Blocked telephone numbers, and the not answering of them


There seems to be quite a strong mentality these days that one shouldn't answer phone calls that come from blocked numbers -- that is, phone numbers with their caller ID suppressed. I find this interesting. I did a bit of Googling, and I've discovered heaps upon heaps of people who refuse to answer them, often on entirely vague or misguided grounds. I have a number of plausible theories for why people do this, some of which can be combined together: 1. They're expecting bad news. Or they owe money. While it's probably better to answer a telephone call from a debt collector than have them come knocking on your front door, I can at least understand the logic behind avoiding the call.

2. In the '90s, prior to the ACMA Do Not Call Register being introduced to Australia, there was a strong predilection for telemarketers to use blocked numbers when calling. A lot of these companies would also employ computer systems that would automatically dial from lists of numbers, confirming a number's validity when someone answered. These culled lists of numbers-that-get-answered would then be sold on to other telemarketing companies for a sizeable profit. Since the introduction of the DNC Register, it's illegal for telemarketers to call, period, let alone use blocked numbers. That's not to say that a scad few don't choose to break the law and call anyway, but the odds have reduced significantly. Charities and other organisations that are immune to the DNC Register are required to have their numbers visible to the receiver, so that removes them from the equation.

3. Psycho exes, drunk friends, whatnot. You can opt for your own telephone number to be made silent/blocked/private. Some handsets differentiate between blocked numbers and private numbers. Dialing 1-8-3-1 before the recipient's number will temporarily make your Australian phone number into a blocked number, so it's entirely possible to prank call people in this fashion without having a prior arrangement with your telco. In the scenario of these types of calls, I can once again understand the decision to not answer.

There are another couple of things I'd like to add to this inconclusive report:

• Many businesses, particularly doctors and large agencies (to give only two examples) use blocked numbers for a perfectly practical reason. Doctors want to be able to contact their patients to deliver news or test results, but they don't need the patient to be able to call them back on their own personal desk phone with every little itch and malady. That's why there's a receptionist and a system to make appointments. Agencies with call centres use blocked numbers because their staff are often trained in specific tasks (such as performing a data fix on client accounts, for example) and only need to contact the public for specific information. There is no reason that the recipient of the call should ever need to contact the staff member again, because the staff member is not trained to help with general enquiries. It would be a waste of the company's resources to make public the staff's individual extension numbers, because the phones would then be ringing with calls that could not be acted upon by those answering them.

• "If you need to contact me, I have the right to know who you are". Fair enough, but why don't you ask them when you answer the phone? If I was calling from a number that you wouldn't recognise, what would make you answer that number in contrast to no information at all? You can always hang up.

My work calls me from blocked numbers. That's a pretty good reason to answer them. But maybe that makes me unique.

Ring ring.

Follow-up, August 2013: Answers to common search queries relating to this article:

Question: why shouldn't i answer calls from blocked number Answer: There is absolutely no reason why you should avoid answering calls from a blocked number. (Provided you're not avoiding a stalker or dangerous ex or calls from a utility company that wants your money in exchange for a service they've already provided you. In the latter case, perhaps you should just pay your bill. Or arrange a payment plan. Something like that.)

Shopping advice

This is for the benefit of anyone who's ever used a supermarket. Friendly advice, even, inspired by the behaviour of an entire extended family operating in some kind of evil alliance at checkout number six this evening. WHEN YOU REACH THE CHECKOUT, STOP SHOPPING.

The usual strategy when shopping for groceries is to enter the store, obtain either a trolley (cart) or a basket, put stuff you want in it, then proceed to a checkout and pay for it.

The family I encountered this evening had a different tack. FAMILY MEMBER ONE, who I shall call MRS. SHOPPERNAZI proceeded immediately to checkout six with her innocuous two items of purchase, trailed haphazardly behind by her small herd of children, brothers, sisters, grandparents and other bewildered brainwashees. I step into line. Gosh! thought I! A short queue! I can leave the supermarket in blistering time!


Mrs. Shoppernazi then proceeds to COMPLETELY OCCUPY the checkout, while her HORDES OF MINIONS are scurried about the place collecting foodstuffs she requests and depositing them on the conveyor. All the while I'm stood back a good six paces behind the checkout to allow room for the fucking armies to mass in and out of the space between the checkout and the barrier thing that's designed to provide room for only one person-width to leave the store through that thoroughfare.

Which leaves me in the awkward position of NOT LOOKING LIKE I'M ACTUALLY IN LINE. So while Mrs. Shoppernazi is waging war on the supermarket with her evil squadron of MiniShoppernazis, I'm fending off a border assault from assorted scalliwags who've concluded that since I'm stood back a distance from the checkout, I'm not really waiting to be served.

AND, the great wonderous being that Mrs. Shoppernazi gloriously presumes to be somehow manages to only purchase items that have no shelf price, which forms a third onslaught of troops on the checkout as various store officials pander back and forth relaying prices for the absurd shit this woman apparently cannot live without.

If her teller card hadn't worked, I'd have killed her.