Kickstarting a tool to block robocalls and tie up scammers

Roger Anderson, a telephony expert, developed the Jolly Roger Telephone Company to block and madden robocallers.

At root, the Jolly Roger is a CAPTCHA that asks callers to press a button to ring through to his house line; if the system deduces that the caller is another robot — that is, a scammy marketing robocaller — it ties it up with confusing recordings and random touch-tones designed to summon a human scammer, to whom it then plays more confusing recordings.

According to Anderson, the system has served him well at his home, so he is Kickstarting a mass-market, cloud version of it that anyone can use. He's looking to raise $46,000: $12,000 for legal/professional services; $12k for development; and $22k for operations. $14 gets you a month of service; $30 for three months; $180 gets you three months for three numbers, with responses in your own voice.

I noticed that the telemarketer calls would hang up after about 10 seconds. This of course is the magic of "predictive dialers." Telemarketers have machines that dial thousands of numbers and when the machine thinks a human has answered, it cuts through to an agent as quickly as it can. This is why you often have to say "hello" a couple times before someone is there. That's the dialer figuring out if you are an answering machine or not. In my greeting that said "if you're a human, press a button…", the predictive dialers correctly figured they had reached a machine and hung up. So I had successfully blocked them, but I wasn't causing them any pain or discomfort.

So I figured I'd try something. I was getting a lot of repeat calls from numbers. Obviously the same company's predictive dialers were calling me at various times trying to find me home. I thought, what if I play a sound file that says "hello?… Hello?… Hello?…" a few times? Would it fool their predictive dialer into thinking it had reached a real person? So recorded some "hellos", then "hang on a sec", and then some silence. I created a "parrot" routine and sent these obvious telemarketers to this parrot.

And it worked like a champ! So then I thought "hmmmmm, how far can I take this parrot?"

I then created a fairly sophisticated algorithm that performs a handshake (hello? hello?), then engaged (yes, uh huh, right), then when it thinks the caller is suspicious, it says something completely inane. If the caller stops talking and there's a long silence, it goes back to handshake. There's a bit more to it, but that's pretty much the general idea. As you'll hear from the calls on this blog, it has been working like a champ!

[Jolly Roger Telephone]

The Jolly Roger Telephone Co.
[Roger Anderson/Kickstarter]