A bot that started as a way for one man to annoy and frustrate telemarketers and robocallers has now developed into a subscription service for consumers and businesses who have had enough of the unsolicited and sometimes fraudulent calls.

The Jolly Roger Telephone Co. is the creation of Roger Anderson, a phone industry veteran who built it for his own use originally. The concept is simple and ruthlessly effective for preventing robocalls from getting through. The system sits in front of a landline and when a robocall is detected, it will respond with a phrase to get a human on the line or make the robocalled think it’s talking to a real person. Anderson had the system on his home lines and it worked well enough that he eventually posted instructions for others to send telemarketers to his bot.

He then built more bots with different abilities and says that the bots have answered nearly 200,000 calls so far. His Jolly Roger bot got quite a lot of media attention a couple months ago and so Anderson decided to put together a subscription service to allow consumers and businesses both to send unwanted calls through the system. The subscription price is $6 per year for consumers and $39 for 1,000 calls for businesses and there are a variety of bots users can pick from. After a call is sent through the bot, the customer will get an email from the system with an audio recording of the call.

There are two business bots, each of which is designed to waste the time of the telemarketer on the other end of the line.

“It’s a busy receptionist that eventually transfers to someone else, who eventually transfers back to the receptionist,” Anderson said by email.

In addition to being annoying, robocalls and other kinds of unsolicited calls often are used by scammers and fraudsters as part of schemes to steal money from victims. Phone fraud scams such as Google listing scams and fake bank transfers have become a serious problem, for both consumers and enterprises. Consumers often are targeted with phone fraud scams that threaten them with arrest over supposedly unpaid taxes, a scheme that has become a huge business for criminals. The IRS scam has cost victims more than $26 million in the last three years, the tax agency said.

The phone scams can take a variety of different forms for businesses, including tax, bank, and unpaid invoice schemes. But even benign robocalls are annoying and counterproductive for businesses. Anderson said the Jolly Roger bot has become so effective that some telemarketers, after realizing they’re talking to a bot, concede defeat.

“There are several calls where the telemarketer tells the bot how good it is. One thought it was just a soundboard and tried to get me (as the developer) to come on the line. He didn’t realize it was a bot. I guess it was too interactive for automation!” Anderson said.

 

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