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What’s the silence behind a silent call?

It’s dinnertime. You’re just sitting down to eat and the phone rings. You rush to answer it, but when you do, there’s no one on the other end. You say “hello” a few times but there is only silence. Annoyed, you hang up. This is not the first time this has happened. Read on to find out what’s behind a silent call.

What is a silent call?

There are two kinds of silent calls:

  1. Phone fraud: Silent calls are often the first step in a phone fraud scheme that could lead to your identity being stolen or your bank account being drained. The silence on the other end of the phone is actually a computer gathering information about you; any small noise, like a cough, can signal to the computer that the number just dialed is an active line, answered by a human. Once the computer notes a person has answered the call, the numbers are gathered and sold to criminals, who use them to get personal information.  Phone fraud can take many forms. In addition to silent calls, one of the most common types is vishing.
  2. Telemarketing blips: In Canada, a silent call is a telephone call from a telemarketing agency that does not have an agent immediately available to handle the call when you answer. In this instance, the call may be suddenly terminated and you hear silence (“dead air”) or you may hear a dial tone from the telephone company indicating the call has been dropped. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its regulations for telemarketers, refers to a silent call as an “abandoned call.”

How does it work?

The majority of silent or abandoned calls are made and caused by automated calling systems known as dialers, or predictive dialers. These dialers, mainly used in call centres, dial telephone numbers automatically and connect people to call centre agents as soon as the phone is answered.

But dialers don’t always work as they should. For example:

  • If the dialer makes a call but there is no call centre agent on hand to deal with it, the person being called will hear silence on the other end of the line.
  • When the technology used by call centres to detect an answering machine mistakes you for the answering machine, it cuts off the call without playing an information message, or before you hear anything.

What you can do

If you are being annoyed by silent calls, or unwanted calls from telemarketers, you can have your number put on the National Do Not Call Registry. This way, your telephone number will not be available to automatic dialers. There are some exceptions, so it’s best to check the website. You can also try blocking individual numbers to avoid specific callers.

If you are still getting calls, you can complain about any that violate any unsolicited telecommunications rules (this includes automated dialing-announcing device rules). To file a complaint, you will need:

  • Your phone number (where the call was received)
  • The name and phone number of the telemarketer
  • The date you received the call

The next time you answer the phone and all you hear is silence, don’t panic. In fact, don’t say anything at all. Just hang up. You’ve most likely just avoided a pitch from a telemarketer or even better, foiled a possible plan for telephone fraud! We encourage you to share this article with the people you care about to help protect them against silent calls and other scams.

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