Exterminate! Three Easy Ways to Reduce Annoying Robocalls
When we first moved into our office, we got a looooot of calls from robo-telemarketers. For a while, I was personally able to accurately predict when a call would come from “Julia,” the most dogged of our robocallers. It’s petered out now, but we still get occasional giggly call from a “totally real woman” who wants to help us with our credit account or give us a free trip to the Bahamas (I wish).
I think we can all agree that getting a robo-call would be about as pleasant as getting smacked in the face with a pop-up ad in real life. I’m not big on calling people anyway, and I certainly don’t like to answer phone calls from numbers I don’t know. I find that 9 times out of 10, it’s a robo-caller, and that last one? Usually a wrong number. It’s such a hassle. And while they can’t infect you with malware (yet), many scammers imitate trusted entities such as Microsoft or government agencies like the IRS, making for some pretty dicey situations.
(Fun fact: I got a call from a “spam” number while I was writing this article. And this time, I didn’t even have to answer the call figure it out; my caller-ID displayed a warning message alerting me to the number’s sinister nature. Even cooler, as I scrolled back through my call history, some older calls had been marked as spam as well. Thanks, Google!)
But if nobody likes getting robocalls, why are they so prevalent? Voice Over IP, an internet based phone system, makes calling long distances cheap, so scammers and telemarketers can set up shop outside the US. On top of that, they mix in a little spoofing technology, so that a call might look like it’s coming from Washington, D.C., but really, the call center is based in India or Russia. It makes these companies incredibly hard to track down and prosecute.
So what can you do about these obnoxious callers?
The Do Not Call Registry. Signing up for the Do Not Call registry is always a recommended first step, though it does have its drawbacks. For example, charities, survey companies, and politicians don’t have to adhere to it, and most of the scammers and telemarketers using robots are ignoring the list anyway. Although, don’t get me wrong, it can reduce the number of unwanted calls from legitimate businesses that follow the rules, so it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Number blocking. If you find that you’re receiving a high volume of calls from the same number, a better way to deal with the problem is to simply block the number. Sure, you still get the initial call, but all subsequent calls get redirected to straight to voicemail. This doesn’t actually prevent them from calling you, but it’s quick, easy, and it does the job.
Anti-spam applications. Don’t want to deal with the call at all? Landline and iOS users are in luck: Nomorobo is a service that uses a feature called Simultaneous Ring to catch fishy phonecalls. Simultaneous Ring allows an incoming call to go to multiple numbers at the same time, and when one device picks up, the rest of the calls drop. Many telemarketers actually use this same feature to reach out to as many people as possible, but now, it’s being put to use against them. If an incoming number matches with any of the many illegal robocallers on their database, Nomorobo jumps in to block them. All other calls are allowed to go through.
As annoying as robocalls are, it’s actually kind of interesting how far they’ve come. Robocalls used to be straight up recordings; now they can deny they’re even a robot. Of course, many of these types of robocallers may not actually be robots as they claim. In fact, they may be cyborgs. Cyborg callers are made up of a human operator driving a conversation through the use of a soundboard. In addition to the usual scripted lines, these soundboards come with a few interjections and other things to make the conversation feel more natural.
Leaders in the telemarketing industry say that this combined approach ensures that all information is presented correctly and that it minimizes misunderstandings. This is especially true when the soundboard is driven by non-native English speakers; even for fluent English speakers, having an accent can make things…difficult. For some people, hearing a foreign accent over the phone is an even bigger cue that something’s up than a recorded speech, and it can cause problems for legitimate businesses that really are trying to stick to the rules.
Some experts think this combination of man and machine, also known as the centaur model, is the way of the future. Google’s DeepDream is one such example of the centaur model: humans put an image in, adjust the settings, and then the computer does it’s thing to make surreal works of art. This model can be applied to other industries, such as cyber security, due to online attacks being ultimately orchestrated by humans, even if machines carry out the heavy lifting.
It’s still weird to think about, though. Maybe I’ll write a blog post about it.
In the meantime, do you have any tools for keeping the bots at bay? What does and doesn’t work? Let us know!