Saturday, August 6, 2016

Google Voice can scare away the scammers and more - August 5, 2016

A telemarketer called me on my cell phone the other day, and I chortled with delight.

Normally, even if you hang up on one immediately as I did, you know they are only going to call back repeatedly.

Not this one--or any of them. I use Google Voice, so I was able to go into my call history and block future calls from that number. From then on when they call, they get the annoying disconnected sound and so they think my phone number is no longer valid. And their call never rings my phone again.

If I felt really mean, I could make them their own message talking about the nature of their marketing and perhaps questioning the caller’s life choices. I did not, but the thought that I could is enough to make me chortle on receiving a spam call.

Google Voice is not a well-known Google service, but it is one of the most useful. You only need a free Google account. If you already have a Gmail account, you are set.

When you sign up for the actual Voice product, you are given a phone number. That number might be a local one or if no local ones are available, then from elsewhere in the country. That is not an issue since almost all cell phone and landline plans have free long distance.

At the Google Voice website you can choose what to do when your number is called. At its simplest, your call can be sent to your cell phone.

You can have Voice ask callers to say their name. Then your phone will ring and you will hear who is calling and have the option of taking the call or sending it to voicemail. You can have all callers prompted, or just those whose numbers are not in your contact list.

A call can ring your cell phone, landline, your direct office line or all of them at once.

You can set up unique voicemails for groups of callers. You can choose to have all calls go to voicemail at certain hours. With a little extra manipulation in the settings, you can have exceptions so all callers go to voicemail at 3 a.m., except your kids and spouse, for example.

And when someone leaves you a voicemail, Google automatically transcribes the message into text and can text it or email it to you. The transcriptions are not perfect, but they give you a good idea of who called and what it is they want. I may feel my phone vibrate in a meeting and a couple minutes later can read the transcript on my Android watch.

You can also send and receive text messages at your Google Voice phone number. You can read and compose text messages on your PC as well as on your phone.

If you need an archive of your text messages, voicemails or inbound or outbound numbers, Voice keeps it for you.

Not only is Voice free, but you can also have multiple phone numbers. You get one for each Google account you have. Have one for personal business, your side business and a unique contact number for the Little League team you coach. All calls can go to one cell phone.

So far, the only cost for Voice is if you call outside the U.S. or Canada. Even then, the rate per minute is dramatically lower than the phone company’s rates. A few months ago I called Israel and it was only 2 cents a minute to call a landline and 10 cents a minute for a cell phone.

If someone calls you on your Voice line, you can punch the number 4 key and the call is recorded for you. A voice prompt informs your caller the call is being recorded.

And if it was not already awesome at shielding me from spam calls after the first call, I have enabled Voice’s Global Spam Filtering Feature to block even first time calls if Google knows them to be spammers.

I wish my home phone had all these features. Our landline has become essentially useless for incoming calls. Most of the calls to it are spam calls. I’ve replaced our outgoing message, asking friends and family to call our cell phones. For anyone who does not know our cell numbers, I tell them they may leave a message but it may not be listened to in a timely fashion. I also give out my email address in case anyone has to contact me urgently.

Google Voice brings a 19th century tool into the 21st century.

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