IT GOES without saying that I'm the recipient of some strange and disconcerting email from time to time, but one day last week I found a creepier-than-usual message in my inbox from a reader named Anna. Little did I realize it would become even creepier as the day wore on. This is what she wrote:
"I just got a call from 999-999-9999 on my cell phone... called it back and got my Nextel directory assistance who say they can't call out. I looked it up on Google and there was reference to a Thai movie that had a similar plot to The Ring, except you actually call the number and something horrible happens to you. Any news on this one?"
I Googled it myself and, sure enough, buried among dozens of results confirming that lots of other folks have received mysterious calls from this same number I found a web page hawking DVDs of a movie called 999-999-9999, the plot of which is described as follows:
A transfer student becomes the center of her attention at her new school when she relates the tales of the mysterious deaths at her old school. She reports that the deaths are linked to an evil phone number 999-999-999, that will grant the wish of any caller but with a price. Despite her warnings against using the phone number, many of her new friends cannot resist the temptation and one by one they meet with a grisly "accident."Naturally, I had to try this myself. I dialed the number. Click. A recorded message said: "Your call cannot be completed as dialed." Feeling no ill effects, I made a mental note to look into it further and went back to reading my email.
Several hours later the phone rang. Though I was busy and didn't pick up, curiosity got the better of me when I saw the "new message" light come on, so I checked the caller ID.
This, I kid you not, is what I saw (cue sinister music):
"Unknown Name. 999-999-9999."
Could it possibly be just a coincidence? What are the odds? I punched in my voicemail code. This is what I heard (raise volume on sinister music):
"Hello. This is a friendly reminder from Blockbuster. Our records show that as of Thursday, November 17th, Jeff _______ has some items that have not been returned by the due date listed on your receipt."
Mystery solved. Apparently, Blockbuster Video uses the same caller ID spoofing technology employed by collection agencies, unscrupulous telemarketers, and not a few con artists to prevent recipients of their calls from knowing who's on the other end of the line. Mundane, but true. I gather the practice is becoming increasingly common.
Not only did I survive the "phone call of death," I am relieved to say, but as it turns out my Blockbuster Video account is in perfectly good standing. The deadbeat they were trying to get in touch had given them the wrong phone number. One day he will receive a mysterious call....
Update: In April 2007, panic erupted in Pakistan and parts of the Middle East and Africa after emails circulated warning mobile phone users against accepting calls from certain numbers lest they be subjected to a high-frequency signal that could cause brain hemorrhage and death. Authorities ruled the warnings a hoax. Read more...