Anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to end up on a marketing list somewhere knows how infuriating endless telemarketing calls can be. Running the gamut from semi-legitimate (the power supplier switch, the consumer interest survey) to super dodgy (“we’ve detected a virus on your PC”, “we want to come to your house for a free quote on roof repair”), some of these firms will call back repeatedly no matter what you do.
One American victim of repeated cold calls decided to fight phone technology with phone technology, conceiving a brilliant – and hilarious – plan to “hit them where it hurts – in cost of human labour”.
Fed up with aggressive telemarketers calling his home, Roger Anderson initially constructed a simple test that would apply to every new number that called his house, sending auto-dialled calls to a recorded message to waste their time while adding legitimate friends and family to a white list.
While the system worked flawlessly, he noticed most marketing calls were only lasting a few seconds before hanging up. The crafty spammers were calling with auto-diallers that work their way through huge lists of numbers, only forwarding the call to a human telemarketer when a real human victim was heard.
Determined to have his system waste as much of the dodgy telemarketers’ time as possible, Anderson made some modifications to his system.
At first he had his recording say “hello, hello, hello” a few times to prompt the auto-dialler to forward to a human. Then he added some “uh-huh”s and “right”s. Then a routine that inserted these non-committal affirmatives in between the caller’s script to string them along.
Eventually, he had created an entire algorithm of clips that can keep a marketer talking for minutes on end, and he now posts recordings of those conversations – as well as advice for people affected by endless dodgy marketing – at his blog Jolly Roger Telephone and on the robot’s Facebook page.
Most ingeniously, the robot detects a break in the conversation when the caller is trying to break up the long stream of “uh-huh”s, shifting to one of several inane subject changers. These include telling the caller they sound like a friend from high school, and freaking out that a bee is nearby. In each case, the robot then asks the caller to begin again from the start.
A newer version of the robot always asks “is this a real person?” at the start of the call. If the caller doesn’t pause to consider the question, the robot knows it’s talking to a recording and hits the 1 button a few times to get through to a human.
Anderson recently procured a bespoke number for his robot to allow him to forward calls to it even when on his mobile phone, or from work (Anderson works on telephone systems for a living, which explains a lot). Soon after activating the number the robot received a couple of weird calls that show how good it is at drawing out a conversation, even when it isn’t talking to a marketer.
Anderson encourages his readers to forward telemarketers to the robot, and is happy to send them recordings of the ensuing conversations. His instructions are below if you’d like to give it a shot.
(Note: you’ll have to add a 0011 1 to the front of the number since you’re dialling the United States. Also note you can expect to be charged international rates for the call, and will need a phone that can conference call.)
When you get a call from a telemarketer and they ask something like “Mr Jones?”, say “Oh, you want Mr Jones? Sure hang on – he’s right here…” then,
1. Press “add call”
2. Dial my robot at two one four, six six six, four three two one (I am not typing the numbers so hopefully a Google search will not pull up this site if someone accidentally finds that number). While you’re dialling, keep chatting into your phone like you’re trying to get Mr Jones (“yeah – phone for you”, “OK, he’s coming hang on…”, etc)
3. Press “Add call” or “Merge call” or “Conference” or whatever will add the robot to the conversation.
4. MUTE YOURSELF so your background noise doesn’t affect the conversation.
5. Listen to the call, and hang up when the telemarketer hangs up.
Send me a note (roger at jollyrogertelephone.com) and I’ll send you the recording.
Please use sparingly and with restraint. This robot is not meant to prank friends or wrong numbers. I built it to waste the time of the telemarketing industry.