2053: Incoming Calls

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Incoming Calls
I wonder if that friendly lady ever fixed the problem she was having with her headset.
Title text: I wonder if that friendly lady ever fixed the problem she was having with her headset.


This comic shows a graph (a 100% stacked area chart) of incoming phone calls over time to Randall since he was older than six years. Not covered are major modern ways to communicate like SMS, talking on Facebook, or other messaging apps.

Wrong numbers used to be a small but significant portion of the phone calls that Randall received and remained fairly steady until the late 1990s, when they began a gradual and accelerating decline, eventually tapering off to nearly none in 2015. This is likely due to the rise of cellphones and programmable land-line phones, which contain their own address books and only require the caller to enter the number once, greatly reducing the chances of accidentally entering a wrong number in general and eliminating the possibility entirely for anyone with whom you have taken the time to save their number.

Appointment reminders and miscellaneous similar calls have steadily increased with time, likely due to a combination of Randall's increasing responsibilities as he ages, and thus the number of appointments and legitimate businesses who need to contact him, and the increased use by businesses of automated reminder systems. The appointments section seems to be slightly tapering off, possibly for the rise of using other means, such as SMS, for reminders.

The proportion of family members started slowly decreasing until 1998 where it remained almost constant until roughly 2008-2009. Possible reasons for the decline is that Randall's family has been passing away from old age, or that Randall has ceased contact with them; a possible reason for the increase thereafter is Randall's meeting of his current wife, thus gaining in-laws.

A note to keep in mind though is that the graph represents the relative percentage of calls, not the absolute number; therefore, a third possibility is simply that the number of calls hadn't changed, but rather the volume of phone calls from everyone else has gone up. Likewise, the increase in phone calls from family might simply be due to the number of phone calls from everyone else going down while family calls have remained constant. Additionally, as mentioned below, phone communication may be be decreasing due to the rise of other communication mediums.

The proportion of friends who call Randall rapidly increased in the 1990s and began to overtake family, likely due to a combination of gaining new friends over time and old friends growing into teenage years owning a cell phone roughly starting in the 2000s. At that time the Internet wasn't a primary method of communication especially when away from home, thus phone calls were the main way to connect with friends when apart. Over time, Randall's friends and family have been less likely to make phone calls to him, likely as phone calls have been succeeded by other methods of communication. This is supported by an entry for "that one friend who hates texting" which has grown to encompass pretty much the entire "Friends" category; presumably all his friends EXCEPT that "one friend" do all their communicating with Randall by text or other chat services.

Additionally, although there was a large percentage of phone calls from legal telemarketers in the 1990s, this percentage has significantly dropped, perhaps due to the National Do Not Call Registry in the United States, which prohibits telemarketing/automatic dialing to those on the list. Political advertisements are exempt from this list. Instead, there has been a rise in phone calls from scammers and political advertisements.

Telemarketers may target calls based on victims' age or other publicly available statistics. The rise and fall of auto insurance scammers may indicate targeting people in their early twenties. It could also be tied to other events, such as the purchase of an automobile. There have also been various reports online about the commonality of this scam in and around 2013, ([1]) indicating this may have been a particularly challenging problem during this period.

The title text refers to a common scamming tactic in which a robocaller, typically one named "Emily," will claim to be having trouble with their headset and say "Can you hear me now?" The trick is either to keep you on the line while taking a second or two to connect you to a real person to get scammed, or to get a recording of you saying "yes" for potential fraudulent use (or both).


[A line graph shows the portions of phone calls by type over time beginning slightly before 1990 until today.]
Incoming personal calls over time
or: why I finally stopped picking up for unknown numbers
[The x-axis is labeled with years beginning at 1990 in five-year segments up to NOW (2018). The y-axis shows a relative distribution of callers.]
[The calls are (from top to down):]
Appointment reminders, misc. (small growing all over time)
Family (larger in the beginning, constant with some fluctuations since 2000)
Friends (growing from 1995 to 2005, then decreasing but intersected with "that one friend who hates texting", after that decreasing)
Legal telemarketers (peak in the beginning, decreasing over time)
Auto insurance scammers (a big peak between 2005 and 2012)
Other scammers (beginning in 2010, replacing the auto insurance, increasing until today)
Political (starting in 2002 and increasing since then)
Wrong numbers (constant up to 2000 and then decreasing to nearly today)

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The "other scammers" section is far too small. 16:54, 1 October 2018 (UTC)

We have two title texts explanations. With slightly conflicting information. Combine and brush up or should we just do one or the other for now? I like the CBS source in the first so I think we should absolutely preserve that at least. Lukeskylicker (talk) 17:15, 1 October 2018 (UTC)

Supposing that you are correct, I have to add that I have never heard of the headset trick being used to buy time to connect you to a real scammer. But then again, I don't get scammed that often. Kwonunn (talk) 17:44, 2 October 2018 (UTC)

He forgot bill collectors. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

As the link from the first title text explanation points out, they don't *need* your credit card or social security number as many phone companies, especially mobile companies, will allow a third party to add charges to your phone bill if you've agreed to pay the money. With that in mind, I don't think the second explanation flies. 17:42, 1 October 2018 (UTC)

This only makes sense if it’s proportional or percentage based. But then that makes one wonder if some of this might be because the number of calls dropped over time. -- Mr.Dude (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

There's a contradiction between "it's safe to assume that calls from his family didn't decrease over the years", and "Over time, Randall's friends and family have been less likely to make phone calls to him, likely due to the use of text messages and other messaging apps.". I'd suggest rephrasing the first part to say "it's possible the calls from family didn't decrease over the years, in which case they only make up a smaller fraction as the number of total calls increases since 1990.", or simply "some of the categories like family calls appear to be occurring less often but may only be decreasing in frequency in proportion to total calls" 21:10, 1 October 2018 (UTC)

I know for me personally family calls have decreased as texting and other messaging apps have become more common, and the same might have happened for him. It is clear that this graph excludes texting as by the present the only friend calling is that one friend that hates texting. That person may be the best way to figure out if the absolute volume of calls has increased...it appears the volume of total calls has increased, at least recently, as that one friend originally took up a larger proportion of the vertical space (of course the frequency of correspondence with that friend may also have changed). 16:51, 2 October 2018 (UTC)
Thanks for your written thoughts. You also can enhance the explanation. But for now I've added a new paragraph about texting, just because it's not part of the comic. And, sorry I missed it, I also hate tex...ng ;) --Dgbrt (talk) 17:29, 2 October 2018 (UTC)

At least not being British he missed the PPI calls. 21:16, 1 October 2018 (UTC)

Along with the current spate of automated calls telling me that my IP address needs to be changed as it has been "compromised in multiple countries". Gearóid (talk) 06:44, 3 October 2018 (UTC)

The trick is not always just to get you thinking you're talking to a real person. More likely it is to get a recording of you saying "yes", which can be used maliciously.-- 08:19, 2 October 2018 (UTC)

AFAIK, that has only been done once, there is a question on it here: https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/42050/have-phone-scammers-recorded-yes-statements-to-fraudulently-authorise-payments (I was going to say that it was probably a myth, but the accepted answer had not been written when I last read that page. Pays to check sources I guess, be it for updated webpages, or to counter scammers Baldrickk (talk) 12:57, 3 October 2018 (UTC)

Referencing "the famous WhatsApp" seems unnecessary. It could be replaced with something like "various mobile messaging apps" anonanon

Could someone please provide more information about that "auto insurance scammer" part? From my foreign perspective, this means nothing at all and it seems odd that Randall's scammer calls were so numerous and so single-minded in their focus for such a long time. Were these calls really the only scams during that time? Did other scammers then copy their methods? It may seem obvious to you but it certainly isn't for me. 09:30, 3 October 2018 (UTC)

I don't specifically know what that scam is; maybe that was just a scam that Randall personally got a lot of calls about and/or has an especially vivid memory about? -boB (talk) 14:06, 3 October 2018 (UTC)
I can provide some anecdotal context, because we (my fiancee and I) still receive this particular type of scam call, to the exclusion of any other type for some reason. Basically, they call and say that they are calling about your car insurance bill and that it's a critical issue. I don't know exactly how it proceeds from there because we don't have a car and well, that's our response to the call. My assumption here is, with Randall iirc living quite near where I live (eastern US), he received much the same call for a long time. 23:55, 3 October 2018 (UTC)
Cool, thanks for the info! 15:59, 4 October 2018 (UTC)
Perhaps this is an age based thing? At that time Randall was in early 20's, finished university, might even have recently got an automobile.
My parents (in their 80's) get a lot of calls from Microsoft "Vindose" technical support, health scams (braces, pain help), "Rachel" from card services, air duct cleaning. Never gotten any from auto insurers. 07:08, 5 October 2018 (UTC)

"Rachel" from credit card services deserves her own category. Whenever I have a few minutes to kill, I wait for a "representative" and then keep asking WHICH of my cards he's calling about and torment them with stupid questions until they hang up (or ask for the person in charge of office supplies and try to sell them toner). Also deserving of their own category are the scammers who call about changing my energy supplier and those offering solar panels. To these I usually tell that I like paying higher rates to my electric company, that we have a nuclear reactor in the basement, or that we steal our electricity from our neighbors. - alex

Honestly the card services scams are particularly toxic because some banks use a very similarly named department to report potentially fraudulent charges and attempt to confirm with you whether or not they were authorized. I have had a few legitimate card services calls in my life. 23:57, 3 October 2018 (UTC)
Personally I can't say I've ever received a scam card services call, but I have received legitimate ones. Like when they found it suspicious I bought gas two days in a row, which I had never done (looks like the attendant when I bought gas grabbed my card info, because I still had my card. Pretty sloppy to buy gas when he GOT IT from someone buying gas!). Also never heard of that headset thing, that seems like a bit of a leap, but I guess it makes sense that Randall meant that if he included it this way. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:45, 5 October 2018 (UTC)

My incoming calls are 80% scammers from India and 20% are from my parents :( Boeing-787lover 07:30, 6 October 2018 (UTC) -- Xkcdreader52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)