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Bizarre calls from Wyoming puzzle, perturb Virginians

Over the past few days, message forums and mailing lists in Northern Virginia neighborhoods have lit up with versions of the same complaint: Who is this nutcase calling from 307-459-1039 and why won't he/she/it ever say anything when I pick up?

The first detailed report of these calls seems to have come from Huffington Post blogger Tamar Abrams on Saturday morning. She described the same pattern others have heard: calls at random times of the day and night that consist only of a few seconds of silence before dropping.

Abrams noted the expansive reach of the 307 area code, which covers the entire state of Wyoming. She wondered if some sort of numerical yearning for Northern Virginia's 703 area code could explain the calls: "Apparently 307 has been pining for 703. Some kind of funhouse mirror activity?"

On my Arlington neighborhood's mailing list, users of Verizon and Comcast phone services have shared their own reports with varying degrees of exasperation. My wife and I are pretty sure that we've been the recipient of these calls ourselves, but without Caller ID on our home line we can't say for sure. (We get so few calls on it that we use a simpler method of call screening: We let every call before 7 p.m. on weekdays go to the answering machine first.)

On Sunday, the Arlington news site ARLnow.com picked up the story, followed this morning by NBC Washington.

But the essential mystery of these calls remains. Although Seattle-based Pierz Group's whitepages.com site identifies 307-459-1039 as a land line in Cheyenne, attempts to call the number fail. And with 55,614 inhabitants in the "Magic City of the Plains," as per the latest estimates, a house-to-house search would take some time.

Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell e-mailed this morning to say "our people are looking into it" but had nothing else to share. Update, 8:50 p.m.: Mitchell e-mailed Monday evening to say "We have blocked the number from reaching our customers, and we continue to work with the carrier who has the number to investigate who's ultimately responsible for this."

My own favorite theory is that we're being bothered by a hacker engaged in "war dialing," calling random numbers in an attempt to find a modem or fax machine that could later be exploited. (Readers of a certain age may recall watching Matthew Broderick's character employ this tactic in the 1983 movie "War Games.") But that raises another question: Why would any self-respecting hacker in the year 2010 bother looking for modems or fax machines?

Have an alternate theory -- or just want to gripe about these oddball calls? The comments are all yours.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 26, 2010; 10:18 AM ET
Categories:  Telecom  
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Comments

A land line? An answering machine??

Posted by: davezatz | April 26, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Residents in University Park, MD, have also reported these calls on the neighborhood elist.

Posted by: umprof | April 26, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't be surprised if it's an autodialer. I'm in the 703 area code, and got at least 3 calls EVERY day in February from Kay Bailey Hutchenson's campaign office in Texas (area code 705 I think). Autodialers need to be OUTLAWED. Only human beings should be allowed to call residences.

Posted by: Russtinator | April 26, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

We're in Arlington, and got the first call (that we know of) from this on Thursday evening. Then the fun began -- calls at about 3 a.m., 4:45 a.m. and 5:15 a.m. Saturday morning. With a wee one to try to keep asleep, we were none too pleased and had to turn off our ringer. Haven't received calls since that we know of, and we're hoping it stays that way!

Posted by: hmom | April 26, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I've been hit by this mystery caller for the past several days. All the calls come between midnight and 6am, making sure to interupt your sleep. Many of my neighbors report the same thing.

I talked to the Wyoming Police yesterday and they said that whoever or whatever was making these calls was actually doing so from the East Coast...but the bigger mystery remains...why hasn't the phone company simply turned this # off? How many complaints and police reports do they need?

Posted by: Merlin5 | April 26, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

I've been getting these calls for over a week - mostly during the day. I just let the answering machine take them, but no message is ever left. Then at 2:54 AM Sunday I got one.. It gets real annoying when they start coming in in the middle of the night. Hopefully someone will trace this back to the originator.

Posted by: jesbo1 | April 26, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

There's probably 10,000 federal machines in that area with unknown modems and phone connections, so war dialing is probably still a fun and profitable activity. Nobody has superfluous, unknown, and unmonitored computers like the feds...

Posted by: mendelsonmustgo | April 26, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I am a Cheyenne resident and don't know of any telemarketers in town who might be using autodialers. There is a gubernatorial race on — but why would they be calling the east coast?

Posted by: Modest_Holdings | April 26, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

We got the same calls - only 2 on Friday night at 3am and 5 am. But, we live in Maryland, so it wasn't just Virginia.

Posted by: LiberalStuckInTheSouth | April 26, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

If you look up the phone number online you'll see they've been baraging other areas too. Lots of complaints from Connecticut a month or so ago.

Posted by: infoseive | April 26, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Here is one solution to the problem...

We received calls as early as 6:30 am and as late at 11:00 at night. I finally remembered that my Comcast phone service comes with call screening by number. However I couldn't find any instructions online on how to activate it... A quick tech chat with "Sandy Sue" revealed that the secret is to call *60 from your Comcast phone line. A VRU walks you though turning on the service and adding numbers. Fortunately, all of the calls are from the same number so adding the number to the list solved the problem. No more calls...

Many other VOIP services have a similar feature. I also have a Packet8 line which allows you to add blocked numbers via their online web portal. I'm pretty sure most others do as well.

- Joe

Posted by: wireless-stuffcom | April 26, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Like many of you our family recieved calls all weekend at all hours. It was so bad we shut the ringers off on our phones. Most disturbing is the fact the phone companies involved don't really seem to care (except when a reporter calls). I personally called Level3 Communications and "David" confirmed that 307-459-1039 was one of their numbers and that he would forward the complaint along to the Fraud department. However, they refused to address what they (the providing company) was doing about it. While filing a complaint with the FCC and FTC are fine, it doesn't solve the underlying issue - the companies don't care about consumers. Not to mention, last time I filed a complaint with the FTC, I heard from them 2 years later saying they had insufficient information despite phone logs, names, times and summaries of conversations.

So Level3, what is the issue and what have you done to stop this form of electronic harassment?

-Rich

Posted by: RPC97 | April 26, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

I've been receiving these calls too. It really doesn't do any good to call Level 3, or the Cheyenne police, or file a complaint on the Do Not Call site. It's a certainty that the phone number is "spoofed." That is, the caller are using one of several different technologies to make a phony number appear on caller ID. It could be coming from North Korea and display a Wyoming area code if that's what the callers wanted.

They're not dialing for fax machines. That's happened to me before, and a blank sheet was generated when the test call came in -- that didn't happen this time. They also wouldn't need to call repeatedly for that.

Trying to find modems seems possible. Although dialup seems quaint at this point, there are still plenty of people using DSL.

Posted by: rashomon | April 26, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Probably just a telemarketer who set their autodialer's clock to 1am instead of 1pm.

The more important issue here is the increasingly common use of Caller ID spoofing. It makes the service less valuable, even though the price is still the same.

I mean, if it says it's your kid or spouse or friend calling then it is. But if it shows your bank's name you can't really trust it, since a crook has good reason to fake that while trying to separate you from your money.
So Caller ID is now only useful when you already know who the caller is.

Can the phone companies really not back-track one of these calls to the actual caller? If not, then they've lost control of the phone system. More likely they can, they just don't want to spend the time and effort. Hey, they're the phone company... what do they care?

At the very least the phone company should be required to replace invalid Caller ID numbers with something obvious, like all 0s, or the text "invalid number", or something that we can then block on our end.

Either that or cut the price of Caller ID in half.

Posted by: iMac77 | April 27, 2010 1:48 AM | Report abuse

Showing my age...immediately thought of War Games.

Posted by: vickiweir | April 27, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I've had an autodialer searching for fax machines calling my land line at 10AM-ish once or twice a week for months now.

As far as I know there isn't any way to stop them.

Posted by: lquarton | April 28, 2010 1:29 AM | Report abuse

In 1984 I lived in Virginia. I am happy to say I never got and having moved away, have never gotten such a call. The idea of the call originating in North Korea sounds quite plausible, after all spoofing and using proxies to hide a true location are common internet behaviors.

Posted by: alvin62 | April 28, 2010 2:06 AM | Report abuse

If this is an autodialer, it's probably local and just uses that 307 number so they won't get blocked from the true number.

I was getting these about 2 years ago from some nutjob in the bay area. I programmed the machine. Try using # or other symbols and then post a 4 digit code. Who knows? You may break their system. I finally got someone who took my number off their dialer. No calls since.

Posted by: kattalia | April 28, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

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