Dear Mary

Dear Mary on cheering up an ageing Adonis....

....and clever tactics for dealing with nuisance callers

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

Q. The other night, as I arrived at the John James exhibition on Fulham Road, I stopped to say hello to an old friend standing outside. We had exchanged only a few words when the man next to him suddenly addressed me in sneering tones: ‘Are you having a senior moment?’ It is true I had failed to recognise him, though he was once very handsome and I had attended his wedding, but I hadn’t seen him in the 20 intervening years, during which time he had gone grey and even grown a grey beard and moustache. How would you have responded to this rudeness, Mary? Don’t you agree that he struck the wrong note with this sort of accusatory approach towards someone who was just going into a party?
— T.D., London W12

A. No reprimand was appropriate. This man was projecting anxiety about his own appearance. You should have turned the other cheek and cheered him up by replying: ‘Yes, you’re right, I was having a senior moment. I could have sworn you were George Clooney!’ (Or substitute the name of another glamorous ageing film star to whom the bearded one has even the faintest resemblance.)

Q. I have signed up with the Telephone Preference Service but still get about five calls a day on my landline from cold callers and assorted smooth-talking criminals trying to get my bank details, all treating me as though I am very stupid and trying to con me. I hate the invasion of my home and I hate losing my temper five times a day and being snappy with genuine friends who ring up. Is there anything I can do to put a stop to this?
— R.M., London SW6

A. The Telephone Preference Service can control only those calls originating in the UK. Another reader has had great success with the following method. He picks up the telephone and, speaking in faintly robotic tones, says: ‘Hello. I’m either not here or I’m pretending not to be here. Please leave a message.’ The criminals hang up immediately. The friends are familiar with the tactic and for those who aren’t, as soon as they speak he interrupts and admits he is there after all.

Q. Re. the difficulty of persuading dinner party guests to leave at a reasonable hour (Dear Mary, 31 October), my father had two formulae. He would clasp his hands and say loudly: ‘So there we are!’ If that didn’t work he would follow up: ‘Like all good things…’ It was very effective.
– M.B., by email

A. Thank you for submitting this suggestion, which could be effective in the right company.

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Show comments
  • BFagan

    Nuisance calls? BT8500.
    Get it, set it up following clear instructions. Since then I have not had a
    call from “abroad” telling me my computer has a virus and I need to
    upload my bank details to enable them to remove it. It will allow wanted numbers
    through, it will allow the phone to ring for you to vet so you can block the
    unwanted and one may see numbers to vet them when one has been out. After
    a week or so you should just be getting wanted calls.

  • hobspawn

    “Q. I… …still get about five calls a day… …criminals trying to get my bank details… …Is there anything I can do to put a stop to this?

    A. …Another reader has had great success with the following method. He picks up the telephone and, speaking in faintly robotic tones, says…”

    On no account take Mary’s advice. Instead, say “Yes, I am interested, hold on a minute while I fetch my bank details…”. Then put the receiver down on your desk and carry on with whatever you were doing.

    The business model of these pests requires each of their people or machines to make thousands of calls every day before they break even. They want you to identify yourself as not interested, so that they can immediately make ten more calls over the next minute. Do the decent thing, waste a minute of the caller’s time and save ten of us from the nuisance. If enough of us do this the calls will stop and the callers will be forced to find productive employment.

    Here’s a page with more info about this:

    • patrickirish

      Yes, I say “hang on my wife handles all the finance and computer details, I will get her”, then just leave the phone lying there. I enjoy the repeated hello, hello before the eventual click. I think this is what everyone should do rather than terminating the call quickly.

      • hobspawn

        If you hear him saying ‘hello’, pick up the receiver and say “she’s just coming down the stairs, I’m afraid her arthritis makes her quite slow”. With practice you can develop stock tactics and waste an amazing amount of their time. My record is about forty minutes in exchange for about thirty seconds of mine. It is satisfying to think of the number of people I saved from the nuisance that time.

  • EricRRosenbaum

    If the caller speaks unaccented English just tell him or her you do not speak English and camp up the accent. I find this works devastatingly well with panhandlers.

    • Callipygian

      What is ‘unaccented’ English? Everyone has an accent.

      • Fiona Marshall

        Not foreign, innit.

      • Fifitrix

        Not foreign, innit?

        • Callipygian

          Ah. Thanks for the clarification : )

    • hobspawn

      This does not hurt their anti-social business practice by a penny. Never willingly let a cold caller off the line. Always stall him and get on with your day.

  • Edward Studor

    I had a call starting ‘Hello, did you know that the government has set aside…’ (they like to get ‘government’ in as it sounds official), and I said, ‘I want nothing to do with this present government – goodbye’. I could hear him spluttering ‘but, but…’ as I put the phone down. Great entertainment.

    • hobspawn

      Another congratulating himself on helping the cold callers. Think.

  • Callipygian

    I find it amazing that people after all these years spend so much time wondering how to deal with cold calls — if they still get them: I rarely do.

    Anyway, I have caller ID, so if it’s not a number I recognize, I can let it go through to the voice recording.

    If I do pick up and it’s a cold caller, I can usually tell because there is a buzz on the line and they fail to speak immediately. If I hang on just in case and I’m proven right (I’m not always: sometimes it’s a call I do want to take from some business), then I simply say in a normal voice:

    Sorry, I don’t take cold calls, and hang up.

    It’s very simple.

    • hobspawn

      “It’s very simple.”

      …to do exactly what helps them to continue their business. Please read my posts above. “Sorry, I don’t take cold calls” takes no longer to say than “I’m interested, please tell me more…”. Think about it.

      • Callipygian

        I don’t share your hostility, H. It’s a miserable job and these are not well-off people trying to make a living. I don’t hold it against them personally. I just want to get off the phone.

        • hobspawn

          Wouldn’t it be better to encourage them, the hard way, to find a less miserable job? Like solving the energy crisis, or finding a cure for cancer. Anything really.

          Anyway, you should hold it against them personally, because they know full well how unwelcome and what a nuisance their calls are. They don’t care about you. Hit them and their bosses where they deserve it: in the wallet.

          • Callipygian

            They don’t despise you. My husband was a stockbroker a couple of decades ago. His job required him to cold-call potential clients. Sometimes it worked but mainly it didn’t. I tried helping him one afternoon by calling on his behalf (illegally, but we didn’t know that at the time). It was demoralizing and embarrassing. I couldn’t imagine doing that day after day. He soon got a better job in the industry, though we had to move to NYC for that and the consequences were immensely stressful. Not all of us have the luxury of making money in the way we would like.

          • hobspawn

            “Decades ago”. They do despise us because they are prepared to irritate very large numbers of those who answer for the sake of a very, very occasional bite. They know they are very very unpopular, because every day they are abused by right-thinking people. You can only do the job by riding rough-shod over common decency. Waste their time and make them find a happier job.

          • Callipygian

            Frankly, H, I have far better things to do!

          • hobspawn

            “Frankly, H, I have far better things to do!”

            As I said, it takes no longer to say, “yes, I’m interested, let me fetch a pen” than it does to say “Sorry, I don’t take cold calls”. Do it to save your neighbour the nuisance.

          • Callipygian

            I’m hanging up on this conversation.

          • calhou

            In my youth I did some cold calling. The experience convinced my that I needed to do something else. Personally, if they are not the rude sort, I feel for them. Especially when I hear desperation in their voice. I do not hate them. They don’t even bother me. Sometimes I let them give me their pitch. Some are quite good. But it is not too hard to say at some point “Thank you, but I am not interested, ” and then hang up.

          • hobspawn

            I’m saying you should feign interest, then put the receiver down on your desk and get on with your day. If all did this, the lost minutes would put them out of business so that he will have to move on and find a happier and more fruitful employment. Everybody wins.

          • Callipygian

            We agree, obviously. I think the clever-clogs here playing games are unkind to the point of being malicious. If they don’t want to talk, hang up. H-ll, there’s no need even to say anything!

          • hobspawn

            “I think the clever-clogs here playing games are unkind to the point of being malicious.”

            You honestly think it hurts them? They don’t give a crap. They are wage slaves trying to meet their call targets, and they hate the job. Put me, them, and everybody else out of our collective misery FFS. Is it that hard to understand? There are much better things for these people to be doing.

          • calhou

            …and I think the distinction needs to be made between cold callers and scam artists. There are plenty of both, but the latter is pretty easy to identify. Though with the criminal element it is best not to toy and just hang up.

          • Callipygian

            I’m sure you’re right, but I’ve never encountered any, myself. I rarely get calls, and these days they are usually things like surveys of a business I’ve used — there’s a connection. One time I was cold-called about an upcoming presidential election by pollsters: that was fun. The most offensive call I ever had was from a policeman working for his association: I told him I was rushing out and didn’t have time to take his call. He called me a liar. Considering that police have obvious powers to interfere with your life, he was beyond rude, and I don’t think such associations should call at all. Many people will feel more coerced than charitable in giving a donation (and I say this as someone that is generally very pro-law & order).

  • Miss Floribunda Rose

    I always tell cold-callers that I am a prostitute, and that this particular telephone number is used exclusively by my clients…..I then pause awkwardly, cough huskily, linger invitingly, tell them not to bother me again as I am expecting an urgent call, and slowly replace the receiver. Oh, such fun! It always works.

    • hobspawn

      …and then he calls someone else rather than waiting fruitlessly on your line. Wrong response.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    A few months ago I received a call from a young man calling himself Michael and speaking with an
    accent redolent of the Indian sub-Continent. He announced that he was calling from the Microsoft Windows Technical Department.

    I asked him “Michael, before we continue, may I ask you a question?”

    “Yes”, he said.

    I then asked him “Does your Mother know that you have embraced a life of crime?”

    “How did you know?” he replied and terminated the call.

    I have employedthis method a number of times since then. Usually they just hang up but some
    get quite shirty and begin arguing the toss. It can be quite fun

    • hobspawn

      You are wasting too much of your own time and not enough of theirs.