Fake phone numbers are a beautiful thing, whether you make them up on the spot or give out the number to a service like the Rejection Hotline. Best of all, though, are the ones you craft yourself, like the one I gave to car dealers that fakes a full voicemail message.
It's Evil Week at Lifehacker, which means we're looking into less-than-seemly methods for getting shit done. We like to think we're shedding light on these tactics as a way to help you do the opposite, but if you are, in fact, evil, you might find this week unironically helpful. That's up to you.
When I was in the market for a new car, I read this Jalopnik piece on dodging calls from thirsty dealers. Get a Google Voice number, it suggested. Well, I already use Google Voice for other purposes, and the service doesn’t give you unlimited numbers. Burner apps are another option, but at that point you might as well just grab a number from Twilio and have some fun with it.
I mainly used my number to access TrueCar price reports. The service requires a phone number and email, and then as soon as you request one price, every car dealer in the area will crawl out of the woodwork to contact you. I didn’t want to constantly block calls, nor did I want to send them to a frenemy’s number. I just wanted their calls to disappear into the ether, never reaching me, never bouncing back, but disappearing like a stone tossed into the fog. Luckily, there is a way.
How to Set Up Your Fake Number
First, sign up for a Twilio account, which is free. You can reserve your first phone number for free as well, although anybody who calls or texts it will hear a message saying this is a free trial Twilio account. You could stop there, if you want. Fake number achieved.
But here’s the fun part. When you click on your phone number’s settings on the Twilio dashboard, you can tell the service what it should do when somebody calls or texts the number. By default, it reads a little message (saying that you haven’t set up the number, or something). So I copied that message, and altered it so it sounded like a full voicemail box. Here’s my script:
You have reached. 5 5 5. 5 5 5. 1 2 1 2. Please leave a message after the tone. This mailbox is full.
You won’t fool anyone with the free trial message, so I paid $US1 /month for the number, plus a fraction of a cent per minute. In total, my fake number took 38 calls, meaning I dodged that many car salespeople for a grand total of under two dollars.
Having More Fun
You can, of course, write a script that says anything you want. You can set up your own Rejection Hotline, or you can have it read a cheery poem. You can let them actually leave a message, if that’s a thing you want. You can even write a script for the nice robot lady to have a conversation with your caller.
This all works with texts, as well. You can connect people who text your Twilio number with a chatbot, perhaps one written in the easy-to-use Dexter platform. You can have all kinds of fun with your new fake number, from the whimsical to the evil. Choose wisely.