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How to make a phone scammer wish he’d never called you

An exclusive-to-Vocal history of why we reached the end of our tether with landlines

By Jon McKnightPublished 3 years ago 5 min read
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How to make a phone scammer wish he’d never called you
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Alexander Graham Bell knew what he was doing when he invented the telephone. World-changing as it would undoubtedly prove to be, he refused to have one in his own study because he considered it an intrusion on his scientific work.

He was 145 years ahead of his time on that because, if he lived in the UK now, he’d be ripping his landline out in frustration.

Almost every call to a landline here today is from one scammer or another, all calling from beyond the reaches of the regulators and trying to empty our bank accounts, hack our computers or persuade us to make inflated claims through ambulance-chasing lawyers for automobile accidents we’d long forgotten.

With the proliferation of cellphones, hardly any of us need a landline today - but we have to keep them because almost all of the broadband providers in the UK require us to have one.

So should we answer our landlines or not? If we don’t, we might miss out on a call from a long-lost relative or an old flame, but if we do, it’ll almost certainly be from a fraudster purporting to be from Microsoft, or the bank, the police, the Internal Revenue or any other authority they think we might be fooled by.

I’ll come back to the fraudsters presently but, for now, let’s leave them hanging on the telephone, as Debbie Harry put it.

If we think the telephone gives us problems, imagine how difficult it must have been for Mr Bell back in 1876.

He’d just been granted his patent for a device that was destined to revolutionise the world, but who in their right mind was going to buy the first telephone?

“It’s a mighty fine idea, Mr Bell,” his first potential customer might have said, “but whom can I ring?”

A good question, and not one that history seems to have recorded the answer to.

Mr Bell must have got over the problem somehow. Perhaps he offered a buy-one-get-one-free deal so the first purchaser could give the second phone to a friend, making both instruments suddenly useful.

But whatever he did, it caught on, and most of us over a certain age grew up with a landline in the home and telephone kiosks or call-boxes in the street.

Young people today, able to call from anywhere on their cells as well as FaceTiming friends on the other side of the world, for free, find it hard to believe that when we were their age, we sat on the stairs talking into a phone connected to the wall by a wire.

They had rotary dials that took an eternity to ratchet back to the starting-point before you could dial the next digit, and calls to foreign countries had to be booked, hours in advance, and connected by a human operator at a telephone exchange.

As a young newspaper reporter with an urgent story to file, I remember running from one out-of-order phone-box to another - 13 of them in all, at least a street apart - before I finally found one that was working.

Bizarrely, they had a sticker inside them saying that if the phone was vandalised or out of order, you should dial 150 to report it.

How, when the phone wasn’t working?

Phone boxes were made largely redundant when cellphones arrived, and suddenly we could call people from almost anywhere.

Who needed to queue outside a draughty phone box, its walls peppered with call-girls’ business cards and its floor soaked in urine, when you could make a call from the phone in your pocket whenever and wherever it suited you?

And why would we want to sit on the stairs, trying to have a private conversation, when we could finally go to a quiet spot and take the phone with us?

The telephone plugged into the wall reached the end of the line, just as we reached the end of our tether.

But back to the fraudsters, still plaguing our landlines today.

There are creative ways of dealing with them, other than simply hanging up immediately.

If you’re a man, pretend to be hen-pecked and say “Oh, that sounds important. I’d better go and ask my wife.”

Leave the fraudsters hanging on for a couple of minutes then pick up the phone again and say, in the same downtrodden tone: “I’ve asked my wife, and she says to •••• off!”

Most fraudsters are reading from a script and expect you to answer in a certain way, so try to put them off at every turn.

When they ask if you’re Mr or Mrs So-and-so, don’t say yes or no, but ask them who’s calling.

They won’t want to say, but you’ve already messed up their carefully-planned scenario.

Frustrate them by answering questions with a question, ask them to explain everything at least three times, and they’ll eventually give up, mindful of the targets they’re supposed to meet.

‘Would you like to speak to my cat?” is a good opening line, as none of their scripts anticipates such a response and they literally don’t know what to say to you.

If you have a little time on your hands and feel sufficiently mischievous, appear to indulge them and let them start taking your details (make them false, obvs) and take your time over your answers.

Spin it out as long as you can before they ask you for your date of birth.

Now’s your chance. Without batting an eyelid, give them yesterday’s date. They’ll be typing it dutifully into their computer when the penny drops.

“Uh, excuse me, Sir, but that can’t be right,” they protest. “You’ve given me yesterday’s date.”

“I know,” you reply, spiritedly. “That’s because you clearly thought I was born yesterday. Goodbye!”

• If you’d like to know more ways to get one-up on those who try to get you down, you can find Jon McKnight’s consumer self-help manual Throw The Book At Them! The Art Of The Well-Aimed Complaint in the Kindle bookstore in the UK or on Amazon in the USA and elsewhere.

And if you liked that, you may like this, too:

Or this:

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About the Creator

Jon McKnight

I have left Vocal.

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