You can fight robocallers… with your own robot
How “hang on, there’s a bee on me” is defeating scam telemarketers at their own game.
“Roger” just woke up from a nap, so he’s a little out of it.
When a shady telemarketer calls him, he lets her know he’s groggy.
“You know that feeling when you just wake up, you need a couple minutes to think and figure out what’s going on? Maybe to get some coffee. Do you drink coffee?” Roger asks.
The telemarketer responds, and off they go.
But Roger is just a recording, a bot created for this exact purpose—to waste the telemarketer’s time. And it works.
“The first robot that I did was just my voice,” said Roger Anderson, the creator of “Roger” and other anti-telemarketer robots. “I just said some stupid things and I never thought the telemarketer would engage with it for very long. It turns out they did. If you keep saying ‘yes,’ they’ll keep talking.”
But will his robot call work on robocallers, the pre-recorded telemarketing voices that ring your line and try to get your business?
Anderson says yes.
After the Federal Trade Commission warned about the “Can you hear me now?” robocalls this week, some people are looking for a solution.
For some, a personal bot-on-bot battle may be the answer, with “Roger” using phrases like “there’s a bee on me” and “my dog just crapped on the floor” in his verbal trap.
Roger Anderson founded the Jolly Roger Telephone Company to use conversation bots against shady telemarketers. Image via Roger Anderson
Shannon gets the robocalls the FTC warned about.
“Can you hear me now?” the real-sounding voice asks.
“I go ‘click’!” Shannon said to Archer News.
But she wonders if she could be doing more.
The FTC recommends people not answer calls they don’t recognize, report the call, and sign up for the Do Not Call list to keep telemarketers from cold-calling you at home.
That doesn’t always work.
“We [have] both our land line and cell phones on the list, and we’re still getting these calls…Any idea why?” wrote a woman named Carol on Facebook.
One reason—shady companies don’t always follow the Do Not Call rules. They’ll simply call a massive list of numbers, trying to find a victim.
You can try a call-blocking service, or ask your carrier for call-blocking help.
For Anderson, the answer is his crew of real-sounding conversation bots, ready to take on scammers who hide their real numbers, spin out lies, and try to take your money.
“Blocking is fine, but it doesn’t cause them any pain,” he told Archer News.
Robo vs. robo
How does a robot victim fight a robot caller? Won’t the robocaller just hang up?
No, Anderson said.
The autodialers are calling many numbers at once, trying to pick through answering machines, busy signals and lines that just ring and ring.
“They’re looking for humans,” Anderson said.
If your bot answers—and answers a few questions the right way—it passes the test, he explained.
“That predictive dialer says, ‘Oh, a human,’” he said. “If you just say ‘yes’ to these things, then they’ll transfer you to a human.”
Then the bot is ready to roll.
“There’s a bee on me”
“Roger” and his telemarketer, “Mary” have been chatting for about two minutes.
Mary wants to set him up with an appointment with her technicians who just happen to be “working in your area,” and Roger is quite agreeable, though a bit vague and hard to talk to.
Mary’s getting frustrated.
The bot is just getting started.
“It listens for inflection, speech patterns, noises, silence,” Anderson said. “It detects when you get suspicious and then it says something just really inane and it draws you back into the conversation.”
Roger goes big.
“Aw, geez! Hang on, there’s a bee on me. Hang on, there’s a bee on my arm!” the bot tells Mary. “You know what? You keep talking. I’m not going to talk though, but go ahead and keep talking. Say that part again. I’m just going to stay quiet ’cause of this bee.”
“Oh, my God,” Mary mutters, annoyed. “Can you listen carefully, sir? Okay?”
“Okay,” Roger says obediently.
But as Mary talks, it just gets worse.
“It’s crawling up my arm. It’s freaking me out,” the bot says nervously. “But it’s not mad. I guess it’s okay. Anyway, so, sorry. You keep talking.”
“There’s a bee on me” is one of the ploys the bots use to draw out conversations with telemarketers. Image via Pixabay
After more than five minutes on the line, Mary is at her wit’s end. She asks to speak to Roger’s wife in hopes of setting up that appointment.
“Okay, so you know when I said I was listening to you during the bee thing?” the Roger bot confesses. “Actually, I was just concentrating on the bee. I’m sorry. So, can you start over? What were you saying during the bee?”
But starting over—yet again—is too much for the very exasperated Mary.
“Okay, sir, thank you for your time. Have a great day,” she says, hanging up at last.
You don’t need to feel sorry for these telemarketers, according to Anderson.
“Most of the time these callers are scammers who are just trying to get a credit card number from you or your parents,” he said.
Not every telemarketer is bad. But the ones that are can cause some serious financial damage.
And some are downright abusive.
One man selling home security curses at a female bot named Sally who doesn’t answer his question correctly.
***Warning: this language maybe very offensive. Feel free to skip to the next paragraph.***
“F–king ignorant c–t,” he tells her. “It’s probably why your husband left you.”
When he hears the voice of the bot’s daughter, added to make the bot more realistic, he says, “Your daughter smells like s—t. She’s got a fat little p—y, just like her mom.”
Other telemarketers are more pleasant, and even complimentary.
“Go ahead and kill that bee,” one says.
“Come on, man, drop the recording act,” says another. “I know you’re sitting there listening to this. It’s actually pretty funny, I will give it to you.”
One telemarketer told the bot to “go ahead and kill that bee.” Image via Pixabay
Either way, Anderson said, his job is done—time wasted so deceptive callers can’t talk to real victims who could lose real money.
And if all the agents at a call center are busy talking to robots, the autodialer could stop dialing, at least for the moment.
“If they figure out that it’s a robot, even if they figure it out after two or three minutes, that’s okay,” Anderson said. “The fact that I ‘broke’ their autodialer is a win for me.”
Anderson offers up his crew of bots—a busy mom, a businessperson, a distracted guy watching a hockey game, and more—as a paid service, charging $2 a month or $6 a year, with various options.
“It’s just meant to be a fun service. I tried to price it so low that it was a no-brainer,” he said.
He’s a phone consultant, and started the project about three years ago after a telemarketer swore at his son on a call.
Now his Jolly Roger Telephone Company site posts dozens of call recordings—showdowns between affable bots and irritated telemarketers—that sometimes border on hilarious.
The Jolly Roger Telephone Company posts recordings of its calls on its Facebook page.
“I need you to focus here,” says an air duct cleaning telemarketer to a bot.
“You can’t keep attention to my words!” complains another phone rep.
“Do you understand English?” asks a cranky tech support scam phone agent. “Tell me!”
At the same time, this project may do some serious work—keeping scammers away from victims who may be too willing to give up their credit card numbers.
“I have an old man robot that sounds like a senior citizen. He sounds like a perfect candidate for Viagra or a free back brace,” he said.
The old man bot may be talking to a crook right now, allowing a real senior citizen to relax at home, scam-free.