Jim Heffernan column: Practical ways to fend off robocalls

Do I sound like a jerk? I hope not, but robocalls do get a little tiring, and I think they target people in my age group, which can only be described as “old as the hills.”

Jim Heffernan
Jim Heffernan
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I got a call from Amy again today. I hear from her quite often, maybe you do too.

Amy sounds very friendly. “Hello, this is Amy from medical services,” she starts out. “You have been recommended by a medical professional to receive a free …”

Guess what? One of those devices the elderly wear around their necks in case they fall down and can’t get up. There’s also a TV commercial acting out the horrific scene where a white-haired older woman is lying on the floor, helpless. “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” she hollers.

Of course, if she had the life-saving necklace she’d get help right away from caravans of rescue personnel in siren-blaring fire department rigs seen exiting their garages en route to her home.

All well and good. They probably work and could help some people in danger of falling. I don’t know. I haven’t got one.


When Amy calls, I try to talk to her, but, of course, she is a pleasant-voiced recording. Her last name undoubtedly is Robo. Amy Robo who is singled out by my medical professionals to make me this stupendous “free” offer.

I wish Amy could hear my responses. I wish I could print them in the newspaper. The paper has standards that prevent that. I would also like to hear who these “medical professionals” are who somehow think I need such a device. It might be consoling to know various medical professionals are watching over me without my knowledge.

Do I sound like a jerk? I hope not, but robocalls do get a little tiring, and I think they target people in my age group, which can only be described as “old as the hills.” Can’t help that.

But my favorite robocalls come from my “grandsons” and they are actually on the line and not recorded voices. “Grandpa,” they start out, and if you don’t hang up immediately, they tell you they are in jail with no money to bail them out and if good old Grandpa could send them some money …well, you know.

If you get that far, and you shouldn’t bother, you are making a mistake. There actually are reports that some grandpas or grandmas have been taken in by this scam.

A couple of times, just for the heck of it, I’ve tried to lead the alleged grandson on before they discreetly hang up. You don’t hear a hang-up click, but if they sense that you’re on to them they disappear into thin air.

Once or twice, though, I’ve been able to lead them on a bit. The secret is to respond to their “grandpa” greeting by saying a name. I prefer Kevin — I don’t know why. The caller figures he’s got you hooked:

“Grandpa?” he says when you answer. “Kevin?” you respond. “Yeah,” he comes back, figuring he’s got a comer. At that point he launches into his alarming story about being unjustly jailed somewhere and needs bail money right away.


So here we are: Kevin believes he has grandpa believing he’s actually a grandson in jail.

Here’s a suggestion for how to respond: “Kevin, I’m so glad you called. They’ve let me keep my cellphone here where I am in jail too and I need your help in getting me lined up with an attorney to defend me on a charge of very aggravated assault of a robocaller …”

At that point you sense that Kevin is no longer with us, in a telephone call sense.

Here’s another scenario you can use, free: “Grandpa?” he opens. “Kevin?” Same old routine. Then off you go: “Boy, am I glad to hear from you at this time. I’m locked in an old warehouse where kidnappers have placed me after abducting me from my home.

“They want a $50,000 ransom to be delivered at midnight to a trash barrel on the corner of Main Street and Seventh Avenue. Place the money in a wrapped package and put it in the …”

Oops. Suddenly there is no one on the other end of the line. No responses, no clicks. Just silence followed by the dial tone.

These are just my suggestions for dealing with some robocalls. I’m sure you can come up with other stories, if you ever have a live person on the other end of the call. Or just hang up.

As for Amy Robo. She’ll likely call again today. And I hate to be ungrateful — she says she’s offering free goods, after all — but I want to shout, “Help, I’m getting another robocall, and I can’t hang up.”


The reason I’m concerned about the current classified documents imbroglio is that I might have a few of those “TOP SECRET” manuals left over from my military days stored in my garage.
Let’s face it, college football “bowl” games have gotten out of control.
As Charles Dickens put it: “… It is good to be children sometimes, never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”

Related Topics: DULUTH
Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and columnist. He maintains a blog at and can be reached by email at
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