Welcome to Evil Week, our annual dive into all the slightly sketchy hacks we’d usually refrain from recommending. Want to weasel your way into free drinks, play elaborate mind games, or, er, launder some money? We’ve got all the info you need to be successfully unsavory.
When you’re in a situation when you need to get someone off your back, 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, giving a fake number can cut an awkward social encounter short. Best of all, though, are the ones you craft yourself, like the one I gave to car dealers that fakes a full voicemail message.
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, just disappearing like a stone tossed into the fog. Luckily, there is a way.
How to set up a burner phone number in Twilio
Table of Contents
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.
You can read Twilio’s full documentation here on how to receive and respond to voice calls. You can also use Twilio’s tools for blocking callers (and you won’t be charged for blocked calls).
But I wanted to have a little bit of fun. Below is the script I used. The necessary syntax may have changed since I wrote it, so check the documentation to make sure you’re doing it right. But all I did was edit the text in the default message, which was easy enough:
You can, of course, get more creative. You can set up your own Rejection Hotline explaining why you don’t want to talk to them, or you can have it read a cheery poem. You can even let the person actually leave a message, if that’s a thing you want for some reason.
In doing this, I splurged on a paid number for a whopping $1/month (the price has now increased to $1.15). Calls also charged me a fraction of a cent per minute ($0.0015). In total, my fake number took 38 calls, meaning I dodged that many car salespeople without getting a single notification on my phone for a grand total of under two dollars.