A telephonic mystery.

  phone_calls mystery wrong_numbers automated monitor hardware

If you've known me for any length of time, chances are you've heard about my fascination with telephones and some of the weird stuff that you sometimes find if you misdial once in a while. Sweep tones, ringbacks, ANACs, and more unusual things. However, it's rare that some of those weird things happen to ring me up.

A couple of weeks ago I started getting phone calls at all hours of the day; not terribly unusual in itself, save that every time I pick up I hear a prompt to leave a voicemail ("Press one to leave a voicemail.") Ordinarily you're supposed to get those when you try to call somebody and they don't answer, not the other way around. The few occasions when the call hasn't come at 0-dark-thirty and when I haven't been at work occupied by other things I've experimentally tapped '1' expecting to be prompted to do as suggested. Instead of an empty voicemail box I heard the recitation of what sounds like operational statistics of machinery of some kind by a clearly mechanical voice, probably a relatively cheap speech synthesis system. "Pump one has an emergency. Pump pressure is low. Pump two has an emergency. Pump pressure is low. Pump three is offline. Pump four is offline. Well one is offline. Well two is offline."

My first hypothesis was that the automated pumping system at a gas station somewhere was misconfigured and accidentally dialed my line. That seems like a flimsy hypothesis because I doubt that a monitoring system would be configured to dial a phone number in an entirely different state; it seems more likely that it would be configured to call an office in the same region or state. Also, such a monitoring system should not initiate a call with a prompt to press a key on the phone to leave a voicemail. During some experimentation, I was able to get the phantom caller to recite some figures, speak some of the specifics of the system events in halting, mechanical English, but little else. The user interface seems very limited, just a handful of menus and two or three options in each. A little detective work shows that all of the numbers are in or around Columbus, Indiana. After considering it a little more, I wonder if they're automated alarm systems of some kind because not all of them recite pump status but slightly different things. It seems certain that they're not configured properly.

While I do not advocate calling up any of these numbers and messing with them, because I have no idea what is actually on the other end, if you happen to occasionally get similar phone calls and are scratching your head over them I hope this article will shed a little light on the situation. Beneath the cut are a few of the numbers and transcriptions of some of the voice prompts to hopefully serve as search engine fodder. If worse comes to worse, you can always block the numbers and be done with it, especially if they have the propensity to catch you at bad times.

Oh, and if you happen to be the admin of one or more of these systems? Please double-check their configs. I think you've got a couple of bugs that need fixed. Somebody who really needs to get those alerts isn't.

812-375-0782 - "Welcome to Omnisite. Please enter your eight digit account number." "To listen to and acknowledge notifications, press one. To listen to current alarms, press two. To listen to unit status, press three. To repeat these options, press zero."

510-480-7473 - Call cannot be completed as dialed. (Weird - it keeps calling me!)

812-375-0767 - "Welcome to Omnisite. Please enter your eight digit account number." "To listen to and acknowledge notifications, press one. To listen to current alarms, press two. To listen to unit status, press three. To repeat these options, press zero." "You have one unit in alarm." "Pump station has a low battery condition."

812-375-0890 - "Welcome to Omnisite. Please enter your eight digit account number." "To listen to and acknowledge notifications, press one. To listen to current alarms, press two. To listen to unit status, press three. To repeat these options, press zero." "You have zero unheard messages."