Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Jolly Roger Telco. Roger that, you telemarketing pirates.

If you do nothing else today to waste time on the Internet, you need to head over to Jolly Roger Telco and listen to a bunch of recorded dialogs between nasty/nastily persistent telemarketers and robots (there are many different personas available) who patiently engage these nasty/nastily persistent telemarketers.

Jolly Roger’s pitch is simple:

Tired of telemarketers calling your landline or mobile? I'm sorry to say, they will never, ever stop. And no amount of screaming "take me off your list", or "he doesn't live here", or "I will never buy your product" will make these calls go away.

But now there is a way to fight back.  The Jolly Roger Telephone Co. provides a friendly, agreeable, patient robot that talks to these rude telemarketers for you. It is happy to chat, and will typically keep an unwary salesperson engaged for several minutes.

I don’t generally answer calls when I don’t recognize the number, but I have on occasion done the scream-back. And I have on occasion engaged the scammer with enough hmmmm’s and oh’s to waste their time. Of course, now that so many of the calls don’t actually have a live person behind the voice, this really isn’t that satisfying a strategy.

One of my favorite groups to string along was the Republican Party.

A few election cycles back, I somehow found my way onto a Republican call and mail list.

My guess is that it was because at the time I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal. That or someone signed me up as a joke.

Anyway, for a couple of years, I got a ton of calls that all started out something along the lines of “Please hold for an important message from Newt Gingrich.” After listening to a recording of Newt going on about Obama’s being the anti-Christ, someone – a real human – would come on to gauge how strongly I agreed with the Newster. I would start pushing back on some of the more outrageous statements being made – “Gee, I didn’t realize that President Obama was the worst president in the history of our country. Wasn’t that, like, James Buchanan?”. And then I’d ask a few clarifying questions. Then the person on the phone would make an ask. Needless to say, I never gave them a penny, but it took years before someone said, “You’re not a Republican, are you?” Baptized a Catholic, but born a Democrat, baby. And that was what finally got me off the Republican call lists.

As for the Democrats, I toss plenty of coin their way, but NEVER give when solicited over the phone. And I have no idea how to permanently get my name and number off any and all of the many Democratic organizations who try to shake me down. I think what happens is I get off a list, only to get re-upped when I make a donation (however paltry) to a Congressional, Senatorial, or Gubernatorial campaign out of state.

Mostly, though, I ignore strange calls – stranger danger! - then check out the number afterwards. Then, if, as I suspect, it’s a scam of some sort, or otherwise someone I don’t want to hear from, I block the number.

These guys have, of course, gotten a lot more cagey over the years, and are now having spoofed numbers with your exchange show up. And, yep, when I see a number starting 617-523 or 617-875, I always pause and think, ‘is this someone I know?” Nah….

Anyway, I mostly don’t need the services of Jolly Roger Telco. But if I did, I’d be all over it. The brainchild of one Roger Anderson  - a telcom consultant who lives, breathes, and genuinely loves telephones -  Jolly Roger was invented because Anderson got sick of telemarketers. So he came up with a reverse robo caller.

Whenever Mr. Anderson hears from a telemarketer, he patches the caller through to his robot, puts his phone on mute and lets his bot do the talking. While the simple robot does not possess anything near artificial intelligence, it does understand speech patterns and inflections, so it can monitor what the telemarketer is saying, and then do its best to try to keep the person on the end of the line engaged. Often the robot just has a little fun. Using recorded lines spoken by Mr. Anderson, it may say the following to the telemarketer: “I just woke up from a nap, I took some medicine and I’m really groggy. Can you go a little slower?” Sometimes it interrupts the telemarketer to ask questions. “Do you drink coffee?” or “You sound like someone I went to high school with.” The idea is to keep the telemarketer on the call for as long as possible. The longer the conversation goes on, the more eccentric the robot becomes. In one sequence, the robot tells the telemarketer that a bee landed on his arm, and asks the telemarketer to keep talking as he focuses on the bee. (Source: NY Times)

Since the article appeared in The Times (February 2016), Anderson raised some Kickstarter and Indiegogo funds, and he does have some pretty amusing robots to choose from.

As I said, if you’re up for a bit of time-wasting, head on over and give a listen. And if you want to buy in, the service is quite inexpensive.

Me, I’ll just see if they leave a message, google any suspicious number, and then block it. But if things get worse – say, the Republicans get me back on their call list – I just might sign me up for some Jolly Roger. And, when it comes to the worst president ever, I most assuredly will have a replacement for James Buchanan.

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