How Marketers Trick Your Secretary Into Opening Fax Spam Floodgates

Joe used to work at a multi-million-dollar fax spam company. Since it’s illegal to cold call fax, here’s the trick they would use to start fax-spamming a company and be covered in case of legal action. It’s all about pretexting the secretary. Here’s how it works:

Joe writes:

1. Telemarketer calls company X and says “hello my name is Jim and I was looking for the person in charge of (ex.) Computer equipment. Often the secretary will say that he or she does not know who is in charge and other times they will get a name their first time up to bat. The telemarketer (if turned down) will then try back another time with “Can I please speak with your I.T. Manager.”

2. Eventually the telemarketer will get a contact name and that is what they build off of to begin faxing. Calls will continuously come in asking more information each time. For example, if you found out Tom handles I.T. then you (the telemarketer) would call into the office and say “Hello can I please speak with Tom in I.T. (which you are generally turned down because Tom has no idea who you are) that is when you ask the secretary “ I am just trying to get Tom some information, can I have his fax number quickly.”

3. As long as the companies secretary (or anyone at the company you are trying to fax) clears it then they are free to fax as much as they want until written notice is given. Generally they will call the company using the lines above and right before hanging up say “I am trying to send Tom some information is his fax number still 123-456-7891? Once the secretary says yes, that is his fax then they legally have the green light to start faxing. All calls are recorded so when these things go to court the telemarketing firm generally will pull out the tape of the secretary giving the verbal and the case is thrown out or the other company drops their complaint.

Really? That’s all it takes to cover their asses? So how do you fight it? I guess by training whoever answers the phone to never say “yes” if a stranger over the phone asks for a fax number to be confirmed and to say something different instead. Any ideas?

PREVIOUSLY: “How Do I Stop Fax Spam?”

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. cf27 says:

    Not true. You need a bona-fide business relationship. It may be that they do this, but I’d be surprised if it ever held up.

  2. Ein2015 says:

    The simplest solution I can think of is to make sure the secretary asks “what information” and doesn’t take vague answers to be acceptable. Then the spam company would either have to purposefully lie or give up.

    Any thoughts on this idea? Would it work?

    • Indecent says:


      Im an office manager/girl friday/secretary/administrative assistant. I don’t have the time or patience to treat everyone that calls asking for the fax number with suspicion and pump them for details.

      While I do think its a good idea in theory, you’ll be hard pressed to find a secretary that is so intent on not receiving stock quotes over the fax machine that they’d rather harangue callers than throw away a piece of paper.

  3. Train the receptionist to get more information regarding fax number inqueries. “What is this fax regarding?” “What number will the faxes be coming from?” “What is your name, company and callback information?” “Is Tom expecting this fax?” “Will this information ever be used for marketing purposes?”

    They probably aren’t very keen on giving out information. Also, it is probably worth noting that some places have laws against pretexting now.

    • emilymarion333 says:


      Since I have been a receptionist before I know that I never had enough time to ask so many questions before I give out the fax number..and what happens if it a friend of the CFO who is calling and gets mad at me?? But we also receive all faxes via email so if it is spam I just delete.

      Regarding the printer cartridge scam – they call all the time..but we have a contract with a company who brings them in and never calls for information. As soon as they ask for the model number I would say no thank you and hang up.. Also – at back up phone people would know about this problem as well so they would not give any information!

      So glad I have moved up the chain and do not have to work as a receptionist!

      • XTC46 says:

        @emilymarion333: I cant think of a single friend of mine who doesnt have my personal phone number.

        Anyone claiming to be a “friend of blah blah blah” is dropping names and usually isnt a friend. If he was, you wouldnt be talking to him/her they would call the person directly for any info they needed. I worked as customer support and IT support on the phone for years, and every single time I heard “well blah blah blah is my friend and he wouldnt appreciate this” nothing ever came of it, ever, and im an asshole. My usual response was “well if you are good friends with him, please give him a call and have him give me the ok to do randomthingthatIshoudlntdo” and whenever one of the bosses friends needed help (this did happen) the boss would come by and ask me to call them, that way there was no confusion.

        • Syrenia says:

          @xtc46: Heh. I used to work in my university’s admissions office, and parents were always calling to try to get kids’ status before announcement. Every once in a while we’d get one asking for the head of admissions, claiming to be a friend of hers. Nice try, we’d say, but if you were really a friend, you’d know that Gale is a man. Wait for the letter like everyone else.

          Pretexting is all around…

  4. regenerator says:

    As someone who worked in an administrative position when I started at my current company, I can tell you that this behavior definitely happens. I don’t know what the law says, but it would not surprise me if that “verbal approval” is all that’s needed. These telemarketers can be outright mean, too, bullying receptionists into providing the information. They will say anything: claiming friendship or a family status with the person in question, and they are extremely evasive about providing any specific information about where they’re calling from. Also, the numbers are usually impossible to block because they’ll use those fake lines that make it appear that they are calling from a local number.

  5. Another crazy scam that I dealt with at work before involved copy toner. Apparently, someone calls, says they deal with your toner supply, and need your copy machine serial number. If you give it to them, they can somehow draft an expensive invoice for supplies, and bill you for them. It’s a bear to get rid of it.

    The way to stop them cold is to simply ask they are an official rep for the copy machine’s manufacturer. They’ll hang up before the question is finished.

    • BlondeGrlz says:

      @enriquez the water bottle: Ha, jinx on the toner scam. I HATE those guys because no matter how fast I yell “STOP CALLING I KNOW THIS IS A SCAM!” they always hang up before I’m done.

    • Zimorodok says:

      @enriquez the water bottle: What a coincidence, I just got one of those yesterday. Here’s how it went down:

      Me: “Hello, can I help you?”
      Toner-Scam Telemarketer (TST): “Hi, I’m from the copier supply company, I just need to verify your copier’s serial number for your toner order.”
      Me: “Which copier would that be?”
      TST (mumbles): “The Canon-Xerox copier.”
      Me: “Can you be more specific? We have four copiers here.”
      TST: “It’s the big one. The number’s right on the front next to the logo.”
      Me: “Where are you calling from?”
      TST: “The copier company.”
      Me: “Which one would that be?”
      TST (mumbles): “Vista.”
      Me: “And we get our toner through you.”
      TST: “That’s right.”
      Me: “That’s funny, because we order every single toner cartridge through Staples and I have to approve them before the order goes out. Nice try though.”
      TST: “Can I speak to [business owner’s name]”
      Me: “Hell no. He has better things to do than deal with pissant little copier-supply scam artists like you.”

      He taunted me for a bit, and then hung up. Granted, I knew in an instant that it was a scam, that out legitimate suppliers *never* have a need to call us to verify anything, but I do so enjoy effing with these weasels.

      • @Zimorodok: I’d sometimes like to mess with them, but usually I’d get too annoyed. I just tell them we’re not interested while I’m hanging up the receiver.

      • ColoradoShark says:

        @Zimorodok: Oooh, ooh! Next time, can you tell them you need to go over to the machine to get the number and then put them on hold? Then see how long they stay on the line until they hang up! You could have some kind of contest to see who hangs on the longest.

      • Veeber says:

        @Zimorodok: This sounds similar to my conversation with those “you’re vehicle warranty is about to expire”

        Me: Which car are you talking about?
        Them: Any car you own between 1991 and 2005
        Me: That doesn’t help, I have three. Which car are you talking about?
        Them: Well if you can give me your name, phone number, and VIN numbers I’ll transfer you to a warranty specialist.
        Me: You called me, you should know my name and phone number.
        Them: Your dealership forwarded your information to us about the car, but not your other information.
        Me: Then you should be able to tell me which car you are referring to.
        Them: Do you want to extend your warranty or not?
        Me: AARRGGHH

        Of course they call me 5 more times after that.

      • ianmac47 says:


        Our office manager was duped into “ordering” toner for the copy machine believing that the caller was from the outside copy machine vendor we leased machines from. Two weeks later toner arrived with an invoice attached for somewhere around $400. We paid it.

        Two weeks later another package arrived with two toner cartridges, $800. Alright, fine, eventually we’ll use the toner. We didn’t realize the toner actually retails online for $75.

        But then we got another package of two toner rolls the following week. That’s when I went on google and realized this was just a scam whereby they sent packages of toner, and hoped no one noticed you were grossly overpaying and had an excess number of toner cartridges sitting around. We just stopped paying the invoices.

        Eventually, after we had about a dozen toner rolls, someone from their billing department called trying to collect. I explained to them we never ordered toner, and that I knew they were a scam, and we were never paying them anymore money. The billing department was insistent that we pay. I told them they could have the toner back, and they offered to send a UPS label to have it picked up, which never came. The billing department kept calling until I suggested that I would call the State’s Attorney General. We haven’t gotten a call about payment or a package of toner since.

    • HogwartsAlum says:

      @enriquez the water bottle:

      Yup. We get those a lot, in between robocalls. I just hang up on them.

  6. BlondeGrlz says:

    I got one of these calls today. But they don’t even try anymore, once you say “Why do you want the fax number?” they hang up. Fax spammers are almost as annoying as the car warranty calls and the “can I have the model number on your printer?” calls.

  7. catskyfire says:

    Nice ideas, but as someone who answers the phone at my place of work, extensive questions won’t work. The receptionist/secretary doesn’t have the time to do 20 questions on everyone wanting a fax number, and if they do it once to someone who’s legit, and they complain…well, let’s just say crap flows downhill.

    Mind you, I work for a public entity, and we’re even more limited. My name? Sure. My number? Of course. I cannot refuse lightly. Fax number? Right here…

  8. haoshufu says:

    Please give me a name and call back information and I will have someone call to give you the fax number.

    • MadameX says:

      @haoshufu: I’ve had similar conversations with these people before. I usually repeat, “Who do you work for?” and when they respond with “The place where you get your toner”, I repeat, “Who do you work for?”

      Eventually they get frustrated and hang up. On guy responded with a “Thbbbbbbbt!” before hanging up.

      Good times.

  9. m4ximusprim3 says:

    My wife’s buisiness has some e-fax thing that just emails them all the faxes anyway. I’m sure this would make it easier to just ignore the spam.

    On a side note, eFaxes are ripe for abuse, because you know you’re not wasting paper. It’s quite amusing to draw stick figure pirate scenes and fax them to her.

  10. tylerk4 says:

    I’m amazed someone hasn’t commented on the fact that the above would not work in states that require two party consent to record telephone calls.

  11. XTC46 says:

    Aside from stopping spam, staff in general need to learn to protect data better.

    These same techniques are used for arious things including much more malicious things then sending spam faxes.

    For instance, If I call and gather info about heads of various departments, say their names, emails and phone nubers (very easy to get) I then call back and get the IT department. Then I call the IT department and say im the head of department x, my username is blahblah (99 percent of the time its the same as the email address or a variation of) and need a password reset. Id say about 20 percent of the time, I could get it changed on that alone. If not, id get a receptionists name and say they told me to talk to you blah in IT as he would be able to assist me. The person refrence makes it even more likely to get info.

    Reset the password, I can now remotely connect and access data (its usually fairly simple to find remote access servers for companies)

    Now i have much more than the ability to spam people.

    • RvLeshrac says:


      When Bob from Accounting calls and you grill him about changing his password, then nearly get fired because it turns out that Bob is the VP’s son, you stop giving a rat’s ass about it.

      The problem is rarely the spammers – the problem is the company’s management. If the company places importance on security, this won’t happen – incompetence is even a more difficult thing to encounter, because when the last secretary was fired for giving out information, the new secretary will think twice.


      Terrible grammar in the post, but not having done the job does not always equate to not knowing how to do it. Everyone has had to answer a business call at some point, and when you get that call, you’re a receptionit until you determine the identity of the caller.

      Or do you think you HAVE to have had a paid position in order to do something? I’m sure that everyone who changes their own oil has spent two years working for Jiffy Lube.

  12. Sarcastikate says:

    I’ve been an executive assistant for large Fortune 100 companies for many years. Not going to catch me on much, I’m afraid. I give out NO information to anyone, ever, unless I personally know them. I learned my lesson about 20 yrs. ago when when I was young & naive – I got caught in the “we’re your copy paper supplier, I just need your authorization to send you your shipment” scam. I was quite embarrassed and it taught me a lesson I didn’t soon forget. And by the way, what company is going to give any business to a serial faxer anyway? They’re just wasting paper and pissing everyone off. I don’t get why they would even bother.

    • BlondeGrlz says:

      @Sarcastikate: But you can take a 6 day 7 night vacation in Cancun for only $399!!! And healthcare for your entire family for only $12/month! And a free cruise!! And also, you’ve been chosen as one of the very special selectees for this year’s Who’s Who directory!!!!!!!

  13. bohemian says:

    I used to have to answer the phone when the front office staff was at lunch or take calls for management if the boss was out. These kind of scam calls really start to eat into productivity.

  14. youbastid says:

    They can’t be legally recording the calls in every state, unless they notify the secretary that they’re recording the calls. You know the deal, some states are cool as long as one party is aware of the recording, in other states both parties need to be informed. If they record them illegally, they certainly won’t be able to use them in court.

  15. henrygates says:

    Wait, I thought even in states where only one party needs to know of the recording, consumers still can’t secretly record their conversations with CSRs for court purposes. What gives?

    • randomangela47 says:

      @henrygates: It wouldn’t be for “court purposes”. It would be for “customer service quality assurance” or “training purposes”… And if it just happens to be useful in court, that’s a nice bonus!

  16. yasth says:

    Eh the way to do with serial number scammers is say oh, yeah just a sec, put them on hold, and make a sandwich. If they are still on the line when you get done, pick up, ask a dumb question (“where is the serial number again”) make another sandwich, repeat with ever more insane questions (Yeah the serial number is X-E-R-O-X, right?), all it takes up is an incoming line, and far less of your time than the scammer’s.

    And yes scammers will wait 15 minutes on hold multiple times.

  17. JayDeEm says:

    A few years back I was the administrator of a fax server that mysteriously started getting spammed before it was completely rolled out or numbers even published. I can only assume that someone was cold-faxing and hit upon our block of 300 DID’s. It was like playing fax spam whack-a-mole with these idiots, once I tracked them down and got our numbers removed, it would start up again in a couple of weeks. The sad part was that I would usually get a very frazzled secretary who had spent their day getting yelled at by people like myself. In one case she just went and unplugged the machine that was doing the broadcast.

    I don’t miss that part of the job…

  18. TexasBelle says:

    As a legal secretary, I deal with these types all the time. Just yesterday, I was hung up on by some yahoo who wanted my printer model number and apparently didn’t take kindly to my curiosity as to who exactly he was. But the worst is the stock brokers and recruiters who call for my lawyers all day, every day. I’m now so good at pinpointing them that they barely get two syllables out before I’m saying “no thanks, and take us off your list.” I actually had one of them blurt “Don’t you know who I am?!” Maybe that would have made me think twice, but for the fact that he had asked for my boss by a name NO ONE who knows him would ever call him.

  19. TangDrinker says:

    There’s a related scam involving directories. You’ll get someone who calls in and says “I’m calling to update our Certified Business Directory. Can I ask you to verify contact information?” The secretary/staff member says “Yes” and then proceeds to provide names/phone number/email information. 8 weeks later we get an invoice for Certified Business Directory (or what ever the name is that week). As the librarian who gets all these invoices, I call up the company to verify what this is, and they play me back a recording of the staff member saying “yes” to their question of purchasing a volume of said directory. Then comes the fun part of returning the book certified mail with a letter saying “we did not order this, please cancel, please never contact us again.”

    If someone calls you and wants you to fill out directory information over the phone, ask them to mail you a hard copy of the form. All legitimate directories will do this. All scams will say “That’s not possible.”

    see this for more info. []

  20. huadpe says:

    Re: 1 and 2 party recording

    There are generally 3 possible requirements for recording, to be able to use that recording in a court of law.

    1. One party consent: ONE party to the conversation must be aware that it is recording. Federal and some states.

    2. 50% or more consent: Half or more of the parties must be aware that it is recording. So if 3 people are on the line, 2 must know it is recording. If 2 are on the line, one must know. Some states.

    2. 100% consent: All parties must be aware that it is recording. Some states.

    Note that this is for private recording. If you have a warrant, you can record with 0 party consent under the conditions of the warrant.

    I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

  21. DACluett says:

    A company cannot refuse to give out a fax number — it would restrict useful business information to be received. However, having the receptionist ask before giving the fax number, “Is this for an unsolicited offer, or spam?”, would remove the spammer’s legal protection as noted from any recording.

  22. timmus says:

    A fax spammer doesn’t need to cover their asses because they pretty much have perfect anonymity. Even the smallest call center with a T1 connection can easily fake the caller ID data or render it “out of area”. I wouldn’t be surprised if fax spam is being sent internationally, either. US law has no jurisdiction in Brazil.

  23. alilz says:

    I’m a receptionist and I’ve gotten the toner call before. And I don’t know about the fax thing since we get fax spam ALL the time and it was coming before I worked there. Most of them have numbers at the bottom to refax saying you want off their list but they keep coming.

    Actually I use that as my notebook for scratch paper, I just binder clip a the faxes or other paper not needed together and work of that, then recycle it. If I get it to go away it would be great.

    There was one that really amused me, it was for some firm that will do cold calls to “help your business leads” (we don’t sell anything) and it was going on about how they could help you get around those “uncoopeartive secretaries” I was thinking “yeah like the ones that deal with the faxes”. A couple weeks later we got it again but without the line about uncooperative secretaries. Guess someone figured out who was dealing with the faxes.

  24. fairywench says:

    Easy solution – hire a receptionist intelligent enough to see through this crap, and then treat her with respect and pay her enough to make her stick around.

  25. DjDynasty says:

    I let them go on with their sales leads.
    AT&T I tell them everytime how wonderful their offer sounds, except, after being burned by SBC which stands for Same Bullshit Company, and seeing since the only thing changed was the name, not management, and not the board of directors, until the service is completely free for 24 months on our 20 lines of service. We will not under any circumstances ever consider going to AT&T until that offer is placed on the table.

    Toner ones. I reply that it is my job to order the supplies, give me your information, and should your quote come out much lower than the company we currently use. We’ll consider switching.

    Hot business opportunities for the owner come all the time. I’ve finally started telling them that the owner is a raging alcoholic who’s investment plan for the future of this company involves powerball.

    If they don’t fall into the above mentioned catagory of fun I’ve already come up with. I simply do my love dr. impression. Act interested, then ask them out. Great when I have other men on the phone! They freak and hang up. Normally the call ends with. “If you’re not going to sleep with me, then never call me again at work, as I am the only receptionist, I have 14 years with the company and ain’t going anywhere because I can abuse you guys right back”

  26. silvershoes says:

    I did a lot of receptionist work in high school and college, and I was totally the gatekeeper extraordinaire. No sleazy telemarketer could get an ounce of information out of me.
    You have to refuse to give them any info, and you should badger them for THEIR info, which they are always reticent to give. Many business-focused telemarketers get really flustered (some downright angry) when you demand their name, company, and phone number.

  27. MrsMicah says:

    When I was an admin assistant, I once actually had a young woman (just my age or even younger) show up at the office. She explained that she was from X company and we hadn’t ordered paper from them in a while, so she wanted to see how we were doing.

    I’d only been there about a month, so I explained that we were actually ordering our paper from someone else right now, but we could take information from her if her prices were better. Anyway, my boss got curious and came out of her office (it was a VERY slow office, 2 visitors a day or less, we administrated properties). After reiterating what I’d said, she showed the girl out and asked her not to visit any other offices in the building (which we owned). Girl seemed a little confused.

    Later she told me that in the 5 years she’d been there, they’d never bought paper from that company. I thought it was an interesting sales technique—trying to convince the secretary that you had a previous business relationship.

    Much less nefarious than the toner scam, though. Never ran into that one. Or gave out the fax #, though we got plenty of fax spam.

    • econobiker says:

      @MrsMicah: A young always skirt wearing female pushy sales person is another tactic industrial supply places occasionally used to try on manufacturing plants which lacked good entry security. This happened to me several times at a couple different companies.

      Same too-nice engineering manager as my prior post had one show up in our (at the time) all-male engineering dept. He handed her off to his prototyping supervisor who then handed her off to me. I then lead her to our front office and gave her the figurative “don’t call us, we’ll call you” boot out the door. We were convinced that if the company had sent in a male salesperson, he would have gotten cursed out at minimum. And this happed in the late 1990’s, not 1960’s.

      Better front gate/door security like electronic pass cards helps deter this type of sales technique now…

  28. Novaload says:

    I love these calls! Seriously! And we get them at any number in the office, not just the front desk.

    Varmint: “Do you have the serial number of your copier?”
    Novaload: “No, but I have Prince Albert in a can! Ha ha! Ha!”

    Varmint: “Hi, is Larry around?” (Larry=senior scientist, MD etc.)
    Novaload: “I’ll check. Who is this?”

    Varmint: “Can I speak to the person who handles your long distance?”
    Novaload: “No.” (click)
    “Sure.” Musical hold.

    Varmint: “May I speak with your office manager?”
    Novaload: “Are you a telemarketer? Wow, I bet that “do not call” stuff really hurt your job prospects. Is this your only job? Does it pay well?”

    For the recorded ones, which really used to annoy me, I now listen to the spiel and press the correct button and then politely ask to be removed from the call list. So far this has worked much better than screaming “Die in a fire!!!” to a machine.

  29. My name is Employee #1414 and I am tasked with screening telephone calls because the “fill-in-the-blank” is a very important and busy person and you are not. Let me complete my form and determine if you are worthy of talking to “fill-in-the-blank”.

  30. quail says:

    I’ll second the fact that to get rid of the con artists on the phone quickly just ask them for detailed information. That gets rid of about 75% of them. The others will stop hassling you when you require them to send you paperwork.

    (A side note: that paper scam/toner scam goes back a long way. Had a mailroom manager once tell me about dealing with the scam back in the early 60’s. Back then it was paper and typewriter ribbons. They called to get the invoicing to look right.)

  31. boomerang86 says:

    One time our receptionist didn’t catch on and we were sent a toner cartridge we didn’t want.

    Looking at the return address on the shipping container, we didn’t recognize the supplier so we told the UPS driver to mark it “delivery refused” and take it back. That way, the scam company still gets stuck with the shipping charge!!

  32. RandomHookup says:

    I can’t believe any good sized company would really spend a lot of time worrying about this. Okay, we gave our fax number to a spammer. The number is on all our directories and business cards and it’s not worth someone’s time and effort to chase down a scammer. Use the electronic fax option and make most of them go away.

  33. akacrash says:

    Wow! I *litterally* just got that call this week! (I’m not the secratary though). They asked for the VP and I laughed at them. They asked for the “I.T. manager” next. Knowing it was someone fishing for some contact info I said “sure, hold on” and put them on hold and left them there. I think they eventually hung up.

  34. Amy Alkon000 says:

    California, FYI, is a two-party recording state. You can google your state, probably under something like “privacy” and “recording.”

  35. mzs says:

    I get calls like these and those from head hunters every couple of weeks. What I do is I simply tell them to call the operator and hang-up.

  36. TheNerd says:

    I always just say “I’m not the one you need to talk to” take a message. That way they don’t get any statments from me, and my boss isn’t annoyed with a pointless phone call; instead she can glance at a piece of paper and then toss it out if it’s unsolicited.

  37. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    OK. Reality check here folks…

    If you think the receptionist who is most likely responsible for fielding calls like this is going to give half a cr@p if the person is legit or not, or take the time to find out, you are nuts. If they prevent a single legit call they are eviscerated… if they prevent a thousand bogus calls they get square root of F’all. There is no incentive here.

    Receptionists are among the poorest paid positions in companies and the folks on whom are dumped all the “gopher” jobs in an office. She (and most seem to be she’s) doesn’t have the time to do anything but say “yes” or forward the call. Nor do they usually care because their job sucks and doesn’t pay well. Often they are spending most of their time trying to suck up enough to get off the front desk and into any other job in the company.

    Now if anyone reading has ever spent time on the reception desk then they know exactly what I am saying.

    Do you remember when your folks told you that you never get a second chance to make a first impression… well for most companies the receptionist makes that first impression for the company… Their job is important, but alas, rarely ever appreciated by those that give out the money.

    So if you happen to want to stop junk fax’s and think that the social engineering that legitimizes it shouldn’t happen… Well invest in educating the receptionist… then invest in paying her enough to care about the quality of the work she does.

    …No I have never had the job of receptionist, nor formally filled in for one. AS IT I have watched how companies work and who does what and been able to see what most people are blind too…

    • onesong says:

      @GreatWhiteNorth: I disagree. I loved being a receptionist, and I had absolute gatekeeper power, I was never “eviscerated” and always treated with respect. AND I was 20 at the time.

    • BlondeGrlz says:

      @GreatWhiteNorth: Whatever. I answer the phones at my company, and absolutely care enough to keep the scammers out. My boss would rather avoid all sales calls in general than worry that one client gets 20 questions before getting through. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to spot most sales calls, and even a non-rocket scientist can handle “May I ask who’s calling?” and not settle for “the copy supply company”. I’ve always been treated well and paid a reasonable wage as a receptionist. Maybe the ones at the companies you work for were just unqualified slackers who did the only job they could get instead of one they wanted.

    • matt1978 says:

      @GreatWhiteNorth: So, you’ve never done the job, but you’re an expert on it? Wow, and you don’t know the difference between “to” and “too”.

      Hey, I’ve watched a ton of Burn Notice, does that make me an expert on covert ops?

      Watch out folks, we’ve got a real brainiac here.

  38. onesong says:

    this is absolutely true. my first office job was as a receptionist at a small company, and one of the biggest training points that stuck in my mind was “you are not allowed to give out our fax numbers.” apparently a couple years before they had to deal with a lot of fax spam.

  39. OnceWasCool says:

    Here is a quick fact for you. Telemarketers call you toll free lines!!! That right, those toll free lines that every company has for their customers, end up on a list. Telemarketers go right down the list calling every one of them FOR FREE!

    Tons of money is spent on 800 numbers for their customers, and Telemarketers are taking advantage.

    To fix the problem and save your company lots of money, make sure the toll free lines go direct to customer service. Forbid them to forward calls or give out information.

  40. bagumpity says:

    At home, I try to string them out as long as possible. The best way to do this is to appear confused. A recent conversation:

    TM: Sir, do you have $3000 or more in debt?
    ME: With who? What do you mean? Do I owe you money?
    TM: No- I mean do owe more than $3000 in debt?
    ME: To who?
    TM: To anybody.
    ME: I’m confused. You’re saying I owe you $3000?
    TM: No. I was trying to ask you if you owe $3000 or more.
    ME. To anybody?
    TM: Anybody.
    ME: Can we start all over? I’m not sure what you’re getting at.
    TM: (sound of mental rewinding). Sir, do you have $3000 or more in debt?
    ME: You just asked me that a minute ago.
    TM: pause
    ME: How much debt do I have? Can you tell me how much money I owe?
    TM: pause
    ME: Hello?
    TM: *click*

    At work, it’s “Can you hang on for a sec? I just need two secs to finish up a conversation with someone in my office. Don’t hang up- I’d really like to hear what you have to say!” And then off to Holdlandia. Our phone system’s on-hold audio spams you with products and offers, so I find this to be something on the order of poetic justice.

    Remember, every minute you keep a telemarketer on the line is a minute they fail to make a sale. That’s why they hang up at the first sign that you’re not a sucker. They’re paid by the number of sales they make, and the company’s profit margin depends on their making a certain number of sales to offset the cost of their salary. Make either of those a negative cost proposition, and they go away.

    Your job, people, is to keep ’em hanging. Be as charming and engaging as possible. Make ’em believe that YOU are the one who is going to net them the big commission. Keep asking for more information. Go back over points they’ve covered- and back, and back again. Ask for clarification. Try to get them to “start over from the beginning” as many times as possible. And remember- make them end the conversation, not you. Our motto: Don’t hang up- strike back!

  41. xwildebeestx says:

    The best way to stop fax spam is to take your fax machine and bury it in your back yard, which you should have done around 1996 or so…

  42. econobiker says:

    Junk faxes: in the early 1990’s (just pre-internet) I temped at one of the first big fax broadcast companies. All their sales guys thought that this was the next big thing in telecom. One of my duties was to call every senator and congressman/womans office in DC and ask for their fax numbers which then were put into the fax broadcast company’s database.

    Toner scam: these nimrods figure on that a company’s a/p will just pay a bill when it has a legit persons name on it. I had one Engineering Manager who was too much of a nice guy with those dolts. He wouldn’t accept the toner but always tried to have a nice conversation with them. I finally helped him out when they caught him again at his desk. I got the receiver and told them that I could help them. After they said their speal I told them I was company legal and we would prosecute them for falsifying invoices, attempting to bribe employees, etc. They bailed and eng. mgr’s calls disappeared.

    A cousin scam to the toner deal is lightbulbs in manufacturing plants. One of my old managers told the story of going into a struggling industrial plant after management cleaned house of previous supervisors. He was confronted with a couple of hundred cases of lightbulbs stacked across the tops of the warehouse racks! He said couldn’t but figure that the lightbulb guys had an “in” with someone at the plant to be able to get that quantity of bulbs in there…

  43. mariospants says:

    Whatever happened to saying “no thanks” and “goodbye” to those scammers? People all over my organization used to get those calls and so many people fell for it we had an all-broadcast e-mail telling people not to fall for the scam. We literally were being sent toner and inkjet cartridges by three different suppliers in addition to our regular one.

    Since we have a strict policy on contracting and purchasing, none of those products were ever paid for but were sent back.

  44. You know, when I first started working as a receptionist a company called me up and said, “Hi there we changed the price on the ink cartridges we send you, because we neglected to tell you that we changed the price we will send you the cartridges at the old price.” I was new, and didn’t know that we got our ink cartridges for free from the people we lease the copier from. I told them to go ahead and send it. Luckily, I came to my senses and canceled it before they sent it out. The whole thing was VERY deceptive.

  45. Also note, I once spent $75 at a carnival once trying to win a PS2. Yeah, I’m a little gullible. Stupid Carny.

  46. thomas_callahan says:

    At our (admittedly small) company I have our fax line hooked up to an older Mac and have it set to save the faxes as PDFs on a shared drive, and on the rare occasions where we’re expecting a fax the sender tells us they are faxing something and we go in the shared drive, save the one we want and clear out the rest. Plus, I have the Mac set to automatically start one hour before business and shut down four hours after (to allow for west-coast use), so the middle-of-the-night spam faxes get no answer. At least that way it doesn’t cost us anything to get them, it’s just annoying.

  47. wagnerism says:

    uhhh… you wrote it yourself. They are scammers.

    They are trying to make money off of you by fraudulent and/or dishonest means. THAT’s what happened to saying “no thanks” and “goodbye”.

    Are you polite when you catch a pickpocket?

  48. Mary says:

    This makes some of the phone calls I get at the switchboard make so much sense. It also makes me glad that we don’t keep a listing by title so when they ask for “the person in charge of” or “the X manager” we can say “Without a name, we can’t help you.”

  49. Inglix_the_Mad says:

    I’ve seen all of these, including the light bulb scam. My favorite is that our purchasing agent was named (for the public) Jussi Kompa. So anytime someone called asking for our purchasing agent, Mr. Kompa (Fin for Mr. Trick Question), or asked if they’d like to speak to Mr. Kompa and they said yes we knew it was a scam or no prior relationship at least.

  50. LadyHeather says:

    I’m surprised that people who answer phones for a living don’t have more sense. I answer the phones at my office and whenever someone asks for a title (IT manager being the most popular), I ask them who they are and what the nature of their call is. It is fairly easy to do so in a polite and professional manner.

    I remember one time one guy got so mad at me because I wouldn’t give him the name of our “controller”. He said I “had” to tell him. Ha. I was also told that I didn’t have the authority to refuse a subscription to a magazine I knew would be useless to the company. Telemarketers have major balls these days.

  51. BytheSea says:

    I had to field these calls on a temp job once. yes, you interrogate everyone, don’t give consent to anything, and take down written messages instead of putting people through to voicemail. It was pretty awful, b/c I didn’t know who was legit and who wasn’t, so I couldnt’ even mess with people who were rude or aggressive. Mostly, at this office, if someone calling in didn’t know Tom in IT’s direct number, then Tom didn’t want to talk to her.

  52. howtragic says:

    I worked as a receptionist when I first got out of college, and I’m pretty ticked that many of you on here blame this stuff on the receptionist. It’s not the receptionist’s problem for the following reasons:

    – I got NO training in anything other than how to answer the phone and how to connect the call.
    – The only feedback you get is when you screw something up that you could not have possibly known
    – When these people call, I guarantee that the phone is lighting up with about a dozen other calls at the same time. You do not have time to engage in a runaround with these people.
    – So Gary in accounting gets spammed? The same guy who can’t remember your name but stares at your tits every time he walks by? Boo-hoo.
    – $10 an hour and no benefits leaves me no incentive to do much more than answer the phones and connect calls.
    – Finally, I did a lot of mean stuff ON PURPOSE when I worked as a receptionist. If you treat me like crap, talk down to me, or treat me like your personal secretary without thanking me, then I promise you’re going to “miss” a really important call or vendor on a mission from God is going to get ahold of your cell and home number.

    I think every new hire at a company in ANY position ought to be forced to man the phones for 2 weeks as part of his training. In the end, you would work in much more smoothly run company. The people who always treated me the best were the older women in the office who started as receptionists and worked their way up. The worst people were men in their 30s who were hooked up with a good job a day out of college.

    • Mary says:

      @howtragic: So, did it occur to you that maybe the mistreatment was the result of people doing their job poorly and that people are blaming things on receptionists because they go on petty vengeance missions by not connecting calls or giving out personal numbers?

      Because really, if you engage in that behavior then the way they treat you is probably because of that.

      I do agree with you that people look down on receptionists and that you don’t get feedback until you do something wrong. I’ve done a LOT of that type of work in my life. But to me, doing something petty like purposely not letting them get a message because they were mean to me is the equivalent of spitting in somebody’s food, it’s more demeaning to me than them.

  53. whatsthisnow says:

    I’ve been an admin/reception/office person for 5 years now, and I can’t imagine how many different kinds of marketing calls I’ve answered. On top of the robocalls, fax spam, abusive marketers who call back when you tell them no, and walk-in weirdos, there is actual work to be done and real calls to be answered. My favorite one is when they pretend to be a friend of the boss, but mispronounce his name terribly.

    Bottom line is: I don’t get paid enough to put up with this crap all day.
    I need a raise.

  54. whatsthisnow says:

    More importantly:
    We are not secretaries. We are Administrative Professionals.

  55. organicgardener says:

    I do so hate these stupid telemarketers. I get at least a couple of calls a day asking for my boss by name as he’s a professional and belongs to profession-specific groups & such. I ask who it is and they just give a name. (Sometimes it’s blatantly the same voice, different name.) I ask what company they’re with; sometimes they just hang up right there, sometimes they act like they’re a friend of his. Sometimes they give some generic sounding name like “American General” or “United Mutual” or some dumbass made-up bullshit. When I ask what it’s regarding they’ll say “a business proposal” thinking I’ll be suitably impressed and put it right through. Or at that point they’ll just hang up.

    Sometimes they even try to bully their way through, saying “Well, is he there or not?” “Just put him on the phone!” EXCUSE ME?

    If only they realized how many of them there are, how often we hear it and how we can tell right away. Anyone with actual business with him has no hesitation about stating who they are and why they’re calling. All customers and frequent vendors think THEY’RE the most important. My boss calls me the Berlin Wall because the scum can never get past me.

    I read somewhere (maybe on Consumerist?) that these morons are taught to hang up at any questions or the first sign of critical thinking.

  56. smokinfoo says:

    Here is helpful link describing one-party and two-party consent while recording calls on a per state basis. []

  57. smokinfoo says:


    and another source:


  58. Bruce says:

    The easiest way to end fax spamming is to give the fax spammer the fax number of your local police cyber crimes unit.

    I hope they fax spam hell out of that number.

  59. Craysh says:

    I usually got around anything like this by saying:
    “I’m sorry, I cannot give that information out.”
    “I’m sorry, our fax number is a private line and it’s only given out face to face.”

  60. cozynite says:

    Ha! I am such a bitch on the phone to telemarketers! They ask to speak to the IT Manager, I ask why, they say it’s personal, I tell them that’s not good enough, which is usually when they hang up on me or will try a few more times to get me off the phone to talk to someone else. If they ever ask for more info, I tell them it’s none of their business.

    Also, saying that your boss is friends with your IT company/bank/misc. company works too. “Nepotism” at its finest. Most telemarketers tend to stop calling after that.

  61. kairi2 says:

    They wouldn’t get past me, I know how they work. I’ve started the “Crystal Tanner” legacy at every office I’ve worked at. The caller, obviously a telemarketer, asks who is in charge of so and so, give them the fake name, tell them she’s not in the office (for whatever creative reason) and no she doesn’t have voicemail. They just call back later and ask for her, not knowing that this person does not exist and they have just busted themselves out as a solicitor. Then, as a receptionist you are free to toy with this person or take your anger out on them or whatever you feel like doing. Tell her she was injured in a tragic polar bear incident in Antartica. No, there is no replacement at this time. The best part is when they get angry because Crystal is never there. “Does she EVER work?” Then they call back in two days as polite as can be. I love it.

  62. ariven says:

    We get a regular stream of the toner calls.. and for about 6 years now I have been fielding all of them (I make sure that the receptionists know what to do with the calls.. i.e. no saying yes, transfer call to me.. etc).

    I finally came up with a method to deal with them that works rather well.. I ask them for a catalog and tell them that we have a policy in place that does not allow me to discuss pricing or anything related to toner (printers, etc) without a catalog in hand FIRST.

    In the 6 years now, I have received on the order of 50-75 calls a year, and a whopping 2 catalogs.

  63. waitaminute says:

    toner call? I just tell ’em I’m on contract which requires OEM (not reman’s or refills). If they persist, I’ll tell ’em I pay $30/month for all the toner I can consume. then I fart into the phone.

  64. waitaminute says:

    caller: “Can I speak to the person that handles your [whatever]?”

    me: “No, but thank you for calling. Good bye.”