Robocalls are among the more annoying modern inventions, and consumers and businesses have tried just about every strategy for defeating them over the years, with little success. But one man has come up with a bot of his own that sends robocallers into a maddening hall of mirrors designed to frustrate them into surrender.

The bot is called the Jolly Roger Telephone Company, and it’s the work of Roger Anderson, a veteran of the phone industry himself who had grown tired of the repeated harassment from telemarketers and robocallers. Anderson started out by building a system that sat in front of his home landlines and would tell human callers to press a key to ring through to his actual phone line; robocallers were routed directly to an answering system. He would then white-list the numbers of humans who got through.

“Now, I figured telemarketers would just press a button, so I also programmed it to send me an email that included links to set the behavior next time this same caller-id called. I could (1) send this caller to a disconnect message, (2) let them through to the house, or (3) challenge them again next time,” Anderson said in a post detailing the system.

“It worked perfectly. From that moment, telemarketers never rang through to the house. Not one telemarketer has rung through in the last two years.”

But, because of the way that predictive dialers work, the robocallers would hang up on the system after a few seconds. So Anderson developed an algorithm that would answer robocalls and then respond with a variety of common phrases and will even go back to the “hello, hello” handshake if the caller pauses for more than a few seconds. Anderson has had a huge amount of success with the bot and posts interesting calls on his blog, like the ones that come from Google listing scammers.

The bot is designed not just to reroute the callers, but to frustrate them and waste their time, as well. Sometimes the Jolly Roger bot will press buttons to be transferred to a human agent and other times it will just recite inanities if a human is on the other end of the line to begin with. Anderson also has set up a system so other people can send their robocalls to the Jolly Roger bot. He has set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of a consumer version of the bot.

Image from Flickr stream of Nicolas Raymond

21 Comments

  1. Todd Everett

    Nomorobo works fine for me; that and simply not answering any call whose caller i.d. I don’t recognize (most of which list a city I don’t know anybody in). The occasional call that gets through — and there aren’t many — I let go to phonemail. That said, Jolly Roger sounds like more fun.

  2. “I Would Like To Set This Up On Our Answering Machine!”

  3. “THIS IS A GREAT SERVICE TO HAVE SET UP ON YOUR PHONE/AND WE RING MACHINE IF IT WERE ABLE TO DETECT TELE-MARKETERS AND, OR UN-WANTED SURVEYS!”

  4. ha, nice device. Living in the states when I did, my usual method was to answer, feign a bit of interest, then put the phone down still live and ignore the caller and go about my business. Usually they would just give up.

    Otherwise, I would answer the phone but not speak. If the robocaller hears no voice, it seems to hang up. That works, also.

  5. My favorite technique for telemarketers derives from my sailing days. I simply blast the receiver with a 140db air horn used to signal for drawbridge openings. Causes permanent disability so the cockroaches not only leave me alone but can no longer harass others.

    • Its unlikely the exchange passes that on unfiltered enough to really do any damage.

      • It would be even better to punch the handset so it hits them on the ear on the other side. It worked on Kung Fury! I guess the exchanges probably filter out punches too though.

      • I worked at a telemarketing call center to put myself through college, since it was the best paying thing I was qualified to do at the time. I am fairly certain that behaviors such as this (as well as high pitched disconnect tones and fax lines) are what gave me permanent hearing loss in my right ear, which is where I wore my headset.

    • I love for you to do that to me, I’d be able to retire from the lawsuit!

  6. I used to hand the phone to my little one when I got a telemarketer. After a few minutes I would hear the sound of a disconnected phone.

  7. Funny, but honestly I don’t see the point of tying up my phone line. Better solution, disconnect your land line. Who needs it anymore? I haven’t had a land line in 13 years, never once missed it.
    For my business I just switched to Sonic which uses anti spam filters on their end, plus I can add numbers to block via a web page. Of course we have callerID, and just don’t answer calls from suspicious numbers.

  8. This is absolutely great! And it’s a robot? I’d love to be able to set this up for my phone!

  9. There use to be devices a few years back that would play a SIT tone before ringing your home lines.

    The SIT tone for Intercept normally triggered telemarkers and other automated equipment to think that the phone line was disconnected.

    Examples of the ones can be found on Wikipedia (Along with OGG files and the frequencies if you want to generate your own). Just search for Special Information Tones on Google/Wikipedia. Should be the first hit.

  10. That is just wicked good :-).

    This is how you do it.

    I’d buy this if it was a product.

  11. I’ve had to block 3 different google listing spammers this week. I’m confused as to why they even exist. How many people don’t understand that google doesn’t charge to be listed?

  12. I know you’ve already done the work but if you put this on kickstarted I’ll donate just out of moral responsibility… 😉

  13. Power to the people! …the real ones!

  14. This is similar to the “It’s Lenny” bot, except this is just designed to block telemarketers; the It’s Lenny bot is designed to frustrate humans, record the interaction, and post to youtube for our enjoyment.

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