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Placing A Buffer Between Your Cell and The World

This might be a familiar problem for some people: I’ve had the same personal cell phone number for 15+ years. During this time I have used my number for personal, business, personal business, and the list goes on. Over the years the number of telemarketers has increased to the point where it is sometimes multiple calls per day. This has been annoying but I can usually deal with it by tapping decline on numbers I don’t know. However, about a year ago I started getting text/SMS spam and that is far more irritating to me. When this SMS spam reached the multiple per day I decided it might be time to get a new phone number, but I didn’t want the same problem to reappear. My solution is to make my own answering service and give out that number and never my cell. This covers the phone calls, but what about texts? I wouldn’t want to miss a legitimate message. Well both aspects can be accomplished by using Twilio

For those that do not know, Twilio is a programmable phone service with voice, SMS, Fax, and other features. Twilio has an API for several languages including Python, PHP, node.js, C#, Java, and Ruby. I already have a web server so for me it seemed easiest (quickest to setup) to use that to house some PHP and use Twilio to handle my automated voice and SMS messaging service.

So what does the end result look like? People (or automated telemarketers) can call my Twilio phone number and are greeted with a message of my choosing. Since I don’t want the automated calls leaving me messages I have created a phone (tree) menu that requires the caller to enter a specific number (extension) to leave me a message. Then for SMS, I have a PHP script set up that takes the message and sends a copy to my email then autoresponds and tells the sender that I’ll get back to them as soon as possible.

Lets start with the voice part as that is the more involved piece in this setup. In the Twilio web console, under the section titled “Voice & Fax” I have it set to “Webhook” and have a URL pointing to a specific URL on my webserver. The URL looks something like https://mydomain.com/twilio/main.php The contents of main.php is fairly simple:


header(“content-type: text/xml”);
echo “\n”;
$from = $_REQUEST[‘From’];
// email me the number every number that calls
mail(‘myemailaddress@gmail.com’, ‘Call System: call from ‘.$from, $from.”\n”, ‘From: myemailaddress@gmail.com’);
?>

Hello. You may select from the following options.


To leave a message for Ron select one.





If the caller selects one they will be sent to main-handler.php, if they select anything else the message replays. In main-handler.php I have:


// if the caller pressed anything but these digits, send them back
if($_REQUEST[‘Digits’] != ‘1’) {
header(“Location: main.php”);
die;
}

header(“content-type: text/xml”);
echo “\n”;
?>



Please leave a message for Ron. You may hang up when finished.




If the caller selects one, the flow gets sent to ron-recording.php:

header(“content-type: text/xml”); echo “\n”;
?>

Thank you for leaving a message for Ron.


If the caller leaves a message, transcription is handled by ron-recording-transcribe.php:

$from = $_REQUEST[‘From’];

// email me
mail(‘myemailaddress@gmail.com’, ‘Call System: message for Ron from ‘.$from, $from.”\n”.$_REQUEST[‘TranscriptionText’].”\n”, ‘From: myemailaddress@gmail.com’);

?>


That covers the voice aspect of my Twilio setup, the last piece is handling SMS. In the Twilio web console under “Messaging” I have it set to Webhook and the URL looks something like https://mydomain.com/twilio/incomingsms.php This handles all SMS text messaging that are sent to my Twilio number:

header(“content-type: text/xml”);
echo “\n”;
// email me
$from = $_REQUEST[‘From’];
mail(‘myemailaddress@gmail.com’, ‘Call System: SMS for Ron from ‘.$from, $from.”\n”.$_REQUEST[‘Body’].”\n”, ‘From: myemailaddress@gmail.com’);
?>

I am busy right now but will try to reply to your message as soon as possible.


When a text is sent to my Twilio number the contents of the text get sent to my email immediately and a message reading “I am busy right now but will try to reply to your message as soon as possible.” is sent to sender.

Well that covers my simple Twilio setup for handling voice messages and SMS texts. Hopefully it proves useful in the years to come with regards to reducing the amount of telemarketers and spam texts sent to my cell phone.

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