Tag Archives: phone

Possibly the best phone ever for older people. Plus how to really crack down on spam/phishing callers.

I don’t really get spam/phishing calls. At least, not yet. This is possibly because I’ve never been in the phone directory, I have a landline that is, primarily there for my internet, and I am very tech savvy at blocking such calls on my mobile if I get them.

However, whenever I was round at my mum and dad’s their phone would regularly ring with phishing/spam calls. They would be annoying, and of course I registered them for the Telephone Preference Service but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Some of the calls were simply annoying “do you want double glazing” etc. Some so obviously scam calls as to be not a threat. But all meant my mum had to stop what she was doing and go and answer the phone.

The obvious thing is to to get an answerphone and screen calls. But here’s the thing. Getting a separate, mechanical answering machine that works with an existing phone and is not hugely expensive, is virtually impossible – I’ve tried. You can get integrated answering machines, with cordless phones, but this would mean a change of phone for my mum, which is okay, but the phones that come with integrated answer-machines tend to have small fiddly numbers; and my mum likes a corded phone so it can’t get lost/run out of charge.

BT’s Call Minder, which you access via your handset and is ‘remote’ is an option, but she didn’t like that as it’s too confusing for her. So an answer machine or an answering service wasn’t really an option. And anyway, a very sophisticated caller, such as she eventually came across, would have not been put off by such a device and they would have left a message, lending credibility to their call.

(Anyway I think even a fairly simple answering machine would have been frustrating for my mum to master and why make her feel crap about not being able to do something when she is so good at so many other things?)

Because, one day, my mum got a call of a very different kind. Very sophisticated, believable and distressing; I won’t go into the details here but, thankfully, at the last minute my mum pulled a blinder (you can take the girl out of Naples but…) and a very serious crisis was averted. (We reported it to Action Fraud.) But it got me thinking just how vulnerable some people are and I realised that something needed to be done. When I started telling people what had happened to my mum, the stories that came out were terrifying. I learned that someone I knew, with graduate parents (English their first language, quite unlike my mum), had been scammed of £5K.  Then another similar story, and so it went on.

My mum is not tech savvy. If you need to feed fifteen people with one stick of celery and a tomato, she’s your woman. Her vigour, energy, hospitality and inventiveness is gob-smacking, but she is a technophobe. So whatever I did had to be low-tech at her end and the tech burden had to be mine alone.  I also needed something I could monitor and tweak remotely. It was no use asking her to press button 1 to stop the last caller calling her again. She needed a phone, pretty much like her old phone, with buttons to press to dial someone.

This is what I did. It’s in two parts – the remote part and the actual phone.

First, BT launched something called BT Call Protect earlier this year. I knew about this but again though it would not work for my mum, but, with her permission I took over control of her account. It’s free, but you have to be a  BT customer (your phone service may offer something similar) and how it works is that, once activated, it has a pre-set list of known spam numbers, these are automatically blocked. But there’s more.

You can see who’s calling via the website or a phone app, and you can VIP these numbers – and name them so you recognise them again when you next log on – or block them. So now my mum only has to make a rough note of the time someone called if it was a bad call and I can, via my computer or the BT app, forever more block that number.

You can also set it so that it blocks all, eg. with-held or international calls. And of course if you fall out with someone, you can put them from the VIP list to the Blocked list. Imagine the power.

With VIP numbers you can control which times someone can call you, so that, eg, you don’t get disturbed at night, or so that they can ring you 24/7 – you decide. Useful if you have a relative who keeps different hours to you or you don’t want to be disturbed at night.

All of this I can do remotely for her and with her knowledge.

If you block a number, it goes to junk voicemail (which you access via pressing 1572 on the handset although, see below, I eventually got my mum Call Minder so I access this for her now) so there’s s safety net there in case it does turn out to be genuine (there was one casualty which was a long-lost friend from Rome, but, thanks to this I was able to get her message and let her know and what’s more, VIP her number for future calls).

Since I did this my mum’s spam calls have dropped to: zero. So far.

Then there’s the phone. It was long overdue that she be able to see who is ringing her. I also wanted her to be able to access important numbers really easily.

I’ve mentioned before that I got a mobile phone for my aunt from Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) so I turned to them for a phone for my mum and found this one.

It is really excellent and here’s why:

It has a caller display which lots of phones do (although they tend to be cordless) but with this one, you can tilt it up for maximum visibility and also change the contrast* – it displays the number and, if you’ve input the person into the phone’s phone book, their name will also show. (You need a subscription to a Caller Display service for this to work.)

*Someone visually impaired would still struggle to see this however, so look at the RNIB’s shop for phones for them.

The call buttons are large and illuminate when you pick up the phone.

There are four photo-buttons so you can either put people’s photos or write their name in LARGE TYPE. You programme these so that you can simply press them to dial someone but not only that: THEY ILLUMINATE WHEN THAT PERSON RINGS. Which is really like Thunderbirds!

I programmed as many numbers in as I could for my mum, no mean feat when you consider the size of our family. This you have to do with the phone in front of you but once done no further teccy-input necessary.

The phone plugs in and also needs 4 AAA batteries as back up. This it needs for the illumination/phone box storage features. It is otherwise a corded phone.

Although you can use the phone book to ring people – i.e. without having to manually press the number-keys, my mum doesn’t do this as she likes to use the number keys to ring people. There’s a volume control and also a boost in case someone is hard of hearing. So it’s packed with really useful features, but otherwise it’s a normal low-tech phone.

So now, as an added safe-guard, if my mum doesn’t recognise a number, she doesn’t have to pick it up. I’ve also put Call Minder on her line so that if she doesn’t pick up a call and it’s genuine, the people calling have the option of leaving her a message.  I control this remotely for her by ringing into it once a day (you have to set a PIN on the actual phone, but once you’ve done this you can ring in remotely). I can also hear if any spam callers who have called and left a message or not left a message.

There are other options available for protecting vulnerable relatives, such as True Call Blocker, which has rave reviews and Fuss Free Phones, which sound like a great idea but would have involved too many changes for my mum.

Some other option may work for you. This is so far what’s worked for us. I did a lot of research to come to these conclusions and what is the point of it if it doesn’t also benefit others?

 

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One of the best things I’ve ever bought – a headset with fixed mic for my mobile phone

In the 90s, I used to work at the Independent on Sunday (RIP). This was back in the day when computers were largely for writing on, and phones were for making and receiving calls. My deputy editor had an office next to mine and he would spend a lot of time swiveling his office chair side to side and talking on his headset, which was plugged into to his desk phone. This headset had a fixed band which went over his head and a mic which stuck out in front of his mouth. I’m sure you know the ones.

I spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone, as I researched my pieces and my column (Dear Annie, which was a fashion column and answered readers’ problems), so I asked if I could have a headset and lo, I was able to order one from the stationery department. So I looked like someone from a call centre with this head-set on and a microphone pointed at my mouth. But it was brilliant, as I had both hands free to type or eat a banana or communicate with my colleagues in sign language.

Then mobiles came along and everything changed. We all, largely, started talking on those. Even if you want to, they are impossible to jam betwixt cheek and collar bone, such as you could with a traditional corded phone, and I find the ‘headsets’ that come with that are fine for a brief chat but you have to hold the mic near your mouth and people often say “are you on hands free, I can’t hear you very well?”

And, for long calls, I really hate having my mobile next to my ear for extended periods, as it makes my ear hot.

I still spend a lot of time on the phone interviewing people for my job, so a few months ago I wondered if such a thing as I once had, existed for my mobile (I have an iPhone) and lo, it did. It took a bit of searching but I bought this one which cost me just under £20, and it really is one of the best things I’ve ever bought. I make all my calls using it now (unless I’m out, because I feel like too much of an idiot, but I hardly make calls when I’m out anyway, because I feel like too much of an idiot..) and no-one has ever asked if I’m on hands-free, or underwater, or anything like that. It frees you up to type, essential when interviewing people or when on the phone to friends, you can do your nails, hang out washing or do the ironing, all of which I’ve done.

It plugs directly into your phone, it has a headband which fits over your head, one ear piece, one mic, and a volume button with (I think but have never used it) an on off button for ending calls.

It’s brilliant.

A great, basic phone: especially good for those who find normal mobile phones difficult.

My aunt is 92 and has had problems hearing for some time. She recently moved into a nursing home and her phone has become more important than ever. Her old mobile phone was no longer up to the job – buttons too fiddly, she couldn’t hear anything. So she asked me to look into getting her a more suitable phone.

I contacted Action on Hearing Loss (what used to be the RNID). It has an online shop which sells lots of phones. One of the advisors was sweet enough to take the time to really take on board what my aunt needed/wanted and suggested this phone: the completely unsnappily named Geemarc CL8450. With VAT it cost £80 (plus there are delivery charges) and it’s a Sim-less phone so there is no contract. I hooked my aunt up to Giff Gaff and she is on PAYG with an automatic top up linked to my card so she never runs out of credit.

This phone has a ‘boost’ button the side so you can really amplify the caller’s voice (this makes it VERY LOUD so you have to be careful if you have normal-range hearing because you will end up deafening yourself) – it’s really easy to switch on and off. Equally however, it would be very easy to switch off by accident.

The buttons are big and the screen is really clear. It’s a clam-shell design so you snap it shut to switch it off: I find people who are not used to mobiles get really worried about whether or not they’ve switched the phone off. The charger is linked to a cradle so you just pop the phone into it – no fiddling plugging in and out of cables, once the charger is plugged in, that’s it. And when the phone is in and charging, a light comes on.

If you have to dial a number not in the memory (I set up my aunt’s phone book so it was all pre-set) the number you’ve just pressed not only comes up on the display but the phone speaks it back to you.

It’s about a simple a phone to use as I’ve seen. Two other great features: it has three present memory buttons: M1, M2, M3 so my aunt has all her super important people at the end of one press of a button. At the back the phone has an SOS feature. If you press the button it emits an alarm, but it also will start to ring a sequence of numbers which you pre-programme into the phone. If one person doesn’t pick up (I believe, I haven’t tried it) it will ring the next. You can also pre-record a message, e.g: Aunty May is in trouble, please call round.

You can do anything you would normally be able to do with an analogue phone – i.e., make calls, text, it has an inbuilt phone book. You can’t take pictures and it’s not a smart phone. Hurrah!

The instruction manual is also better than most, although there is no way my aunt would have figured it out.

I loved this phone, but more importantly, my aunt loved it. I think she’s been ringing the whole of Italy with it. I’ll have to check my credit card..It’s absolutely perfect if you have any one who hates normal mobiles because they are too complicated, or struggles with the size of the buttons or to hear a conversation. It also has loads of other features I didn’t look into. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture so the one attached is a stock photo off the website. Sorry.

Footnote: My aunt died just a week after I wrote this. The last conversation I had with her was on this phone. She loved it and it made her last few days happier as she was able to hear. The last thing she said to me on it was “I love you” and I replied in kind. You do have to love technology at times. 🙂

 

 

Briiiiiing briiiiiing

Growing up, we had an old BT cream phone. We used to rent it from BT and it lasted ages. I think we got rid of it in the end – why? – to update it not because it had broken.

We had a phone just like this and it never broke down. Sniff.

I learned to dial numbers on it, and remember clearly being able to dial my father at the restaurant he worked in and what a rite of passage that was. But those were back in the days when every number didn‘t consisted of double figure digits and led you to an automated answering service, “press one for blah” etc. Dial phones just aren’t practical anymore.

I had two, an old black Bakelite that I paid ridiculous sums for and which lasted not very long. And then I bought a 1950’s cream one (“the sort of thing Grace Kelly would have used to call her beautician on,” my boyfriend said) from some ludicrously overpriced retro shop in Islington’s Upper Street. I just recently started using it for the following reasons:

1) I was sick of cordless phones lasting a year and then not being able to hold a charge anymore

2) The beauty of a cordless phone is also its downfall. It moves, and I could never find it. Yes I know you can ‘page’ it, but I just spent ages looking for it and in the end I thought if there were ever an emergency, I needed to know where the phone was. Quickly. I kinda longed for the days when the phone was static, in the hall, on a table with a notepad next to it. Oh those were the days, etc.

3) The smaller cordless phones get the harder it is to chat on them AND do anything else, you can’t wedge them between shoulder and jaw like the big old handsets of yore.

But it became apparent very quickly that this beautiful object (objet) just wasn’t cut out for anything other than calling local folk using six digits only. And I do have plenty of those to call. But anyone else and it was highly laborious. It sounds lazy, dunnit, but dialling the eleven numbers most mobiles now have took ages, especially when I misdialled. You could also never tell what number you had just dialled if, like me, you forget between dialling and the person answering… As I said above, calling companies with an automated service was out (you could use a mobile, but still) but the biggest pain was not being able to use the Call Minder function so easily. You had to say “one” instead of just pressing it.

It was not hard work however, and I forgave it because of the wonderful ring it had, and I just loved it.

Then it stopped working. When did phones become such lightweights? I mean I grew up with my old home phone. It was used by my mother to call the doctor when I was three, and had mumps. It was used for hundreds and hundreds of phone calls to Italy. And it was still there when, as a teenager, I made several pointless calls to my friends (“whatcha doing?” “Nothing, you?” “Nothing” etc etc). And my father read my exam results down the phone to me when I was sixteen and in Italy being chased by boys over a very long, very hot, very exciting summer (Italy won the world cup! It was Zoff’s last World Cup!) in 1982.

We need a landline. And I just can’t buy a new, cordless, anonymous, non-long lasting stupid cordless phone that has twelve million features that I don’t need, not to mention storing numbers so that I end up not remembering anyone’s numbers anymore. So I looked for a 1970’s phone. Lordy they cost! I found this one which is just beautiful, but I’m not spending £70 on a phone just because it’s pink.

Beautiful isn’t it? I bet Lady Penelope had one.

I was tempted by the original 700 series (as seen in cream, above). I wanted a wall mounted one, such as I used to see in American sitcoms (mom would be making brownies and the lead would stretch for half a mile), but they are very rare and expensive and probably don’t last because they’re very rare and have been used and reconditioned twelve million times. In the end I went for one with a mechanical ring (check out the ring here) but with push button facilities. This means it’s a reproduction but hopefully it will last longer than a haircut.

This is wot I got in the end. Will report back.