Free land line white-list & call-screening without porting your number to google voice

My parents are getting up there in age and awhile back, I was dismayed when my dad asked me if a message from “Apple” on his answering machine about his iCloud account being hacked was real (he thought it was!).

I’d been suggesting for awhile that he port his number to google voice so he could stop paying for land line service.  I’d looked up how to go about doing it.  But I’d been second guessing that option after reading some horror stories about people losing their life-long phone numbers.  Plus, I wasn’t too thrilled about google listening in on all their calls.

I had set up Nomorobo for them some time ago, and it was effective for awhile, but the telemarketing industry and scammers started spoofing random local numbers.  So they were getting multiple scam calls a day and I worried about them falling for a phishing scam, or worse.  Their neighbor had fallen victim to a scam where a caller pretended to be their grandson and needed bail money asap.  She ended up being scammed out of $10k.

I had looked through all the services from my parents’ landline provider for blocking callers, etc, but the options were very limited, even though they had a VOIP service through their cable company.  There was no way to implement a white list (a list of known callers that are allowed to call you), nor was there a way to implement call screening other than caller ID.

But I recently had an inspiration based on the way nomorobo is set up.  I could do both – whitelist all my parents known callers and send the rest through call screening using google voice, without porting their number and without (the majority of) their calls being listened in on by google!  Read on to find out how…

Many land line service providers have a feature that allows calls to not only ring your land line, but your cell phones at the same time, and that’s how you set up nomorobo.  You enter the nomorobo phone number into your landline provider’s interface to ring whenever you get a landline call and if nomorobo identifies the number as a known scam caller, it quickly picks up the call.

It dawned on me that I could use google voice in the same way.  Instead of having google voice take over my parents phone number, I could add their separate google voice number to the landline settings the same way I did with nomorobo.  So whenever a call comes in on their landline, it would ring their google voice number in addition to their landline phones.  And as I’d hoped, if you set up call screening on google voice, google voice will pick up the call and direct the caller through call screening!  You may hear 1 ring on your land line before google voice picks up – but that’s no different from nomorobo, which they were already used to.  The caller is prompted to state their name and press one.  After they complete that process, you can set google voice to ring your cell phone*.  What’s more is, if you go to the legacy google voice interface, you can turn off call screening for all your contacts in your google contacts, while leaving call screening on for all other callers (including anonymous callers).

One downside is that you need to set up google contacts with all your friends, coworkers, and businesses who call you, which can be laborious if you don’t maintain a contacts list on your phone with area codes. Otherwise, your contacts will all be shunted through call screening, and I know from experience that many people don’t listen and assume that they got your voicemail.  They think they “left a message”, but what really happened was they were asked to state their name and press 1.  No message was recorded and your phone didn’t ring.  You end up getting an email that they tried to call and the only way of finding out what they wanted is to simply call them back.  Plus, at least on iPhone, there’s not a good google contacts app that makes it easy to add contacts so that screened callers don’t get screened in the future.  So I simply went to contacts.google.com and added it to the home screen of my dad’s iPhone.

To summarize, here’s everything you need to do:

Setup

  1. First, you need to make sure that your land line phone provider has a settings page where you can enter phone numbers to ring simultaneously whenever you receeive a land line call.  If that’s not an option, you will not be able to proceed.
    1. Go to your landline provider’s web page
    2. Log into your account
    3. Look for voice or phone settings
    4. Confirm there is a setting like “Call forwarding” that allows you to enter a 3rd party phone number
  2. Export all your contacts on your cell phone and import them as Google Contacts
  3. Sign up for Google Voice using your mobile number and select a google voice number
  4. On the Google Voice interface (in your web browser on a computer)…
    1. Click the menu icon at the top left (it looks like 3 horizontal lines).  This will reveal the link to the legacy google voice interface – click it.
    2. Click the settings cog button/icon at the top right and select settings
    3. Click the Calls tab and…
      1. Turn on call screening
      2. Turn on “send missed calls to my email” (and enter your email address)
    4. Click the Groups tab and…
      1. Edit “All contacts” to turn off call screening
      2. Edit the “Anonymous callers” to turn on call screening
    5. Click the “Phones” tab and make sure your mobile number is turned on
      1. Optionally, also make sure your Obi200^ is turned on
  5. Go to your landline phone provider’s voice settings page and enter your google voice phone number to ring simultaneously whenever you receive a landline call (i.e. the setting you confirmed in step 1).  (Note, any phone that your google voice is set to ring will ring whenever you receive a landline call.)

Once everything is set up, here is the process when you receive a call on your land line:

What to expect

  1. Someone calls your land line number
  2. If the caller is not in your contacts
    1. Your landline rings once (or not at all), at which point google voice takes over the call
    2. The caller is asked to state their name and press 1
    3. If the caller completes this successfully (robo calls usually don’t)
      1. The call is forwarded to your cell (also optionally to your Obi200^)
      2. You answer and hear the caller’s name stated to you by google voice and are prompted to press 1 to accept the call
    4. If the caller fails call screening (i.e. didn’t press 1)
      1. You get an email that someone tried to call you
  3. If the caller is in your contacts
    1. Your land line continues to ring as usual
    2. You pick up and start talking as always
    3. [side-effect] You get an email about a missed call (because google voice doesn’t know the difference between the caller hannging up and you answering your land line)

The only thing I worry about is my dad missing calls for whom he had no contact info in his cell phone.  I showed him how he can add callers to his google contacts, but I was worried that he may miss the email that google voice sends too, so I set up the email client on his computer to forward emails from google voice to me so I can alert him about anything that looks important.

If you try all this out, let me know in the comments how it goes for you!

 

* Unfortunately, unless you port your number to google voice, there’s no way to send screened callers back to your land line.  However, there’s a workaround which I have not yet tried…  If you have phones that can handle 2 lines, and you buy an Obi200^, you can send screened callers through to your second line.

^ Personally, I don’t have a paid land line.  I bought an Obi200, which is a VOIP device that can be configured using google voice to ring all the land line phones in your house.  It plugs into your router via ethernet and can have a landline phone line plugged into it.  I bought one for my dad.  Perhaps on my next visit, I’ll rig it to ring my dad’s second line.

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