Published: March 14, 2009
Gerald Picolla, a college sophomore in Albany, was out clubbing one night last November when he met another student and gave her his cellphone number.
“Within a couple of days, I started to see some red flags that this was not a girl that would work for me,” said Mr. Picolla, 20. “I tried to let this go as painlessly as possible,” he added, but “she literally started calling my phone 80 or 90 times a day with a restricted number.”
To end the onslaught of calls, he turned to a new service, TrapCall, that unmasks the telephone number and name behind an anonymous call, and, in some cases, provides the caller’s address. It also allowed Mr. Picolla to put the number on a “do not receive” list, which gives the caller a message saying the number they have called is no longer in service.
Almost since the dawn of the telephone, people have sought to avoid the unwelcome caller, relying on technologies from the answering machine to caller ID. But pranksters, harassers, bill collectors and telemarketers have found ways to circumvent caller ID by hiding their identities — listing a telephone number as “private caller” or “restricted” with their phone company.
Now, new services are aiming to outfox anonymous callers.
TrapCall, offered by TelTech Systems Inc., based in New Jersey, diverts an anonymous call to an 800 number, and then discloses the incoming number and name to the intended recipient, said Meir Cohen, president and co-founder of the company. The caller hears a normal ring tone and is unaware that the call is being traced to its source.
In the four weeks since TrapCall was introduced, 200,000 people have registered for the service, which is free.
Another free service called Google Voice, which will make its national debut in a few weeks, offers a similar service. Callers from those numbers will hear a recording, similar to TrapCall’s, saying the number is no longer in service.
James Harrington, who runs a media campaign company in St. Simons Island, Ga., said that while the service was handy in screening for telemarketers’ calls, he had a more pressing reason for signing on: to keep track of his elderly mother in Florida.
Mr. Harrington signed up for a paid variation of the service that allows voice mail messages to be transcribed into text messages.
“Now I don’t have to wait until a two-hour meeting is over to listen to my voice mail,” he said. “I can just look down at my phone, read the text transcription and know whether it’s something I need to deal with right away.”
That is important to him, he said, because he was in a court hearing when his father died in 1996 and was unable to take the call.
Gina Tran, 19, a hotel concierge in Los Angeles who gets up at 6 a.m., said she had turned to TrapCall after repeated calls from anonymous numbers. “My sleep was always being interrupted,” she said.
After receiving 21 such calls one night, she recognized the number that TrapCall revealed to her as that of a casual acquaintance in New York City. She sent him a text message to ask him to stop calling. He did, but resolving who is behind masked calls is not always so clear cut.
In domestic abuse cases, the victims, who often remain in contact with former partners for child custody arrangements, do not want the abusers using TrapCall to reveal their phone numbers and names and be able to track them down, said Cindy Southworth, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, based in Washington, D.C.
The group is not taking a stand on the service, she said, but added: “We recommend using a third party, such as a friend or family member, as a contact point. That’s a way to be certain that one service can’t cancel out another, and the number really is blocked.”
Deidri Fishel, a domestic violence detective for the police department in State College, Pa., said a service like TrapCall could help find unwanted callers more quickly.
“We have so many cases where callers are using things like prepaid phone cards, where it can be cumbersome to track them,” she said.
In a twist, TelTech also offers a way out of TrapCall for those intent on keeping their phone number and name hidden. Called Spoofcard, the service allows callers to buy a false outbound phone number for a certain period of time that appears on the recipient’s caller ID screen.
Even so, people plagued by unknown callers may be able to use TrapCall to trace the perpetrator before he or she knows it, said Alexis A. Moore of El Dorado, Calif., who founded the nonprofit crime victims’ organization Survivors in Action after years of receiving untraceable phone calls.
“Most victims I have spoken with already are changing their phone plans so they will be able to use the technology,” she said.
“If it’s not easy,” she added, “most people doing that kind of calling won’t continue it.”Technorati Tags: Technological,Boost,Mouse,Game,Callers,NYTimes,ELIZABETH,OLSON,March,Gerald,Picolla,college,Albany,November,student,Within,flags,girl,times,onslaught,TrapCall,cases,caller,message,Almost,machine,services,TelTech,Jersey,recipient,Meir,Cohen,president,Another,Google,Voice,debut,numbers,Mobile,Verizon,customers,James,Harrington,Simons,Island,Florida,variation,messages,text,transcription,father,Gina,Tran,hotel,concierge,Angeles,acquaintance,York,victims,partners,custody,arrangements,Cindy,Southworth,director,Project,National,Network,Domestic,Violence,Washington,friend,member,Deidri,Fishel,detective,department,State,Spoofcard,period,perpetrator,Alexis,Dorado,Calif,crime,organization,Survivors,Action,Most,plans,technology,technologies,collectors,Systems,users,databases,longer,telemarketers,weeksNote: Cross posted from Anonymoms (we are everywhere).