I subscribe to a service called Jolly Roger Telephone Co. It automatically picks up calls from telemarketers and connects them to a bot that speaks with them for as long as the telemarketer is willing to stay on the line with the bot. The purpose of Jolly Roger is to make it costly for telemarketers to ply their sleazy trade by wasting their time. The more time a telemarketer spends talking to a bot, the less time they have talking to potential victims.
When Jolly Roger answers a call and one of its bots talks to a telemarketer, it makes a recording of the call and notifies me about it. Here's a call I got yesterday from "Alice," a professional fundraiser with AC Services. Her smarmy insincerity is so over the top that I thought it was worth sharing. The bot that Jolly Roger connected to Alice is a grumpy old man, and when he says "Hello?" in a suspicious tone, Alice says "Oh, it's so good to hear a nice voice again! My ears have been ringin' ever since my son got his band back together. Hahahahaha!!!"
Alice is either reading from a script, or, more likely, simply pressing buttons that play bits of a pre-recorded script. When interrupted by the bot (which doesn't have any AI beyond being able to detect silence so it can say something random to the telemarketer), Alice presses the button again. She even presses a button that has applause and cheers from the office when she thinks the bot has agreed to donate $20 to a charity called United Breast Cancer Foundation, which has 1 star (out of 4) financial rating on Charity Navigator, and was listed by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting as America's 38th Worst Charity:
The charity has raised about $11.5 million over the past 10 years and spent more than half of that on professional fundraisers.
About 6 percent of the money raised has been spent on direct financial assistance to those in need.
On its website, the charity takes applications for grants to pay for breast reconstruction. It charges a $50 non-refundable deposit to apply.
Here's a story from the Detroit Free Press that reports that Associated Community Services kept 90% of the funds it raised for a Vietnam veterans group:
When the Vietnam Veterans of Michigan was looking to augment its fund-raising, the charity turned to a Southfield-based telemarketing firm to call up potential donors.
For the past dozen years, Associated Community Services has put its banks of script-reading phone solicitors to work for the veterans group, dialing into homes and convincing people to give up their credit card number and make a donation.
In 2011, the most recent year for which records are available, Associated Community Services raised $89,740 on behalf of the veterans group. But when the final check was cut, the charity received only $8,855 — a mere 10% — to put toward services for veterans. ACS kept the remaining $80,885 as payment for its fund-raising work, according to forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
And look, here's Alice calling a fellow with the same pitch, and he asks her how much goes to the charity. She tells him the 15% goes to the charity and 85% goes to Associated Community Services. When he repeatedly asks Alice how much she gave, she refuses to answer and just reads the same snippet from her script: