Telephone spam/scam problem? Bring in the robots. | Roger Anderson | TEDxNaperville

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What about using the same technology phone spammers/scammers use, and turn it against them? The results can be quite entertaining.

Roger Anderson is a tinkerer, podcaster, and founder of the Jolly Roger Telephone Company, which works to disrupt the unsolicited telemarketing industry by creating unique ways to deal with auto and predictive dialers, soundboards, and cold callers.

Having two land-line telephones for decades, Roger would often receive telemarketer calls and shrug them off. When his son became old enough to answer the phone, the boy received a call from a very aggressive telemarketer who said enough “bad words” for Roger to start looking for a solution. Since then, Roger has undertook a crusade to understand how auto and predictive dialing works and create technologies that circumvent, disrupt, trick, and challenge the unsolicited telemarketing industry.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

80 Comments on “Telephone spam/scam problem? Bring in the robots. | Roger Anderson | TEDxNaperville”

    1. “Sir, I just want you to _verify_ your address *and social security number*.” Oh I’m *definitely* curious as to what _they_ wanted to do with that… I’m sure absolutely *nothing* malicious will come of that, right???

  1. He also completely forgot to mention that a _great_ majority of telemarketers have a policy stating their employees are *not* allowed to hang up on someone who’s picked up their call. These places have their phone calls monitored so they’d get immediate reprimands if _they_ hung up first.
    He probably would’ve gotten a few more laughs bringing this up as you can _clearly_ tell he’s got a couple instances of just that in his recordings. Also, personally, I think this makes it all just *SO* much better. If I got many calls I’d *absolutely* be into getting this service lol

    1. My understanding is these JERKS get paid for everybody they talk to so he could actually be getting paid to talk to that bot?

    2. The indian callers arent calling from legit call centers in the first place so your theory holds no water whatsoever.

    3. Troy Roebuck I work in credit card services with a legitimate bank and if we realize that someone is using this type of service we ask certain questions and if we don’t get responses that make sense we are allowed to hang up. After giving a warning. So a legit company isn’t going to spend 15 minutes talking to a machine. Haha

    4. my record was 30 minutes (yes! half an hour!) and several times 15 minutes. In the 30-minute-coldcall, after 15 minutes the caller began weeping and cried, I do this deliberately, and he is a student and will only get paid 5 Euro if he has success. Then I held up his supervisor for another 15 minutes.
      I use to practice “hard selling” to the other side, asking for the purchasing manager of the company, and why he will not connect me to him, wanting to talk to his supervisor etc.
      Mostly, I do not have so much time, so I answer “You must mean my brother. I will get him, please wait”. Then I put the phone under the bedspread and continue whatever I was doing before the call. Sometimes the caller ist still waiting five minutes later, so I tell him my brother will now come immediately to the phone.

  2. I have another solution and it works too. When you dial a disconnected number you get a tone that says the number is disconnected. If you put that at the beginning of your voicemail they will think your number is not working and move on.

    1. Not anymore unfortunately. Most TM’s and phone scammers are using war dialing software and VOIP type systems instead of actual hardware that either doesn’t support DTMF/SIT or can be programmed to ignore those tones since they are obsolete and not transmitted over digital phone switching networks. There may still be some legacy systems or misconfigured software that can still be tricked in to dropping you after receiving the IC SIT tones but the vast majority of automated nuisance calls won’t be affected by it.

    2. re: “… you get a tone that says the number is disconnected.” YES! -There was a plug-in thingie that was sold in the 1990s-maybe, that did exactly this! I used to know the touch-tone digits that make the same noise, but it needs to be done virtually instantly to ‘catch’ the ‘bot and report that the number they dialed is ‘out of service…’

    3. I haven’t got anyone trying to send me faxes but I don’t have a fax machine anyway. I got the sound recording off the internet.

    4. Problem is your friend or your doctor hears fax wheedle deedle dEEEE and figures he has the wrong number, it takes him a week to get it figured out – that could be a disaster

  3. If my dad passed the phone to me and told me to waste the guy’s time, I would of just done the classic virtual machine trick.

    1. When computer scammers, usually from “Microsoft” call and want remote access to your computer. Instead of letting them log into your PC you set up a virtual machine for them to log into which looks like a normal PC when logging in over the network. There’s lots of YT vids where guys have recorded this.

    2. I love the ones where they set up a Windows 95 with just a bunch of useless programs and embarrassing desktop backgrounds etc. :’D

    1. I make it 1 in 50 (3K up v. 66 down, I assum 3K means somewhere betweeen 3000 and 3999 or 2500 and 3499, call it 3250) but real people text, only occasionally call; TMs always call

    1. Version has one also, here is the deal, the telephone companies have the ability to stop phone scams they would rather sell you the service then let you have it for free, but they do not see the big picture in all of this while they install a 350k dollar cell phone tower in your backyard because the network is overcrowded with scam phone calls and a raising cost of doing business from every angle.
      This is also a strain on national security because we need a reliable phone network. Had the telephone companies not been broken up some 40 years ago we would not have this problem, and phone service was better then then it is now and you could toss an old phone off a roof 2 stories up and the damn thing would still work. What’s the cost to route a phone call? if it from overseas what’s the profit to the local phone company now its done over the internet? One number or a block of numbers is bought from a switchboard and this is how they are sent from overseas. From this block of numbers is some lonely town no one has heard of they scam Americans out of millions of dollars with no resource is seight. And why so some Telephone network can make a buck.
      Yes the telephone companies can do somthing about it. They just want you to pay for it. A person dosn’t have to answer the call just a program can verify the number’s origin and caller ID. Fake caller ID the call won’t work.

    1. Oka- Oh hang on. There’s a bee.
      Can you just-
      Can you repeat that? I’ll just stay quiet. Because of the bee.

    1. Until we wake up and realize that this entire thing, surveys, stats, and marketing itself is a total waste of time, this will do fine. NOTHING in the world of commercialization is worth anyone’s time.

  4. Calling them telemarketers is being overly generous. Most of these calls are scams to get money. Thanks for fighting the good fight though. One of the things I’ve done is just start pushing random buttons till they hang up. Normally only takes 10 seconds.

    1. What would be really valuable, is if you create an open source project that contains a series of answering machine greetings that mimics this service with instructions for loading these greetings on various answering machines and how to load them randomly, so the callers don’t get the same greeting every time. Also, you will need instructions on how to tie into a service that detects common spam caller numbers so that not every call is answered by the answering machine. Also need the ability to enter a whitelist so the answering never picks up these callers and a blacklist so the answering machines always pick up these. I think that would cover most of the services that he provides. Please let me know when you have that done and I will gladly use you open source solution for free. I can fill my own water bottle thank you.

    2. Why would I do that? YOU were the one suggesting the service was no more than an answering machine, when in fact the service is much more than that. YOU suggested that it wasn’t worth paying for, I gave you a suggestion to create an open source project to prove that point. I suspect that in the process of doing so, you would begin to understand the value of his services.

  5. So, has he ever gotten a Bot, deployed against his bot with the two of them repeating scripted responses to each other ad infinitium?

    1. I got one call from a Google bot asking me to update my (non-existent) business website. In 76 seconds it gave up because it was getting “invalid” replies.

    2. Yes. When you start watching the vids, they’re hilarious and addicting. There are a few incidents of their bots passing the telemarketer’s bots’ screening processes. If you look up Jolly Roger on youtube, you’ll find a ton of recorded calls.

    3. Yes, he has one where the bot left a phone number. He wrote a script that recognizes that call and calls that number back. The telemarketer bot calls back, his bot returns the call, ad infinitum. At last count it was at 175,000+ calls.

  6. Have these bots been mass-deployed by now? What has the effect been in the US?
    If it works it would be great to have them in other languages, for other territories, I live in Belgium (the Dutch speaking part), and it would be great to have some Flemish “pirates” 🙂

    1. I doubt it’s had much effect as most people have never heard of this and it requires a little work. Most people I know just don’t answer the phone if the number dialing in isn’t already in their contacts. After they call I google their number and if they appear on 1-800-Notes as a scam call I block the number. If it’s a business I have a relationship with I’ll put them in my contacts.

  7. I have never met you but…I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!! This was the most satisfying video I have watched in months!!! Thank you for your work!!!!

  8. Suggestions for adding to your script: “I don’t understand.” “Seriously?” “Huh, hmmmmm. Let me think a sec.” “I’m going to need to know more before we go further with this call.” “Look, I just called you because of a pop-up warning on my computer. I want to get answers, not to answer some stranger’s questions.” “Do you even know what you are doing?” “Is this Chris from Central High School? Sure it is — you can’t fool me. How ya been?” “I’m starting to suspect that the pop-up I got on my computer is a scam and that your service might be fake. Prove to me that you are real — and you are going to have to do a LOT of talking to persuade me. And I’m not going to give you any help in scamming me. You just keep explaining, and you’ll know I’ve begun to trust you when I say, ‘Well, you’ve convinced me. Now, go.” “You guys called ME and talked to one of my kids about some kind of computer problem. What is going on?” “Look, all I want to know is (A), what are your qualifications, (B) some background knowledge about your company and specifically your department, and (C) how exactly you identified me as needing your services — I want the technical details. I’m not going to give you my MasterCard number until I really get to know who you are.”

    Let me know if you want any more ideas — I totally love this!

    1. Carolyn Bahm you forgot: “Yes. My card number is 457….are you listening? …okay. It’s 457….you got a pen? Okay….457….and a piece of paper? Okay….457…..wait….get a pencil instead….got it?….okay….457….wait…” etc.

  9. I would be careful too in saying “yes” or “okay” when a call begins, because it is a telemarketer thing now that this is your verbal consent to whateverthefuck they are about to sign you up for or sell you. If you later contest your verbal consent, they can play back a recording of your voice saying “yes” to their offer… believe it, they are doing this now!

    1. Mostlyharmless1985, you don’t seem to get that whether it’s a robot or not doesn’t matter. If it is YOUR voice saying “yes” then they have your consent whether you actually did it or not. A telemarketer can get away with everything. Never assume you are safe.

    2. bandotaku you don’t seem to get that only intelligent agents can make verbal contracts and that robots are NOT intelligent agents. You can deny that it was you. That’s why verbal contracts are the weakest sauce agreements in the eyes of the law. In order for a verbal contract to hold any weight there has to be no deniability in the agreement, that means having some form of verification such as your date of birth and home address.

    3. I think everyone understands that such a charge wouldn’t hold up under legal scrutiny, but just think about all the time and effort it would take if an unscrupulous TM firm charged the card info they had on file. I think the point all the other posters are trying to make is just that some firms can and will whether they know its a recording or not and whether or not it will hold up. The likelihood that the charges ever get contested or even if so, that it would ever go to court are fairly small. Heck, if anyone complains they could go ahead and do a partial refund and just pocket the full value of all those who didn’t complain and partial value from the rest.

    4. > they can play back a recording of your voice saying “yes” to their offer…
      > believe it, they are doing this now!

      … and collect a nice $2000 fine for making an unsolicitated spam call 😀

    5. > If it is YOUR voice saying “yes” then they have your consent whether
      > you actually did it or not.

      The problem is that it is not *HIS* voice saying “yes”, it is the ROBOT’s voice. Additionally if they try to push it to the court, all he needs to do is to submit the recording and claim that this particular guy “was harassing me so much that I decided to redirect his calls to this robot” and now HE is in the hot water because the court has 1) evidence that no conversation between the plaintiff and defendant was taking place at the time plaintiff stated (and it can be verified by contacting the Jolly Roger Telephone Company which should have the recording on file and 2) a testimony supported by evidence that HE COMMITTED A CRIME so he suddenly needs to explain that away.

  10. Heavy Indian accent “Hello I’m calling from Microsoft, you have a problem with your windows.” Several times per week.

    1. I get that sometimes, or a similar call where they say my IP address is transmitting spam. Sometimes I ask them what my IP address is. That tends to confuse them. Sometimes I tell them I’m using Linux or even SCO UNIX; totally messes them up.

    2. Microsoft Scammer: “You have a problem with your computer.”
      Me: “That’s odd. I don’t have a computer.” (If they can lie, I can lie.)

      They hang up.

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