Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Freakin' Cheap: Eliminating Unwanted Phone Calls

A few years ago we reached a tipping point with unwanted phone calls.

When the phone rang, it was usually a call we did not want to take: fundraisers punishing us for our previous gifts, pollsters, sales people, scammers.

Then I came up with a solution that for a one-time cost of less than $25 has eliminated all unwanted calls. Over the past 5 years our phone has not rung several thousand times.

I was getting discouraged. I had tried signing up with the National Do Not Call Registry, but that barely made a dent in the call volume. The registry only prevents some sales calls: exemptions include charities, political calls, and companies who have previously done business with us. Scam artists are not in the least deterred.

The phone company wanted to charge us $7 per month (that's $840 over ten years) for No Solicitation. Unwanted callers would still disturb us because they could touch-tone their way through the No Solicitation screening prompts.

Caller ID is not a solution: by the time we decide we don't want to take a call, we've been disturbed. Besides, we did not want to pay a monthly fee for this service.

Then I came up with a solution that met a simple objective: when the phone rings, we know it's a wanted call.
We set up a new, unlisted home number. Cost: $0.
Our original home number goes straight to voice mail. One-time cost: about $25.
If a caller who is known to us calls our original home number, they get a message giving out our unlisted number. All other callers are simply asked to leave a message.

We continue to give out our original home number to charities, political organizations, and businesses. When they call, they go directly to voice mail.

The solution was simple and effective using two different Google accounts.

Google Account #1: Our Old Phone Number
A new Google account
  1. Set up a new Google account
  2. Export contacts list from existing Google account, then import the contacts list into this new account.
  3. Port existing home phone number to Google Voice in this account. I explain how to do this in a previous post. One-time cost: less than $25.
We decided we did not want to have to contact everyone with our new phone number. Instead I set up 2 voice mail responses in Google Voice:
If callers are in our contacts list (remember, I had imported our contacts list into Google Voice), they get a message giving out our new home number. Optionally, they can still leave a message at this (old) number.
If callers are not in our contacts list they're asked to leave a message.
I set up Google Voice notifications as follows:
Forward all voice mails (as transcribed text and a link to a recording of the message) and other notifications to my email account. Spammers generally do not leave a message.
Google Voice does not allow forwarding from one Gmail account to another Gmail account. If you are forwarding to another Google (Gmail) account, you'll need to set up an intermediate account. For example, 
  1. Set up Google to forward all Google Voice notifications to a Yahoo mail account.
  2. Set up the Yahoo account to forward all mail to your Gmail account.
I've set things up using a different scheme that forwards each message both to my email account and my partner's email account. 
Google Account #2: Our New, Unlisted Phone Number 
An existing Google account
  1. Get a new Google Voice phone number. In future you will use this as your home number. One-time cost: $0.
  2. Set up Google Voice as your landline service. See this post: Freekin' Cheap: Free Landline Phone Service
Alternatively, if your really want to continue to pay the phone company for landline service, just set up Google Voice (account #2) to forward all calls to a new landline number. You'll want to complete the setup of Account #1 first.

If you accidentally give out your new number, Google Voice has some useful features for controlling unwanted calls. For example, you can set up specific callers to go directly to voice mail or to a Number Disconnected tone.

Note: The photo at the top of this post shows some of the thousands of calls that did not ring our phones. One spammer was persistent, so with one click I added it to the "blocked" list. In future that caller will get "Number Disconnected." Hopefully they will tell their friends.

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