Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 27, 2018

Winning the war against robocalls

Filed under: crime — louisproyect @ 4:25 pm

I can’t think of any 19th century American novel that anticipates our current state of affairs better than Herman Melville’s “The Confidence Man”, which I wrote about long ago:

If you really want to understand the heart of darkness that defines American society, it is necessary to read Herman Melville. While Melville has the reputation of being a combination yarn-spinner and serious novelist, he is above all a profound social critic who sympathized with the downtrodden in American society. In his final novel, “The Confidence Man,” there are several chapters that deal with the “Metaphysic of Indian-Hating” that, as far as I know, are the first in American literature that attack the prevailing exterminationist policy.

“The Confidence Man” is set on a riverboat called the “Fidèle,” that is sailing down the Mississippi. As the title implies, the boat is loaded with con men who are either selling stock in failing companies, selling herbal “medicine” that can cure everything from cancer to the common cold, raising money for a fraudulent Seminole Widows and Orphans Society or simply convincing people to give them money outright as a sign that they have “confidence” in their fellow man. The word “confidence” appears in every chapter, as some sort of leitmotif to remind the reader what Melville is preoccupied with: the meanness and exploitation of his contemporary America. Because for all of the references to the need for people to have confidence in one another, the only type of confidence on the riverboat is that associated with scams.

Five years ago, I returned to Melville’s novel in a post that covered predatory journals and other scams, including those robocalls that were driving me nuts: “Recently I installed a device called a Digitone Call Blocker that can be used as the name indicates to block calls from scammers trying to sell me a senior alert system, or credit card relief—just two of the more frequent bids to separate you from your money. The Digitone cost me $90 but it is well worth it not to have the phone ringing three times a day from such assholes.”

After four years, the Digitone stopped working. To be more exact, the LED gave out. I spoke to the guy who invented the device and he told me that he was only able to use the LED’s that were commonly available and they all had a limited shelf life.

The next step was to replace my perfectly working Sony phone with a Panasonic that included a blocking function, another $100 or so to keep me from going nuts. Eventually I discovered that the robocalls were always coming from new phony numbers so that blocking them was not very effective.

In 2012, relief finally became available through the auspices of NoMoRobo, an application that blocks robocalls through a central registry. All you need to do is add the phone number for NoMoRobo as a “simultaneous call” on your provider’s website (we use Verizon) and it will intercept the call and throw it away.

Every so often, a call will sneak through but not at the maddening rate without NoMoRobo. At least, that is how it began after I signed up. Over the past year or so, we started getting bombarded with calls originating from 212-427-xxxx. Since that is how our number starts, there must be some sort of glitch that prevents phony 212-427 numbers from being added to the NoMoRobo database. When you are getting five phone calls a day soliciting crooked deals on medical alerts, credit card debt relief, and home improvement—nearly all from India—you become open to any solution other than getting rid of your phone. Since I rarely use my phone to begin with, that almost seemed feasible.

A new service called YouMail seems to be more robust than NoMoRobo but at a cost of $5 to $10 per month based on whether you are using it for a business or not. The only drawback, it seems, is that it only works for cell phones, and smart phones at that.

The real question is how we are subjected to such open criminality. In 2017, a record 30.5 billion robocalls were made, a nuisance not only to someone like me but to businesses trying to field legitimate calls. It appears that the FTC and the FCC are not that committed to destroying the robocall industry once and for all since many big corporations and nonprofits use it “legitimately”. On top of that, how can such agencies control what is happening in India, where lawlessness is even more widespread than here?

In trying to find a way to block 212-427-xxxx calls, I finally discovered that Digitone, the blocker I used once before, allows you to block on a wildcard basis, either by area code or area code + exchange number. I ponied up $80, ordered it from Amazon, and will use it until the LED stops working. It will be worth every penny to me since I no longer get robocalls—PERIOD.



  1. A professor assigned “The Confidence Man” in my Jacksonian Era history class at UC Davis many years ago. As you say, it’s a great novel with striking social insights about the amorality of American culture.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 28, 2018 @ 4:12 am

  2. For us here in more or less central Virginia, Panasonic’s “Call Block” button has worked the magic we’ve hoped for. Blocked calls still come in but after one ring, the call disappears. Have to admit, I do take joy in blocking these vermin.

    Continued success to you, Louis.

    Comment by Bill Boyd — August 28, 2018 @ 10:13 am

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