To the editor:

There’s a simple strategy for avoiding telephone scams and unwanted marketing calls or charity solicitations. If everyone followed it, these obnoxious callers would stop. Most people have probably already begun to practice it, but I’m a bit slow.  

About a year ago, I adopted this rule: If I don’t know the caller, I don’t answer. That’s all there is to it. Two features make this workable: caller ID and the ability to have the caller leave a message. If the caller really needs to talk with you, she will leave a message. You can then decide whether to call her back or not. Why did I take so long before I began to practice the rule?  Maybe I thought ordinary politeness made answering mandatory. Perhaps I thought callers are generally well-meaning, but they’re not — they only want something of yours: time, money, or your personal information. 

Like a fishing boat, they troll the general public to create income for themselves. A percentage of their calls will be answered. Some who answer will stay on the line and are gullible enough to be scammed.  They call at all times, even the most precious: ball games, meals, or the evening news.

Callers use all sorts of ID’s.  “Anonymous”,  “Private Call”, or “Out of Area,”  are a dead giveaway. Sometimes only the phone number appears in the caller ID. Other IDs may be subtle, such as the name of a city. “Teaneck, NJ” called me the other day. “Kansas City, Missouri” has called a lot lately, and so has “Leavenworth, Kansas.” 

I find it hard to understand how an entire city can place a phone call to someone. It must require joint action by the mayor and the city council.  

I’ve had calls from “IRS” – which I answered only once, and then just to find out if it was the widely known scam caller. It was. It seemed I was about to be arrested and needed to call the number they gave me, so I’d know where to send money.  The caller’s accent suggested that English wasn’t his primary language.  

Charities are no less irritating, so I don’t answer them either. I don’t need suggestions as to which charities I support.  With few exceptions, they can be a scam too. The caller ID can be manipulated by software. It can be made to be literally anything. So, if the caller ID is from a company or someone you know and have dealings with, you should answer, but be wary.  Call them back at their public number if you need to deal with them.

Callers might give  a legitimate company name or initials, but if I’m not already a customer, they don’t get to talk with me. They sometimes show a regular human name, like “Harris, Harry,” and a real phone number. I got several calls from him a couple of days ago. Sorry, Harry, the rule still applies. If I don’t know you, leave a message.

Most scam callers hang up once your answering message kicks in. They often call several times a day and never leave a message.  Likely, these are computer programs running down a list, or they could be “robocalls” calling all 10,000 numbers in an area code, one after another. My telephone provider allows me to go to their website and block up to 20 caller numbers.  I’ve currently blocked four very persistent callers. My phone doesn’t ring for them. It answers, but tells them I’m no longer accepting calls.

Since I began enforcing my simple strategy, life has been less stressful.  I’m no longer wracked with guilt that I had to refuse  that sweet person on the other end. As far as I know, the only thing I’ve likely missed is the call announcing I’d won the Publisher’s Clearing House grand prize. But I suppose I can live without it.