Hello? Hello? Hello?

Does your phone sometimes ring, and when you pick it up there's silence (not even heavy breathing), and then whoever called just hangs up on you after a few seconds?

No, it's not a burglar seeing if you're at home. Well, probably not, anyway.

It's a telemarketing company, using an autodialer.

The dialer works its way through its list of numbers, and when someone answers, it attempts to connect them to a human telemarketer. If all of those humans are already on another call, the autodialer just hangs up.

Some telemarketers say that this hang-up, or "abandon", rate is only about five per cent - the dialers are configurable, to dial more or less aggressively when almost all of the humans are busy. But I can tell you that I get a heck of a lot more than one hang-up for every nineteen who have someone available to waste my time in person.

Hang-up calls do, of course, tarnish the otherwise sterling reputation of the telemarketing industry. But, one, many people don't know that hang-up calls are from telemarketers. And, two, hang-ups tarnish the whole industry's reputation in general, while the slightly higher number of successful connections that a telemarketing company gets if they crank their autodialer up to maximum speed translates directly into more profit for that company.

That's right, kids; this is a Tragedy of the Commons. When an action X exists which is harmful yet profitable, and the harm is spread over a large group but the profit accrues only to whoever does X, it is in everybody's interest to do X, even if they know exactly why they shouldn't.

Here in Australia, it appears that telemarketers don't even have to use outgoing phone numbers that're visible on Caller ID, My hang-up calls are always from numbers that just come up as "PRIVATE".

And I can't, of course, ask the weasels responsible to take my number off their list, because I don't get to talk to them!

Yes, the phone number here is on the Australian Do Not Call Register. That doesn't seem to have helped a lot.

Getting an actual unlisted number genuinely does seem to work, but that ain't free, and apparently has to come along with the same "silent number" Caller ID un-listing that the telemarketer source numbers use. I don't want that.

To be fair, this is still not a major problem. The small Australian phone-sales market (our whole 775-million-hectare country has about 10% more people in it than 14-million-hectare New York State) just doesn't seem to support a very large number of professional telephone nuisances. So even though this household has made the horrible mistake of giving money to some charities that know what our phone number is, we only get, I don't know, maybe three telephone solicitations a week - versus the dozens per day that've historically been suffered by the worst-affected US households.

And I can't remember ever getting a recorded-message "robocall", though I know they do exist here.

To be perfectly honest, I prefer hang-up calls to the kind where an actual human says "Hello, is this Mr [surname of my girlfriend, to whom I am not married and whose surname I do not share]?"

I keep forgetting to tell those people to take me off their list. I can't resist the urge to tell them, using a few by-now-carefully-honed words, that their salutation has given them away, then hang up immediately.

Still and all, though, my vote stands ready to be cast in favour of the first politician whose Law And Order Crusade aims at People Who're Using Autodiallers For Anything Other Than Old-School Hard-Core Hacking, rather than the more traditional target of People Who'd Like To Be Happy.

16 Responses to “Hello? Hello? Hello?”

  1. jwaddell Says:

    My house had reached the stage of receiving one telemarketing call per day when I signed up to the DNCR. I don't think we've received a single one since then. It seems that that is unusual though as a lot of people I know still receive the calls despite being on the DNCR.

  2. bruzie Says:

    Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. We have suffered what must be now the "silent autodialer" for the last year. Our problem is that they call early in the morning (for example, we had one at 1.45 this very AM!)

    I started going through the process for reporting them as nuisance calls through our provider, but I have to record at least three instances before they'll do anything. And the last time I started doing that, the calls stopped for several months. The one this morning was the second in a week so one more to go...

  3. Jax184 Says:

    I get plenty of those too. The ones that do connect are always for a Kevin Weekly, who I now know has really really bad credit, massive debt and a father who's not entirely clear in the head.
    I get nearly as many calls from NCO telling me that "I" owe them gobs of money as I do people actually wanting to talk to me. And I got this number 4 years ago!

  4. Mohonri Says:

    In the US, the DNCR actually seems to be working pretty well, as far as sales calls are concerned. However, the exemptions (political campaigns, charitable organizations, polls/surveys, companies with which you have had a "prior business relationship") blunt the effect. It's remarkable, though sadly not surprising, how far some organizations will stretch the definitions of the latter two categories.

    A greater annoyance, however, is all the calls we get for the people who used to have our phone number. Three years after moving here, we still get calls for a Rhonda Rondo. Like Jax184, we found that there are several collections agencies after this person. The same is true for my cell phone--I get calls occasionally for a Maria Cruz, who apparently has similar problems paying her bills.

    You'd think that the companies selling the software behind these autodialers would be able to cross-reference phone numbers and names to some publicly-accessible database, like oh, a *telephone book*. Or perhaps the phone companies could put together a "date this phone number was recycled" database.

  5. Frosted Donut Says:

    The telemarketing dialers use predictive software to try and "guess" when a human telemarketer will be available. Since the human is the most expensive part of the process, keeping that person busy full-time makes the most sense from a business perspective. (My wife did some documentation work for a company that makes predictive dialers.) Having to hang up on potential customers is the lesser evil.

    A cheerful side-effect is that it typically takes a second or two for a completed call to connect with an available human. If you answer the phone and hear silence for about two seconds, it almost always means (here in the US, anyway) that you're about to get pitched. I hang up and the predictive dialer doesn't call back.

    And in Washington state, the law prohibits "robocalls." A human being has to introduce the recording. I think that's the only state with such a law, but it works pretty well.

  6. Coderer Says:

    I got a really surprising one the other day. Somebody asked if I suffer from back pain, and I immediately started hounding them for where they got my number. They claimed to dial numbers "at random", but I said that would be illegal, as they'd get cell phones, which can *never* be solicited -- in fact, she was calling on my cell phone, but it had been ported from a land line number, albeit ~4 years ago. They stammered two or three times, then changed tack, saying that they're not subject to the DNCR (which my number is *also* listed on) because they're just offering a free service, not soliciting business. They hung up before I could tell them what I thought of that argument, and I couldn't be bothered to hunt them down and file a complaint. Still pissed me off, though.

  7. Otara Says:

    We have an internet phone number and seem to never get telemarketers, I dont think they're hitting those number ranges yet. We had a huge decrease from going DNC as well, sounds like maybe its a state by state issue?

  8. Bernard Says:

    “Hello, is this Mr [surname of my girlfriend, to whom I am not married and whose surname I do not share]?”

    At my house, this is technically the cat, so I offer to put them through (unless he is "busy").

  9. Lord Booga Says:

    We almost never get these, and when we do, a surprisingly simple (and yet it seems to irritate them to no end), is to just keep saying 'No'.

    'Can I speak to the householder/morgageholder/whatever?'


    'Are you interested in blah blah blah'


    'Would you like to do a survey on blah blah'


    Just keep saying no to every offer, what can they do?

  10. pompomtom Says:

    Lord Booga: I prefer to say "Oh, just a second" and the put the phone down (but don't hang up), and go about my business. That way the wage-slave gets a break, and the person profiting from annoying me profits just a little bit less.

  11. frasera Says:

    yea we have that same nonsense in the states as well. esp bad during political campaigns, nothing quite as annoying as political spam. and they also fill your answering machine full of spam as well.

  12. Mr. Peepers Says:

    In the US, when you get a new phone number they ask you your name, and some personal info to identify you as a legitimate customer. After I moved 3 times in as many years, I noticed they asked you a separate question as well- "How do you want your phone number listed?". As soon as I realized -that- tidbit, I asked to have my phone number listed under my cat's name, and I have found out how many junk mailers come from your phone listing. Also, when someone calls asking for the cat, I end up going looking for him, and sometimes I end up explaining that he's licking , or hiding under the bed. It ends up breaking up my day, and making things fun.

    After going on the "Do Not Call" list, my fun was reduced, but I ended up saving a lot of time. (2-5 calls a day)

    Another bit of info on your phone listing I found out was that you can have additional names added to the phone book for a nominal fee. I have considered a few interesting ones, but never followed through with it.

  13. RichVR Says:

    I like to ask them to hold on. Then I knock a bunch of pots and pans out of the cupboard onto the floor and scream for a bit. The girlfriend does not appreciate this.

  14. Bern Says:

    I've had a few robocalls here in Brisbane. Yes, we're on the DNC list.

    We also get quite a few "blank" messages on the answering machine (the VoIP box takes a second or two to hang up the PSTN line when it's been hung up during the OGM playback, so we get to hear the "beep beep beep").

    Mind you, the missus has a few annoying friends who *always* hang up when they get through to the answering machine, so it may not entirely be marketers.

    Dealing with the marketers, I find it amusing to sometimes ask them lots of information about who they are, what they're selling, who they're working for, whether they're based in Australia, then follow it up with "So, does your company make a habit of calling people on the DNC list?"

    Actually, I often ask that question first - they usually hang up before I've even finished asking!

  15. Thuli Says:

    Thanks for the Cuckoo's Egg mention, it's good

  16. MichaelWright Says:

    I never answer the telephone. Hateful way of communicating, and anyone who really wants to talk to me can leave a message. I mean, when did anyone ring you to tell you anything to your advantage (genuinely)?

    I used to think it would be bad to abuse the poor sod who's actually doing the calling, but I wonder now -- if we increased the stress level, maybe people would stick at it for even less time than they do at the moment, and it could damage the industry. And these people always have a chance of doing some socially beneficial work, like playing piano in a brothel.

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