Why do scammers call and hang up?

Person on the phone in the dark like scammers that hang up when you answer

Do you keep getting phone calls that hang up when you answer?

As if robocalls and unknown number calls aren’t annoying enough, what if you answer the call and no one is there? If you’re in the group of people who can’t ignore unknown number calls, despite the likelihood that it’s a scam, and then there isn’t even anyone there, what do you do? Was it a customer trying to reach you and got disconnected? Should you call them back? What happens if you do call them back?


Well, let’s explore the possibilities.

Phone Calls that hang up when you answer can be the result of phone centers, like what is shown in this image

Auto-dialers and number farming

While less-than-reputable telemarketers and scammers could buy lists of active phone numbers, that costs money and can be difficult to acquire. As it turns out, it could just be easier to create your own list. 

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a federal law initially created in 1991 to stem the ever-increasing threat of telemarketing calls flooding consumer’s phones. As part of that law, the TCPA also addresses Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS), which it defines as “equipment which has the capacity—(A) to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator; and (B) to dial such numbers.”

The reason the TCPA addresses ATDS is because, instead of using lists to make robocalls, scammers can use an ATDS to continually dial sequential series of numbers in an endless loop. When a human answers the phone and speaks, the ATDS picks the voice signal up and either marks the number as an active number to call later, or transfers the active call to a live human, if one is available. 

In either case, both outcomes may result in an automatic hang-up when you answer. If you’ve been the victim of an ATDS, once your number is marked as active the ATDS will terminate the call and if there is no live human available to transfer the call to, then the ATDS will also terminate the call.

Telemarketing Auto-Dialers - Predictive Dialers

Not all ATDS uses are illegal and not all ATDS are farming for active numbers. Large telemarketing companies use an ATDS technology frequently termed ‘predictive dialers’ to call hundreds of numbers at once off their active call lists. Since many people do not answer their phones, these calls go un-connected. In the event that a person actually answers, the call is then transferred to an available agent for the actual conversation.

These firms use this technique in order to maximize the amount of people their agents can talk to, since the agent is not on the phone waiting for someone to answer or dialing numbers. They can be free to talk to person after person all day.

These firms also don’t particularly mind that you may be inconvenienced by answering the phone, and if there is no agent available when you answer, the predictive dialer simply disconnects the call. It can always call later and the sheer volume of calls being made pays off for the firm. 

You’ve likely experienced this when you’ve answered an unknown number call, said “hello” and after a few seconds heard a very faint ‘click’. A moment later a somewhat surprised person just fires up a conversation as if they had called you.

Scammers that Call and Hang Up - Wangiri (One Ring) Scam

Let’s touch on a scam that intentionally hangs up after one or two rings.

The so-called “Wangiri” scam (Japanese for “one ring and drop”) is perpetuated when scammers call your phone and hang up after one or two rings. Relying on people’s natural curiosity, these scammers are hoping you will call them back. If the scammer really wants to up the ante, they may call you several times with the same process, hoping you will eventually call the number back just to get the calls to stop.

This is where the scam part kicks in. 

When you do call them back, the number is frequently connected to a toll number, which begins assessing fees that are partially paid to the scammer. The goal then becomes keeping you on the phone as long as possible to increase the fees.

Image of many question marks, which happens when scammers hang up when you answer

How can you protect yourself from these phone scams?

So, if you are receiving calls from unknown numbers that hang up, there are a few steps you can take to severely decrease this nuisance.

The first step is to register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. An important note to realize is that this registry will only stop the reputable companies from calling you, mainly because they are the only callers who may care about the consequences. So this step may cut down on being the recipient of predictive dialers, or just plain telemarketing calls.  

The next step is to familiarize yourself with a few of the more nefarious scams out there, so you can be prepared if a scammer does get through. Some people, like business owners or salesmen, need to answer every call they receive, regardless of whether they recognize the number or not. If you fall into this category, knowing the common scams out there can be the difference between hanging up and being a victim.  

A final step can be employing a call-screen app like Spam Fighter, that is specifically designed to help detect scam calls. By employing special algorithms, the Spam Fighter mobile app can tell you how likely an unknown call is to be spam, along with comparing the number to a database of known spammers. It is a set-it-and-forget-it option that works in the background to help keep your phone scam free.