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A Few Things About The Phone

Things worth knowing about telephones and using the telephone system...

select here for shareware

You might know all this already, but not everyone does. If you know more, help by adding to this: e-mail

Also, these items are seen from a UK BT perspective, and there are differences and equivalences with different phone companies and in different countries around the world. If in doubt, phone the phone company).

* Cordless phones are not private, and can be listened-in on by anyone nearby with a radio scanner. These phones should have a sticker on them saying "warning - conversations on this phone are not private". However, the range of bugging is limited, typically 100 metres for a BT-approved cordless phone. So, when giving your bank a call, don't give away your secret code number! Note that this is a separate issue to the general bugging of all phones by the Secret Service, which we all know about and deal with by talking with a lot of misleading information. Also don't have a cordless phone as your only phone. Why? Because if the power fails you won't be able to call for help. More about this among other issues under the heading of phone problems in power cut

* You can make international phone calls over the Internet for the price of 2xlocal-calls!. It's called Internet Telephony. One of the developments in this (in 2005) was Skype, which also has features for dialling out of the network. Similarly with Vonage and Verizon. Also see other types of VoIP. These are genuine free phone calls, but again it's important to be aware of problems with the phone during power cuts with these fancy systems!

* Dial 1471 to find out who phoned you last. (again there are equivalents for other companies/countries). Dial 141 to hide your number from people you phone, but don't forget that this does not hide it from the operator, emergency services, etc. Updated! Special note about "Press 3 to return the call": "* Call Return (press 3) element of BT 1471 - from the 1st August 2004, BT will be introducing a 6p fixed fee to the Call Return element of BT 1471. The fee will apply when customers press "3" to return the call to the telephone number of the last caller and will be charged regardless of whether or not the call is connected. Dialling BT 1471 without using the Call Return will remain a free service." So, you just make a note of the number and then dial it.

(You can also withhold your phone number on your mobile phone).

* Dial *411# to turn on Charge Advice and #411# to turn off Charge Advice. Charge advice is a free service (well done British Telecom!) which phones you back after you've made a call and tells you how much the call has cost. Knowing how much calls cost soon saves a lot of money. BT doesn't make a big show about this because the measurement is not 100% accurate. See Charge Advice for more about this.

* On BT, if a phone is engaged, you can press 5 for a Ringback Request. But did you know you can stop the robot reminding you about this? And did you know you can cancel a ringback request? Also, if you don't like being reminded about the "5" option every time you ring a number and it's engaged, you can put a stop to it? Yes, it's true. You just phone the Operator and politely ask for the "Voice reminding you about 5 when engaged" to be turned off. Phone operators are usually quite helpful in this if you ask them nicely. After you've got the reminders turned off, you no longer get reminded about the "press 5" option, but you can still use it. It doesn't stop it working. It just stops you getting reminded every time.

* Also, it's possible to make 3-way calls (or multi-way calls of more than 3 participants). Three Way Phone Calls

* "Friends and Family Option", is free, saves money, and the phone operator will advise you what sort of numbers you use most and so which might save more money. Always have Some numbers set, as any saving is better than none, and besides, it encourages big companies to offer discount schemes like this, so it's good for everyone.

* Check your phone companies regularly for any new schemes they've got on. Compare different phone companies at uSwitch. Read those little booklets that arrive with the phone bill, or, if that's too much trouble, make a call to the operator every now and then and say something like "I know about 1471 and *411# / #411#, but are there any new things on the go I should know about?"

* Commercial cold-calling, telesales, telemarketing, or phone spam - an increasing problem in the mid zero-zeros decade following the introduction of cheaper phone tariffs, improved international communication, and bulk arrangements becoming possible.

* Itemised bills are a good idea and are worth reading through. It is possible to check all sorts of things that may have been going on. Inadvertent use of expensive calls by you, other people in your house, or rogue entities in your computer!

* Payphones. If a payphone takes your money but doesn't allow you a call, it's probably been cunningly vandalised by that trick involving a bookie's pen. See payphone money-harvesting scam - Note: this is not the fault of the bookies

* Premium rate numbers cost 50p/minute, 1/minute, etc. Did you know you can guard against such things? You can have them barred if you like. Also, by law (in some countries, UK for example) they have to be honestly described, so you know how much it's going to cost before you make the call. If you find there is some kind of misuse going on, phone the helpful but understaffed and overworked regulator ICSTIS on 0800 500 212 UK. And if you want to bar all premium rate calls, phone BT on 0808 100 1110 (UK) and quote "A19294" and the phrase "premium rate call barring". But don't do this if you want to make premium rate calls! Also expensive, but not as much as 090 numbers, are 0870 numbers. It's best to be aware of this!

* BT in 2009 announced that people moving back to BT would not be charged for all those expensive 0870 etc numbers. Beware, though, it's not ALL expensive numbers. For example 0871 and 0844 etc are not free.

* When you phone a company and they keep you waiting for someone to answer, it's traditional for the company to try to keep you entertained while you are waiting. However some phone waiting systems do not achieve a great success at this.

* Numbers on a phone dial have letters corresponding to them. On an old style rotary dial phone there were letters with the numbers, and on modern mobile phones and pushbutton phones there are letters with the numbers. The lookup has changed, but here's a table of phone letters and numbers in case you're interested.

* Complaints about the phone system in the UK generally can be made to Ofcom UK 0845 456 3000. Nuisance calls can be reported, investigated, sometimes leading to the prosecution of the guilty parties (yes, they can be traced!). Phone 0800 661441 for advice or 0800 085 4750 for action! Phone Hoaxers might think they are being funny persecuting you and being a persistent nuisance (bullying), but nowadays there are things you can do to put a stop to it. See What to do about Nuisance Calls

* Scam phone calls are rare, but there is the family films survey, which is a robot, and there are rumours of bank scam calls, but these are not entirely true. Also, there are people who phone you and say your computer has a virus. They do not know, and they lie. Beware, because if you follow their advice you could end up with a real virus.

* BT's text message to home phones service is supposed to be fun but is widely open to misuse and abuse by bullies and fraudsters. If you like, you can put an end to text messages coming in, or set an optional curfew. See Control or Stop BT Text to Home Phone

* It's possible to ban companies from phoning you with telesales calls. This is known as the Telephone Preference Service, although this bans good business as well as bad. Plus, it doesn't stop rogues from phoning you from an international call centre.

* In the UK it's possible to test a phone by dialling 17070. The automated voice on the end of the line then tells you what number you are calling from (handy if you don't know because it's not printed on a label on the phone). Also, you can then select numbers to Test the line, including getting the system to phone you back! A long time ago, such numbers were secret, but I have been told by a BT phone engineer that 17070 is not secret and it is perfectly ok to publish it.

* If your phone works so you can dial up a company, but when you get through they've got one of those "Press The Numbers on Your Phone Keypad" systems, and your phone keypad numbers don't work on that, even though they worked when you dialled the phone number, it may be a simple solution is required. See Pulse/Tone phone switch

* Regardless of whether your phone is a Pulse Dial phone or a Tone Dial phone, it may or may not have a Recall button. The Recall button is handy for various special functions, and you don't know you need one until... until you need one! Then, what if the phone doesn't have a recall button at all? Here's a method by which you can get around this problem: How to do Recall on a phone that has no Recall button

* Mobile phones / Cellphones are expensive. Make sure you know how much everything costs, whether you're on the right tariff, etc. Shop around, and don't get caught out by anything misleading. It is almost always cheaper to phone someone on a landline than on a mobile phone.

* Videophones are familiar in science fiction but are now becoming a practicality. This has interesting cultural implications.

* The phone business is very competitive, and different companies will jostle for your custom. Compare them by asking each other about what they think about what their rivals are offering, and then make your own mind up. See communication companies

* If some phone company or other phones you up and offers you this and that fancy special offer if you switch your line rental to them, be careful! It may sound a bit cheaper, but despite reassurances from various companies, it is often not the same as having a BT Line. Part of the problem is, if you dial 150 for fault enquiries, you don't always get through if it's not a BT Line. Also, if it's not a BT Line, it can sometimes be tricky to get broadband added to the line except if it's broadband with the same company that's doing the line rental. See, a bit of a "catch" there! Also, if you get this wrong, it's sometimes tricky to get it put right. Update: Be especially wary of Tiscali/Talktalk, as you could end up in shtuck.

* When talking to people who work for the phone company, remember that they are not personally themselves the phone company itself. Never say "It's Your fault, this damn phone not working!", or some such thing. If there's a Problem, which with something as complex as a phone system and how to work out how to charge people sensible amounts for it, then it's the Problem of the corporate system of the company, not the person working for them. Chances are, they're probably as much a victim of it as you are, and they're probably quite pleased when it's time to go home. Also see COMPLAINTS

* Now here's a situation: The phone rings. You drop what you are doing and run to answer it. As soon as you answer it goes dead. You dial 1471. "The caller withheld their number". Now what? Is it hoaxers trying to annoy you? Or burglars checking to see if you are out? Or someone in need of help, at the last minute losing courage or even consciousness? It could be anything, but one of the things it could be is a mismanaged Powerdialler. Powerdialling, or autodialling, is OK if used properly, but it can be misused, and this sort of thing can happen.

For an international interconnection of old telephone exchanges, see C*Net

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Also see the review on How to Complain, which is applicable to complaints about lots of things, not just the phones.

I hope some of this is useful. If you find it so, how about this?: [response]