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rjbs (4671)

rjbs
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http://rjbs.manxome.org/
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I'm a Perl coder living in Bethlehem, PA and working Philadelphia. I'm a philosopher and theologan by training, but I was shocked to learn upon my graduation that these skills don't have many associated careers. Now I write code.

Journal of rjbs (4671)

Saturday March 04, 2006
12:50 PM

t-mobile and telephone scammers

[ #28873 ]

We got a phone bill about a week ago, and it listed a $10 charge for Blinko. What's Blinko? Who knows! Google suggested that it's some sort of scam, which seemed likely. Gloria said she'd received some sort of opt-out SMS from them, and replied to opt out. I checked their web site, and they look like one of those wretched little "we send garbage crap to your phone for too much money!" operations.

Later, she got another message from them, making us wonder if we could ever stop them.

Today, I called T-Mobile to protest the billing. I was told that they could refund the charge, but that I'd need to call Blinko directly. She said that shd couldn't just block Blinko, and that there had been no charges since the first. I was given an 800 number, but when I called it, the woman who answered patiently explained that they were Blinck, not Blinko, and that T-Mobile had the bad habit of referring to them people who'd been harassed by Blinko.

So, fearing that this was going to become a huge ordeal, I called T-Mobile back and explained my situation to a new CSR. This woman was much more helpful. She said, "Oh, I see there has been a subsequent charge frmo them, too. I'll just blacklist them!" So, the previous CSR has been wrong on three counts: Blinko is not Blinck, people can be blacklisted, and there were subsequent charges.

Since this woman seemed so helpful, I told her about my previous problem: I keep getting some phone-spammer calling my cell phone and trying to sell me (or Crystal, whoever that is) medication. I have gone through the litany: there is no Crystal here; I do not want you to call me; it is illegal for you to call me; stop calling me! My cell phone is listed on the "do not call" registry -- which is redundant, since all cell phones are supposed to be on that already. Anyway, I've re-registered on both the US and Pennsylvania lists. Probably 75% (or more) of these calls are just machines that hang up, presumably when no one is there to harass me. When someone is there, they've got an Indian or Pakistani accent.

For a long time, these numbers came from some 800 number for a Canadian company. That company denied any knowledge of what was going on. After that, the numbers started showing up as "Private Call" or "Unknown," which telephone companies, both wired and wireless, refuse to let you block. Now they're showing up as various numbers from all around the country. Among them:

206-202-1399
408-239-4343
561-228-5685
646-217-3202
847-709-0211

Googling finds nothing helpful, just a few other people also being annoyed from these numbers. I'm assuming they're someone's VOIP gateways.

Last time I called, I was given two options: I could change my number, which is pretty unfair to me and to my friends, or I could use custom ring tones. Unfortunately, what I'd have to do is set up a custom ring for each and every entry in my address book, and then set the default ring to "no ring," because otherwise I have to keep maintaining a list of all the bad numbers -- including "private call." Well, no phone can assign a ring tone to "private call" so that's out, anyway. I have at least one hundred entries in my address book, so updating each one is out of the question.

The CSR was apparently intrigued by my suggestion that they might have a phone that could ignore calls from callers not in the address book, but they didn't. She told me I should tell them that they can't call me any more, or that I should take legal action. I've told them so -- I suppose I can ask for contact information for their offices, but if they're already lying about taking me off their list, why would they not lie about their corporate contact information?

I think that the phone companies simply must be in bed with the telemarketers. There are so many simple things that could be done to solve a large number of these problems! My phone can play chess, but it can't do basic whitelisting. Does that seem right to you?

What I really want is a phone that runs Perl, or Python, or even Java, and lets me write something simple that can sit between incoming calls and the ringer. I want procmail for my phone. Who wouldn't buy a phone that could do this:

def IncomingCall(event):
  unless (event.calling_number and event.calling_number in phone.book):
    return REDIRECT_VOICEMAIL
  return None # allow call to go through

Seriously! I'm not even going to get into the idea of ring tone based on roaming status, time of day, current calendar events, or whether or not you are currently checked by your phone's chess AI.

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  • Personally I think any marketing calls which I did not personally ask for are evil. So I've resorted to tarpitting [wikipedia.org] them. When I get a call from someone trying to sell me something I say "That's really interesting, could you just hang on for a moment", then put the phone to the side and go back to whatever it was I was doing. Sometimes they stay on line for up to ten minutes before hanging up. About 10% of callers try again, no-one so far has tried a third time AFAICT. This hurts the telemarketers because i

    • The real reason this is not a great plan for me is that these people are calling my cell phone, and this will consume my minutes!
      --
      rjbs
      • Wait, so you pay money when people call you? I wasn't aware of such a scheme (unless one is in a foreign country and has to pay roaming charges) and it seems like it isn't the greatest service in the world to be on (for the obvious reason that you just mentioned). Aren't there better mobile services available where you live? Or is this one just cheaper for your normal usage?
        • Every cellular calling plan I know of in the US works this way. You get a free minute on each inbound call, during which you are presumably expected to determine whether you want to accept the call. After that minute, it comes off of your minutes.

          It doesn't cost money, it just uses up the free minutes built into the plan -- but when those are depleted, yes, you get charged by the minute for your inbound and outbound calls.
          --
          rjbs
          • Oh dear ... I have no words for that. I suppose that might go a long way towards explaining why cellphones haven't taken off in the U.S. as much as they have in Europe.

            You're right of course, that makes my suggestion less than helpful, sorry about that. Also makes your hypothesis of the cell phone companies collaborating with telemarketers a lot more likely to be correct IMO.