I don't know too many people who haven't received these telephone calls that come out-of-the blue and start by a heavily-accented person on the other end introducing themselves as "I'm from the Telstra technical department and we've decided to disconnect your internet for the next x days ...". The problem with these phone calls is that they prey on the innocent, the naïve, the technically clueless and the gullible in our society who are ready to believe that they're at risk. In particular, because we read each day about the latest virus that jeopardises businesses and institutions around the country and around the world, because of the recent surge in cyber-terrorism, ransomware and other threats to our liberties, we're worried that we might be unknowing participants and how we should prepare ourselves in case these threats appear on our own doorsteps.
First of all, no telecommunications company in Australia is allowed to call you, by telephone, and suggest that your internet services will be disrupted for whatever reason without first advising you by a representative of the company visiting you in person, by putting a letter (personally addressed to you in your letterbox), by specific advice on their website to the effect that customers in certain locations will experience outages, or by email (again, personally addressed to you) notifying you of their intent to disrupt your services. Your rights are guaranteed in the telecommunications providers' conditions of service, they're guaranteed by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman and there are stiff penalties for breaches of the Telecommunications Act.
Of course, those legalities don't worry those who ring you and try coerce you into doing something that you shouldn't actually be doing; in other words, to spread fear, uncertainty, doubt and panic.
I've lost count of the number of telephone calls I've received from these pranksters. I usually get call every day and, no matter what technique I use, the calls keep coming back again. It doesn't matter that my telephone is on the government do not call register, whether I hang up immediately, whether I'm patient or abrupt … the calls keep coming.
Let's acknowledge the following facts:
- The calls do not originate in Australia; it doesn't matter what the caller-id number displays on your telephone, the calls originate overseas.
- It doesn't matter if your telephone number is listed or unlisted, the calls are generated by computer software and they are sent randomly all over the place.
- Telstra is not responsible for these calls.
- Neither Telstra nor your telecommunications provider has the ability to block these randomly-generated robo-calls.
- Telstra is aware of the problem—the government and law-enforcement agencies are aware of the problem—but this issue is poorly publicised. The ultimate responsibility for dealing with the problem lies in the hands of ordinary people like you and me. It's how we respond—individually and collectively—to these calls that will determine whether anything changes.
- These calls are illegal; full-stop; end of debate.
I was reading today (on one of those self-help forums where people were whingeing about Telstra calling them about disconnecting their internet services) a few ideas that people have offered on how to deal with those menaces. I tried one of those ideas out a few moments ago (when I received the second call of the day from "the Telstra technical department") and this is how the call went:
[Phone rings with mysterious interstate Caller ID. Pick up telephone. Hear the momentary silence and tell-tale clicks at the other end as the call is connected]
(Man's voice in foreign accent): Hello, my name is Jim and I'm calling you from the Telstra technical department. How are you today?
(Me, matter-of-factly): What do you want to know?
("Jim"): I am ringing to let you know that we have decided to disconnect your internet for the next 15 days ...
(Me, with considerable enthusiasm and excitement): Really? That's fantastic news. I've been hoping that would happen soon and thank you for letting me know!
("Jim", unsure what to say next, pauses): OK [click]
So that's the secret! Just tell them "thank you" and that you're relieved and they'll hang up. Obviously, their script doesn't prepare them for when the respondent actually appreciates their nuisance! Obviously I will receive a phone call from "Jim" tomorrow—it doesn't matter that we can't stop them calling us—but at last I've found a way to make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.