999-999-9999 - The Phone Call of Death!

Scary Phone Call
What does it mean when you receive a phone call from 999-999-9999?. RapidEye/E+/Getty Images

It goes without saying that I get some strange and disconcerting emails from time to time — I write about urban legends, after all — but one day I found a creepier-than-usual message in my inbox from a reader named Anna. Little did I suspect it would come to seem 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?"

Well, I Googled the number myself and, sure enough, buried among hundreds of results confirming that lots and lots of other folks have received mysterious calls from the same number I found a website hawking DVDs of a movie called 999-9999. The plot 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 followed. "Your call cannot be completed as dialed," it said. 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 — my phone —  rang. I was busy at the time and didn't pick up, but 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.

Coincidence? What are the odds? I punched in my voicemail password. This is what I heard (turn up 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. It was Blockbuster Video. Apparently they were using 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 explanation, but true. By all accounts, the practice is becoming increasingly common.

So, not only did I survive the "phone call of death," I'm relieved to say, it turned out my Blockbuster Video account was in perfectly good standing. The deadbeat they were trying to collect from had given them the wrong phone number.

One day he will receive a mysterious call.

Postscript: In April 2007, panic erupted in Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa after forwarded emails circulated warning mobile phone users not to accept calls from certain numbers because they were known to trigger a high-frequency signal causing brain hemorrhage and death.

Authorities ruled the warnings a hoax.