To combat telemarketers, turn your phone against them


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Aug. 18, 2013, at 2:34 p.m.

This telemarketing thing is beyond the point of getting out of hand.

Just last week, a Maine consumer reported being threatened by a telemarketer. He said he was coming to her home and would hurt her if she didn’t pay a bill she allegedly owed. The woman owed no such bill, told the telemarketer as much and reported the call to authorities.

As usual, the phone number that showed up on caller ID came back to a firm known only by its rotten reputation. The number shows up in calls across the country, to people who don’t owe money but are browbeaten, even threatened, by the callers.

One extreme example happened last September in Mead, Colo. The consumer who answered the phone said he wasn’t interested in the money he was told he had won. Upon calling back, the caller told him he’d better be interested because he had put a bomb in the man’s house. Authorities searched and did not find a bomb, but the game of wits with the phoning thugs had taken an ugly turn.

Back in Maine, an older resident told her caller to “stop scamming seniors and get a real job.” The caller said she had those remarks on tape and would sue. Authorities assured our senior that she was at no risk and that the caller had probably heard much worse.

Consumers can play the nasty card, too. Back in 2009, an Ohio man called after receiving a notice that the warranty on his 13-year-old car was running out (in fact, the warranty had expired long before). Trying to get answers, the man was repeatedly hung up on; exasperated, he called to say he would blow up the company and kill all its employees and their families. He was charged with making a terrorist threat.

Now, we’ve all had too many calls from telemarketers using spoofed or phony numbers that can’t be traced. If they’re not honest enough to tell us who/where they are, they don’t deserve our respect, let alone our courtesy. A little cussing may let off some steam, but idle threats will only come back to bite those who issue them. Instead, let’s look at heading off the annoyance.

Rather than allowing callers to use your phone as a weapon, take back control and use it as a tool. Changing phone numbers might stop most annoying calls, but the change could create a number of headaches for friends, family and those with whom you do business by phone. A simpler solution might be to use a “middleman.”

Caller ID is only a partial solution. It can help you determine if a legitimate caller — who doesn’t mind revealing a real phone number — is on the line. But spoofers live to fool Caller ID. The real solution may be to use some old-fashioned technology: an answering machine.

Tell your friends and family that you’re using a machine. Every time the phone rings, simply let the machine pick up. If it’s from a friend or family member, you can call them right back. If it’s a nuisance call, simply ignore it and erase the message. Sooner or later, the nuisance callers will figure the calls will never be answered (they’ll be right), and they’ll stop trying.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email


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