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Communications Spam United Kingdom IT

When Telemarketers Harass Telecoms Companies 234

farnz writes "Andrews & Arnold, a small telecoms company in the UK, have recently been hit with an outbreak of illegal junk calls. Unlike larger firms, they've come up with an innovative response — assign 4 million numbers to play recordings to the telemarketers, put them on the UK's Do-Not-Call list and see what happens. Thus far, the record is over 3 minutes before a telemarketer works out what's going on." The sound quality (and the satisfying humor) of the recording gets better as it goes on.
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When Telemarketers Harass Telecoms Companies

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  • by Camel Pilot ( 78781 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:20AM (#32858376) Homepage Journal

    I wish someone would write an app were you can press a button on the phone and hang up and a smart adaptive talking application takes over and provides selective responses such as "can you repeat that bit again" or "right, tell me more" or "cool sign me up" and massively wastes these evil telemarketers time.

    • by christoofar ( 451967 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:27AM (#32858406)

      There is an app for this and it's called Asterisk.

      You can also do this with sipgate via Asterisk on any cell phone if you publish a sipgate number and route through to your cell and configure Asterisk do the filtering, which it can also intercept a whitelist/blacklist caller and then start playing games with them.

      The cheap way of doing this is to let Google Voice be your answering machine, and change your voice message to "Hello? (4 second pause) Oh I'm sorry I'm not here." That is enough to trick most autodialers into routing your voicemail to a live operator, who then has the option of revealing who they are or hanging up and calling again. I don't accept blocked/800/877 and Unavailable caller ID. At least with Google Voice's translate feature I can bulk delete most of the crap voicemails without listening to them and if I did dump a call to VMX that was a legit caller I can read their voicemail and return it.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @03:07AM (#32858554)

        I have a captcha on my asterisk.

        Someone dials me and i greet them with, press 1 if you want to talk to us. Telemarketers dialing machines dials a number, waits for an answer and then connects it to a free agent. This message is lost to them. If you haven't pressed 1 you are in an infinite loop.

        • by karnal ( 22275 )

          Maybe one day they'll have voice recognition and press 1.

          Of course, you could always ask for pi to 100 digits....

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            A computer would be more able to play back pi to a hundred digits than a human. But I'd like to see a computer try to solve:
            Press only the key corresponding to the nth letter of the word "[dynamically selected word here]" where n is the number of letters in "[other dynamically selected word here]". And the words would be homonymous like their/theyre/there, inside sentence context so a human can easily tell which meaning is intended.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by RockDoctor ( 15477 )

              And the words would be homonymous like their/theyre/there, inside sentence context so a human can easily tell which meaning is intended.

              As you post shows, a depressingly high proportion of people who claim English as their native language get this sort of thing wrong, so your strategy would have a distinctly high false positive rate (where misidentifying a real human as an unsuccessful voice-recognising robot is a false positive).
              You may find that non-native speakers of English (or whichever language you're

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tuoqui ( 1091447 )

        I don't accept blocked/800/877 and Unavailable caller ID.

        You might want to include 888 and 866 numbers in there too. Also the next block of area code toll free numbers is expected to be 855 so preemptively blocking those ones may be advisable as well.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:59AM (#32858524)

      We need a port of ELIZA [] to a robust voice-recognition platform with text-to-speech of the responses :)

      • "Can you elaborate on that?

        What makes you believe I might be interested in your product?

        You seem quite positive."

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 ) < minus herbivore> on Saturday July 10, 2010 @03:09AM (#32858564) Journal

      I want any call that comes in without caller ID to do that without ever fking ringing my phone. And get this, I'd pay the app writer a premium if their adaptive voice app keeps the shitheels on the phone for more than 5 minutes. Even better if this worked in concert with the service provider so I could still get calls.

      Myself and some friends played a game in the 90s for a short time called "Fk the telemarketer", this was with land lines as cellphone time was too expensive. The goal was to keep them on the line for excessive amounts of time.

      1 point per minute
      10 points for every bogus credit card number given
      20 for every bogus checking acount number given
      100 points for a call back number
      1000 points for death threats

      The main idea was to record the call and then pick the best on the weekend listening to the recordings, playing D&D and drinking.

      My 'feeble old man' was usually the winner and my best ran over 10 minutes of me 'trying to find another card' after having given them a few bogus cards.

      I have to say that recording is brilliant in it's timing. I always thought an Elisa style program done with a text to speech program was the way to go but did not have the coding skills so lost interest.

      The group I hung out with broke up and drifted apart. A few dunked phones and lost emails and a level of paranoia about 'real names' and I doubt I could find them again. I did keep in touch with two of them but the connection is tenuous at best and I've not heard from them in a few years.

    • by jparker ( 105202 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @03:58AM (#32858648) Homepage

      My uncle used his six-year-old as that "smart adaptive application". Kid loved talking on the phone, so he got any telemarketer. Would often take them quite a while to work out that the excited claims of "Gosh!" and "Wow!" weren't really leading to a sale.

    • Or, better yet, the ability to automatically reject calls from anyone not on your phone's phonebook.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dotgain ( 630123 )
        Where I live, many government agencies such as Police and the Tax Department call from blocked numbers. Ignoring the obvious joke that you don't want to talk to these people anyway, the reality is you'll often get calls from numbers that aren't in your phonebook. My income certainly would suffer if I adopted your suggestion, ever job I've ever got in the last ten years would have resulted from saying "Hello?" to a stranger.
        • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @11:11AM (#32860236)

          Where I live, many government agencies such as Police and the Tax Department call from blocked numbers.

          Government agencies can contact me in writing if they must. In fact I find it far more likely that an unkown number calling me and claiming to be the police is actually a fraudster.

          Out of curiosity: why is a government agency going out of its way to make it hard for you to confirm their identity when they contact you?

          Ignoring the obvious joke that you don't want to talk to these people anyway, the reality is you'll often get calls from numbers that aren't in your phonebook.

          I don't want to talk to them, especially unprepared and wondering if I'm talking to a fraudster. I want a letter inviting me to either visit or call them or mail another letter, with sufficient time to think what I'm going to say.

          And yes, I'll often get calls from such numbers; avoiding that is the whole point of this kind of block.

          My income certainly would suffer if I adopted your suggestion, ever job I've ever got in the last ten years would have resulted from saying "Hello?" to a stranger.

          If you work in a field where employees compete for employers, congratulations; but please understand that for most people it's the other way around, so strangers contacting us are far more likely trying to get than to give us money.

    • by Deorus ( 811828 )

      I wish I could make my phone just answer all unidentified calls with the message:

      Greetings! First of all please do realize that you're talking to a computer that is not listening back because your number is not identified, and secondly I'm only answering this call to make you waste money.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:31AM (#32858422)

    Hmmm... permutations of random interactions and voice prompting plugged into a genetic algorithm. Best series of responses wins.


    • by vivian ( 156520 )

      I like this idea a lot - someone definitely needs to develop a phone answering bot that could detect when the telemarketer has finished giving their spiel, so it could let the telemarketer give their spiel, then respond with one of several pre-recorded messages that are selected by the GA, and as you suggest, have it keep trying different combinations so that it selects the sorts of responses that keep the telemarketer tied up as long as possible.

      I get one or two calls every day from someone wanting donatio

      • by TheLink ( 130905 )
        Just wait for an random 3-5 seconds silence then give a "sorry?", "sounds interesting", *cough*, "oh wait, hang on...", "pardon", "I'm not sure", etc.

        After all you don't really care about recognizing what's in the spiel right?
  • I wonder... (Score:2, Interesting)

    How well would a system like this go in the states? I'm sure some telemarketing firm here, if they got hit with something like this with any regularity, would get litigious and try to play the 'they're interfering with our ability to do business' card, and frankly, it might have half a prayer--especially if the conflict arose between dueling telcos.

    I suppose, if used at the subscriber's election (opt-in strictly) on their live telephone line, it could have limited uses...but setting up 4 million lines stri
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Racemaniac ( 1099281 )

      how about reading the article?
      i mean... so you know what you're talking about?

      to answer your questions:
      -the numbers are on a do not call list, so the companies haven't got the slightest right to call them, it's illegal in fact
      -it would be an opt-in for clients, but currently only active for unused numbers of the company (the ton of numbers they haven't assigned to a customer yet), and for the numbers of their own offices.

      i mean seriously... are you just trolling? cause your entire comment is just so wrong -

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:42AM (#32858456)

    Laws against certain types of telemarketing just pushed it offshore.
    Better spam filters in turn created better spammers.
    I will watch with a sort of morbid curiosity what the telemarketing industry comes up with next, assuming that this idea makes their current business model unworkable.

    The do not call register in Australia has worked surprisingly well for me. I've had a very very small number of calls that were flat out illegal. We get calls from people trying to get us to sell raffles for charities (which are legal but have to call within certain hours) but they all use listed numbers so we simply don't answer them, and we let withheld numbers go to voicemail most of the time (the phone is configured to not even ring when a withheld number calls).

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      For Belgium there is [] which works for direct mail and phone calls and works very good. I get no phone calls and no direct mail in my name, except those that are allowed.
      Allowed are companies I bought something and much worse, political parties.

      I have not had a telemarketing call in several years.

    • For a while in Canada, everybody on the DNC list was getting 10-20 calls a day from a scammer. Bell's response was basically that they can't be bothered to do shit all. The phones were registered to fake companies that they'd rotate in and out, and the police took forever to track them down. There was much rejoicing when they did. Then for a while the Ottawa Citizen would call 5 times a day, usually at like 6 AM or 11 PM, and usually they'd just hang up a few seconds after you answer. But sometime they
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Magic5Ball ( 188725 )

        If the caller persists despite your objections, you can always go to the police about harassment and obtain a police report number, and inform the caller of such. If the same caller persists, it quickly becomes criminal harassment. This mechanism pre-dates and operates outside of do not call lists.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sjames ( 1099 )

      It' remarkable if you stop and think about it for a moment. An entire industry devoted to calling people who don't want to be called in order to offer them products they don't want to buy.

      Honestly, it sounds like something Douglas Adams would come up with.

  • by Mathinker ( 909784 ) * on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:44AM (#32858466) Journal

    I find it interesting that this is another, alternative, way that spam encourages the development of AI --- just think of the fun of having a reply-bot which could string these guys out for as long as the bot passes the Turing test!

  • by PiAndWhippedCream ( 1566727 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:44AM (#32858474)
    1. Find two telemarketers who call you at (roughly) the same time.

    2. Put them on the phone with each other.

    3. ???

    4. Hilarity ensues.
    • by Inda ( 580031 )
      I didn't realise these were so common. I've had one since I've owned a mobile; that's about 20 years. The land line has always been on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) list.

      And in the ten years I've had a desk job, only one there too. I was almost sold a fitted kitchen for my area in the open plan office. The microwave and integrated ironing board would have been sweet...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by earthloop ( 449575 )

      Scott Mills (a BBC DJ) did this with 2 Chinese take aways. It was very funny. []

  • 3 minutes? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aylons ( 924093 ) <slashdot-servicos@aylons . c o m . br> on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:52AM (#32858498) Homepage
    Headline should be: "Telemarketer failed the Turing test."

    But I guess this is not as much breaking news as it is a confirmation, .
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @02:53AM (#32858502)

    The Do Not Call and Do Not Mail lists in Australia are a great help to Telemarketing companies like us. We pay for flagfalls on all our calls, and we use two predictive diallers to do the job so our telcom bills were always high. It basically gives us a list of people who are certainly not going to buy things over the phone from us. Since the DNC list was put into place, our call to sale ratio went up considerably. Thanks ADMA!

    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      I never thought of it that way. It's pretty win-win, isn't it?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @03:32AM (#32858604)

        We need an opt in list.

        Then it should be published on the internet because it is those bastards who are the ones who have kept the spammers in work all these years, while the rest of us have been trying to get rid of them!

        They deserve vilification just as much as the spammers themselves.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by afidel ( 530433 )
        Yep, my friend works for a telemarketer in the nonprofit space and the various DNC lists just reduce the size of the huge database tables he has to work with (hundreds of millions of rows). They spend a great deal of time and energy trying to find the optimum person to call in each neighborhood, they want the person that's most likely to not only say yes, but who will get their neighbors to donate as well. That way they spend the lowest amount per dollar raised.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 91degrees ( 207121 )
      I'd have thought that would be the case. Yet for some reason the US telemarketing companies always object to a Do Not Call list.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by julesh ( 229690 )

        Dunno about the US one, but the objection UK telemarketers usually have to it is that it is kind-of expensive. My company used to do telemarketing as follow-ons from our (business-to-business) mailshots, but access to the TPS database costs about £5,000 per annum, which was hard to justify for us: our turnover was only about £30,000 at the time so it would have become our single largest expense and thus sunk a huge chunk of our profits. We therefore had to stop doing marketing calls.

    • If only telemarketers in EVERY OTHER COUNTRY used your logic.

      I never thought I'd see the day... A respectable, intelligent telemarketing company? SRSLY?

  • by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @03:38AM (#32858608)
    They should have randomized the recordings. It doesn't really make any sense. I mean if your employees hear it maybe 3 times, they can recognize it in seconds and hang up and it won't waste nearly enough time. Someone could get a line of volunteers and record like a hundred random "hold on just a minute...I can talk in a second..." type intros followed by random noises and mostly silence. Now that would waste time!
    Also, if they're the phone company, why didn't they just identify the real, actual source of the calls or even just pretend to be interested enough to get the company name and then sue the pants off them and put the upper management in jail?
    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @04:02AM (#32858664) Journal

      Also, if they're the phone company

      You seem to be under the impression that this is 1900. They're not the phone company, they're a phone company, and they operate largely over BT's lines. The callers are not coming from the same network that they are using, so all they can do is identify the source network (or, more accurately, the network that routed the calls to them).

  • I have a similar setup, i used to get constant calls from the same small handful of marketing companies so now i have Asterisk configured to route any calls from them to a series of sound samples of borat... He starts off saying hello, waits a few seconds, says hello again, waits a few secs, then asks who he's speaking to etc...

  • I quit using my landline years ago and only use a cell phone - no more telemarketers. The wireless idea is also handy...

    Long before, I quit using my fax machine, since I received primarily junk faxes.

    • You'd think.

      I have the same thing. They call my cell. Bastards.

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      I quit using my landline years ago

      Do you still pay for it? Or do you pay for cable TV instead so that you can get cable Internet?

      • by fotbr ( 855184 )

        Don't know where you're at, but we can now get DSL without paying for phone service, and cable internet without cable tv.

  • For anyone not lucky enough to have a honeytrapping provider, at least there is the []
  • Since dropping my wired phone service, I let youmail handle my voicemail. It's possible to have a different outgoing message for each number calling you.

    Calls with no callerID get a message saying that I don't accept such calls, and then youmail hangs up on them, not allowing them to leave a message. Any toll-free number or number I don't recognize goes to voicemail and they get a message asking them to leave all the details about their call and I'll get back to them. Numbers I know to be telemarketers aren
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 10, 2010 @07:06AM (#32859200)

    I work closely with lots of companies in the UK who use a particular predictive dialler. And as such I know that most of these companies are small 10-50 agent setups. Most of the time they have nothing more than the script on a screen, a headset and a 2ft wide desk. It's horrible.
    To get to my point... I know for a fact that most companies don't subscribe to the TPS list, and even if they did, they wouldn't know how to use it. I hear some of the support calls come though, and the questions are just terrible/illegal.
    The favourite question is "how do I set up pinging". Pinging is basically taking a number range (say 0777xxxxxxx to 0779xxxxxxxx) and ringing each number in sequence. You only connect the call for 1/3rd of a second, so the result is the phone doesn't ring, it just makes a "ping" noise. It is a very bad thing to do. The point is people who are breaking the law by pinging are no going to care about TPS.
    There are other regulations, such as "drop rate" which s a measure of how many calls you can throw away without connecting. In the UK it is set at 3% in any 24 hour period. Guess how many try and comply with this....
    Generally in the industry, people will try and trick they can. When banned from one provider... switch. The never ending cycle continues.

    Posting anon for obvious reasons!

  • Now, if we could just convince the majors everywhere to set up their entire systems of unused numbers as honeypots, we'd all be better off.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday July 10, 2010 @12:14PM (#32860528)

    For those interested in giving the Direct Marketing (Telemarketers) association feedback on their services their number is:

    212 768 7277

    and they can be reached by email at:


I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken