I Hate Unsolicited Phone Calls

By John Gilstrap
I pen this week’s post from Bakersfield, California, where I’m teaching a two-day seminar on safety and health issues in the recycling industry. It’s a great class so far, packed with a lot of motivated and enthusiastic students. The fact that it took me 17 hours to get here, thanks to Mama Nature doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the process, but it does mean that I’m tired. With tired comes cranky.

And nothing spins me up quite like unsolicited recorded phone calls.
I felt my pocket buzzing while I was in the middle of my lecture and of course ignored it because, well, I was in the middle of my lecture. During the break, I looked at my phone and found an 866 number, identified as “unknown.” I remember a friend of mine telling me about online reverse phone lookup websites that can identify unknown and scam callers, and would have saved me a lot of time!

I called the number back and reached a recorded greeting that told me, “be aware that we are a debt collector.” I suspected that it was either a scam or a wrong number, so after a minute or two on hold, I hung up and went back to work.

Then I got to thinking. This has been the year of compromised credit cards for us. It’s happened at least four times. While we’re current on all our bills, was it possible that something slipped through? There’s also the matter of a denied medical claim that we’re still negotiating with the insurance company. Could that be the problem? I really wish I’d just known how to check phone number ownership, it could have saved me such a headache.

They called back when I could actually take the call, and it turns out that a Mr. and Mrs. Ngyuen are behind on their house payments. The call goes like this:

“If this is Mr. or Mrs. Ngyuen, press one. If not, press two.”

I press two.

“If you need a moment to bring them to the phone, press one. If this is the wrong number, press two.”

I press two.

“If you want to stop receiving these phone calls, press one.”

I press one. (Really. Does anyone NOT want to stop receiving these calls?)

“To be removed from the call list, you must talk to a customer service representative. Please hold.”

I hold. For six minutes, being told regularly how important my phone call is.

Finally, a young man answers, “Hello?”

“Hello?” I say. “Really? That’s it? Hello?”

“Who is this?” he asks.

“You called me,” I say.

“Are you looking for the modification department?”

“I don’t know what a modification department is. I’m calling to be taken off your list.”

“What list?”

“The one you called me from.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I think you have the wrong number.”

“It can’t be the wrong number,” I say. “I pressed one.”

“One what?”

“The number one. You called me. Your recording told me to press one to get taken off the list. I can’t have called a wrong number.”

“Oh,” he says. “Let me pass you to someone who can take you off the list.”

“What list?” I ask.


“I few seconds ago, you didn’t know what the list is. How are you going to take me off of it if you don’t know what it is?”

“I’ll transfer you to someone.”

“Let me talk to your supervisor.”

“I’ll transfer you to someone.”

“You’re not listening. I’m already talking to someone. Another someone doesn’t do me any good. I want to talk to your supervisor.”

“He’s not available.”

“I’ll talk to his supervisor, then.”

“Please hold.”

I endure three more minutes of assurances that my call is important.

“Um, sir? They weren’t available.”

“Your supervisor’s supervisor?”

“No sir. Someone else.”

“So if someone’s not there, that means no one’s there. Are you in a room by yourself?”

“No, sir.”

“Then someone must be there.”

“Sir, if you can just give me your phone number, we can take you off the list.”

“The right list? The one I want to be taken off of?”

“Yes, sir.”

“The list you don’t know.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you can guarantee that I’ll be removed.”

“I think so.”

I give him the number. “And what about the Ngyuens?” I ask.

“Excuse me?”

“The Ngyuens. The ones who are behind on their payments. Someone should call them and let them know.”


“They’re not at this number. I think we’ve established that.”

“They must have had that number before you.”

“This is a cell phone. I’ve had this number for over ten years.”

“Sir, I’ll tell the right person, and they’ll take the number off the list.”

“Okay,” I say. “I don’t want to have this conversation again.”

“I understand, sir. Neither do I.”

19 thoughts on “I Hate Unsolicited Phone Calls

  1. It wasn’t me….I swear it wasn’t me.

    As much as I would’ve liked to … no loved to…be part of that conversation it wasn’t me.

    And you handled it in such a manner that I am proud to say that I am a web-acquaintance of yours. Very proud John…a tear falls proudly from my eyes…sniff.

  2. Wow, John, you actually got to have a conversation with a real person. I’ve rarely gotten that far. And when I have, I’m told my number is picked at random by a computer from the public phone listings and can’t be removed or they’ll remove my number but it can take up to 90 days so I might get a few more calls or how can I not want to lower my credit card interest rates (I use AmEx–no interest) or the solar energy inspection is free if I agree to let someone come out to my home or . . .

    Lately I’ve been telling them that I’ve been out of work for 3 years, my house is being taken back by the bank, I’m bankrupt and dying of radiation poisoning, and my cat just hacked up a furball on the carpet. At that point they usually just hang up.

  3. That’s hilarious (maybe not), John. Save that for a class on how to do comedy dialogue, too.

    I once got a call from the cable company with an offer to get umpteen more channels for only $5 a month. Frustrated with these calls, I decided to ask how I could pay $5 a month to get fewer channels. The flummoxed salesman, now off script, wasn’t quite sure how to handle this. I assured him I was serious (I actually was. I really wanted to know the answer once I asked the question). We went around and around. He finally came back and said there wasn’t any way they could do this. I told him the company really ought to look into this service. I then thanked him for his time and hung up.

  4. Now that is really annoying, i feel the frustration just reading this!!
    Hello?” I say. “Really? That’s it? Hello?”

    “Who is this?” he asks.

    “You called me,” I say.
    hilarious ahhahaah
    nice post John.
    did they call you again?

  5. A few years ago, I had some actual debt collectors calling me. I first verified that my bills were all paid. I wasn’t home when they were calling, so I just ignored them, thinking it was some kind of scam. They did eventually get in touch with me and I figured out that they were looking for a different Timothy Fish. I told them that, but they didn’t believe me and they kept calling. I did finally get one guy who got it through his head that they had the wrong guy and the calls stopped.

  6. Wow. Something definitely doesn’t sound right about that at all.

    Are you aware of a phone scam called Vishing? It’s a computer-based phishing scam that uses Voice-over-IP technology to make a phone call. I think you may have stumbled upon a vishing scam gone bad given that the young man on the line at first didn’t know about the “list” and then played along with you.

    Vishing scams grew out of phishing scams which used email. Some scammers even purposely sent messages addressed to the wrong people just so the receiver would attempt to respond and correct “the error”. At that point, what happened from the perspective of the scammers was that a legitimate contact had been confirmed. Presumably for later use.

    Though I think you scared this kid pretty good. Better double check your phone bill for the next few months for strange billing items. It might not be a bad idea to share your story with a member of law enforcement either.

  7. How did you know how to spell “Ngyuens”? I mean, did it just sound like that when you heard it? Nuh-guh-you-ens.

  8. Actually, I believe it’s usually spelled “Nguyens”. It’s a very common Vietnamese surname.

  9. Sorry to be so silent on my blogging day. This has been another day of training on the west coast. I’m just now getting back to the keyboard.

    Basil, I’ve always been proud of our cyber-friendship.

    Tammy, you made me laugh–even though the DH is wrong, even in humor. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Joe, talking to the real person at least made it a little bit fun.

    Jim, I love the idea of paying more just to get rid of them.

    Timothy, I’ve heard horror stories about debt collection calls. The stories of abuse are horrifying. Glad you were able to get it straightened out.

    Daniel, thanks for the warning. When I googled the number, though, it traced back to a really big bank. Do you still think I need to be concerned? I’ll certainly keep an eye on my bills.

    Anon, I think you’re right about the spelling. I recognized the Vietnamese surname (“New-yen”), and I just took a shot at the spelling.

    John Gilstrap

  10. John…hope you don’t mind, but I am going to do this as a bit on the radio this evening. Probably to start the show I am hosting tonight but definitely in the first hour. Anyone who wants to listen, go to http://www.kbyr.com and click listen live starting at 8pm EST (4pm AK time).

    This is going to be fun….ooooh….I’m all tingly…

  11. Sigh….the station I was at had technical difficulties & there was dead air for most of the first hour. So instead of laughing it up w/ my friend’s story, I got to experiment w/ keeping my blood pressure down and not screaming.

    Maybe next time…..I was so looking forward to it.

  12. John et al,

    I have been called back onto the radio show that died on us last week I have been told it will work properly tonight. Apparently the board operator had made an error that won’t be happening anymore.

    Anyway, I plan to tell do your post on air tonight during the first hour.

    just curious, how long to flogging wounds take to heal?

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