After the nuisance calls began about three weeks ago, Mary Carlson started taking her phone off the hook at night. On just one day, she got 17 calls in a span of 38 minutes. To escape the ringing phone, she and her husband went to the grocery store for two hours last week.
The caller ID says "out of area." No one is ever on the other end.
"It's driving me nuts," said Carlson, who is 82 and lives in Richfield.
When the calls started, Carlson hung up and dialed *57, which connected her to Qwest's "Annoyance Center." (Likely a busy place.) The service helps identify where nuisance calls originate, but in this case, Qwest could only determine that the calls were from Nigeria.
While it's more likely a computer glitch than some weird telemarketing pitch or overseas harassment, Qwest has determined it can't stop a machine in West Africa from repeatedly dialing the Carlson home.
"We cannot block overseas calls for anyone, because we do not know who the long-distance carrier is," said Molly Clemen, a Qwest spokeswoman.
The company gave Carlson the option of changing her phone number. After 57 years with the same number, she was reluctant to give it up.
After Carlson contacted Whistleblower, Qwest figured out a solution for Carlson. The company will give her the option of switching her phone to "do not disturb" mode. Anyone who calls during that time will get a message that the number is not accepting any calls, although callers who know a secret code can get through.
Carlson said she'll turn on the "do not disturb" service at night. "Maybe now I'll get some sleep," she said.
Told about Carlson's problem, a Federal Communications Commission spokeswoman said it's not widespread enough to make it a priority. Qwest urged Carlson to file a complaint with a different agency, the Federal Trade Commission, at 877-382-4357.
Appealing to cellphone fears
The FTC put out a warning last week about questionable products that promise to protect cellphone users from radiation.
The World Health Organization's determination last month that cellphones may cause cancer sparked new fears that this electronic obsession might be deadly.
Yet some cellphone "shields" might do more harm than good, by making the phone draw more power and emit more electromagnetic waves, according to the FTC.
Go to www.startribune.com/a500 for tips on how to reduce your exposure to cellphone radiation.
COMPILED BY THE WHISTLEBLOWER TEAM