campaign call, or sales call, I just delete the message (if there is one.)

    My private line is via U-verse and is part of a package with my internet service (I don't have cable). I'm thinking about changing that to a cell phone, but knowing me, I'd misplace it (I've been looking for the keys to my storage unit for two months). Cell phones, in my experience, don't always get the best reception.

    I don't text or tweet (or read other people's tweets). I e-mail, I PM via Facebook. And I love the fact that when I'm in the car, no one can reach me.

    I miss snow days back before cell phones and e-mail. The city closed down and no one expected to be able to reach you. And before voice mail and answering machines, no one expected to be able to reach your office over the lunch hour, or before nine in the morning or after five at night. You could actually accomplish something after hours, or go out for lunch with a friend or for a drink after work without being interrupted. Those were the days.

  21. Karen, hen I do answer the phone, that's what I say too. ANd I say--I know you;re just doing your job but there's nothing yo can ever ever EVER say that'll get me to donate, so please take me off your list, never call me again, and I'm going to hang up now.

    If they call again, pr if Im feeling cranky, I give them the AG line.

    Funny, you know--did this EVER work? COld calling someone out of the blue?

    I've done so many stories about this, and about phone scammers.. wonder how it'll morph as cell phones take over.

  22. We do have a landline. We have one cell phone we take with us when we travel (when we can find it). We can't get cell service in our house, so a landline it will always be.

    I hate Rachel. AND I hate that damn man who yells, "Don't hang up! This is not a sales call!" and then proceeds to try to sell us a home security system.

    No, we don't answer the phone. We used to yell at one another "It's for you!" - "No - it's for you, better answer it!" And neither of us answered it, now we just check the Caller ID.

    Neither of us cares much for the phone, truth be told. (could you tell? LOL!!!)

    I did answer the phone by automatic impulse a few weeks ago and it was someone who wanted to convince me there was a problem with my computer. And feeling a little devilish, I decided to go along with it and kept him on the phone for longer than he wanted to be. Every time he asked me a question, I would ask one back - ridiculous questions like, "honey, are you married?" "sweetheart, do you have children?" "And where did you say yo lived?" He finally hung up on me. and I laughed.

  23. I love the Ten Little Scammers idea. We might have to fight about that one...

    Solicitation calls to cell phones ARE illegal, because they cost you, the consumer, money. (Even if you have unlimited minutes, you are still paying a fee for the using them.) I will ask hubby just how exactly you are supposed to report them, but you can do so.

  24. Oh, and too bad Mr. Number is only for Android phones. It's a great app!

  25. Isn't it funny how we do these silly things like slamming down the receiver or leaving the phone off the hook to make them listen to some noise? I want to go through the phone and shake them. I listen to a couple words and then either threaten the FCC thing, tell them to take me off their list, or say nope, not interested and hang up. My husband hates to talk on the phone but for some reason lasts a lot longer on these call than I do. And unfortunately our military hospital (which we have to use a LOT now) shows up as unidentified so sometimes we do have to answer.

    And here I thought that guy from India only wanted to torment me.

  26. Hank, when I sold insurance, back in the 70's and 80's, I made 100 cold calls a week, about half of them in the evenings to homes. And it did work for me--then. I don't think it would now. It's so hard not to get angry, there are such a ridiculous number of unwanted calls.

    Debs, I've now installed Mr. Number, although it does not have very good Play Store ratings. Thanks for the info.

    Two hours ago I got a phone call from one of the handful of very insulting robocallers targeting "seniors" (I guess I'm getting there at 63, but really, is that a good sales pitch method?). This one was for one of those Life Call type devices, of the "help, I can't get up" variety. I stayed on the line, and when the recording gave me the option to "unsubscribe" by pressing 5, I did. Hope that was not a big mistake.

  27. We have a land line and cell phones. I have caller ID on the land line and use it to screen. How annoying. We've had the guy from India you wants your computer serial numbers so they can "fix" something. I get Unavailable, Unknown Caller, Toll Free Caller, Local Call (with an unknown area code), you name it. Unfortunately the dentist's office comes through as unavailable, as does Wells Fargo security and fraud department. Bleah! Kaye, my son got the man from India so angry at him that he gave him the FU and hung up on him! I think he was telling him about all the defunct computers stored in closets, the attic, etc that we don't really have.

  28. I no longer have a land line, but I still get some unknown numbers from time to time. When we did have a land line, my husband liked to do the "Hold on, I'll get him/her," and then put the phone down. The calls that used to annoy me were the state police or sheriffs' association asking for a donation and trying to guilt you into giving one, and, of course, there was the thought that they probably had your license plate # and could cause you trouble (they never said that,but). I don't seem to receive those calls on my cell phone.

    For those who actually engage in conversation with these pesky callers, the funniest story I've heard involves the following. The pesky caller asks for the particular person, the person answering repeats the name with a question mark, pesky answers in the affirmative, phone owner asks for pesky's name, pesky answers with his/her name, phone owner (pretending to be detective in charge) informs pesky that he/she is calling a crime scene where person he is asking for has been murdered and asks pesky how he knew the deceased. Well, it goes on and on with the phone owner asking for pesky's address and pretending to give it to another cop to check out. It can get quite inventive, with the phone owner treating pesky as a suspect and even eventually asking if pesky was romantically involved with the deceased. Anyway, it's the ultimate turn-about is fair play, putting pesky on the defense, literally. I thought the Reds would appreciate a murder scene response. Hehehe!

  29. Hallie - that is exactly what my husband says! LOL!!! Now, I'm kinda hoping the little creep calls again - what does that say about how boring my life is???

  30. Kathy, those "Police Association" calls have no relation whatsoever to your local police. They are national groups who MAYBE donate 1% of what they get to some police group somewhere, but not yours.

    Hallie, PMs are private messages, which are the next generation from IMs. Friends on Facebook will say, "PM me if you want my extra tickets" or "PM me with your e-mail address and I'll send you the link." Keeps SOME things sort of private (although there's really no such thing).

    Karen, I can't imagine that a cold call ever worked, so you must be really good. Luckily (or unluckily), I have spent the past 45 years in a profession that for the first ten years absolutely forbade advertising, and since then has allowed it, but letters soliciting business have to say, at the top, "ADVERTISEMENT" and except for that, we are not allowed to make the first contact with a client.

    I am constantly being told, "My brother in law wrote a book and is looking for a lawyer; you should call him." And I always say, "Please have him call me; I'm not allowed to make the first call." And people take offense or think you aren't interested, but here in WI, you can lose your license for initiating contact by calling.

  31. Rachel calls Canada too. That gal gets around.

    No one has mentioned the Duct Cleaner calls so maybe it's only in Canada. They've been going on for years. Everyone in Canada has received and hung up on hundreds of calls from some poor deluded person in India wanting to talk about having our ducts cleaned. Since there's no one left to fall for this, I don't know why the perpetrators of this scam keep on.

    But I keep reminding myself the person making the call is probably delirious with joy that they've found a 'job' and are so hopeful that they're going to sell lots of duct cleaning services and feed their family. So sometimes I kindly inform them no one will ever ever ever buy duct cleaning services from them. And sometimes I'm rude. Usually I just disconnect.

    Carl Hiaasen's Nature Girl involves a woman who's had enough; she develops a convoluted (and slightly unhinged) plot of vengence on a telemarketer. You go, girl!

  32. I have a land line and will keep it. It only costs about $30 a month and it always works.

    After the last big hurricane came through (some years ago now), we were without power for a week, without cable/internet for eight days.

    Some cell towers were damaged and the amount of traffic on AT&T and Verizon meant you had to be really persistent to get a call through for several days. And driving around to charge ones cell phone is problematic when gas stations are closed because of the lack of electricity.

    But the land line worked even through the worst of the storm - no problems at all. Knowing I have one line that will work in emergencies is worth $30/month to me.

    Rachel from Cardholder Services called while I was writing this.

  33. Oh, Karen, you were a cold caller??? Say it ain't so! Confession: I sold door to door encyclopedias. For one day.

  34. Rachel is in Canada, too? Oh, geez. And no I haven't gotten calls to clean our ducts. What's a duct?? (Or should I say Why a duct?)

  35. I just got a call from a 703 area code (Virginia) telling me that they were responding to my call regarding a back brace that was covered by my insurance. I'm sure I haven't left my number with them in retrievable memory, but I thought I'd play along. I waited for several minutes ("Please stay on the line; your call will be answered in just a few minutes.") Finally a woman with a heavy Indian accent came on the phone. (Please, if you want to sell me something, put someone on the line I can understand.)

    She wanted to know how I was today. I countered with "What is this about?" She told me it was covered by my insurance and then the call was cut off.

    I think it may have been a scam to get my Medicare number.

  36. Yes, but in my defense, I was calling about homeowners insurance, at a time when insurance companies had just switched from insuring Actual Cash Value (aka 80% of what was paid for a house, no matter how long ago), to the Replacement Value we have now. Insurance companies had no reason to tell their customers this was now available, or that they could then get new discounts for having smoke alarms, or bundling their car insurance together.

    I also did very well cold calling dentists, veterinarians, and small retail stores, with special new package policies that had been created for them. Everyone else I knew were all calling the doctors, who must have gotten a dozen calls a week each.

    It didn't hurt that I was young and female, which was not typical then. I suspect half of my appointments happened because my prospective clients were curious about how what sounded like a teenager would be in person. Hey, whatever works, right?

    Ellen, I did very well, and largely because I was offering good value, savings, and good service. I have not sold a life insurance policy for over 27 years, but some of the ones I sold in the early 80's are still in force.

    I feel really bad for anyone trying to make a living in those boiler room cold calling places. It's a really tough way to survive. But there's a special place in Hell for robocallers.

  37. Did some on-line sleuthing about this Medicare scam. Apparently, they call about a back brace you ordered from TV. It comes via a 3rd party VOIP supplier named Tellax who may also be forwarding Rachel's calls. If that's the case, you may want to contact the 3rd party. The "Who calls me" website provided this number for Teliax 1-888-483-5429 and this information (apparently Rachel also calls via their lines):

    1001 16th Street
    B-180 #102
    Denver, CO 80265
    Main Office:
    Outside the US:

    But if you call them, use *67 to block your number.

  38. Yes, "she" called. I just hung up right away. If I don't answer the phone my husband will, and he's more likely to be really irritated than I am.

    We get those calls all of the time - I probably should try some of the techniques mentioned in the comments.

  39. One time, when I was about eighteen, and home for summer break from college, my parents got a call from a telemarketer. My Dad answered the phone, listened for a few seconds, and then very calmly said, 'I'm sorry. I can't talk right now. The dog's on fire.' They hung up on him. I highly recommend this phrase... Unfortunately it doesn't work on robocalls.

  40. Maegan Kennedy: Hee hee hee! Accompanied by pitiful yowling would be good, too.