I have had the same two landlines for about 15 years and I used to get a lot of telemarketer calls. When my son was old enough to answer the phone, he got a call from a very aggressive telemarketer who said “some bad words” so I had enough. I work on telephone systems for a living and I said “hey, I’m a phone guy, I should be able to do something about this!” so I did.

I basically set up an “opt-in” whitelist of caller-ids. If you call my house, you get a message that says “hey, if you are a real person press any button and you’ll ring through to my house. If not, I’ll send you to voicemail and you can leave a message.” If you press a button, you ring my house, your caller-id is white-listed, and you’ll ring though next time you call.

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.

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 then…

I noticed that the telemarketer calls would hang up after about 10 seconds. This of course is the magic of “predictive dialers.” Telemarketers have machines that dial thousands of numbers and when the machine thinks a human has answered, it cuts through to an agent as quickly as it can. This is why you often have to say “hello” a couple times before someone is there. That’s the dialer figuring out if you are an answering machine or not. In my greeting that said “if you’re a human, press a button…”, the predictive dialers correctly figured they had reached a machine and hung up. So I had successfully blocked them, but I wasn’t causing them any pain or discomfort.

So I figured I’d try something. I was getting a lot of repeat calls from numbers. Obviously the same company’s predictive dialers were calling me at various times trying to find me home. I thought, what if I play a sound file that says “hello?… Hello?… Hello?…” a few times? Would it fool their predictive dialer into thinking it had reached a real person? So recorded some “hellos”, then “hang on a sec”, and then some silence. I created a “parrot” routine and sent these obvious telemarketers to this parrot.

And it worked like a champ! So then I thought “hmmmmm, how far can I take this parrot?”

I then created a fairly sophisticated algorithm that performs a handshake (hello? hello?), then engaged (yes, uh huh, right), then when it thinks the caller is suspicious, it says something completely inane. If the caller stops talking and there’s a long silence, it goes back to handshake. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s pretty much the general idea. As you’ll hear from the calls on this blog, it has been working like a champ!

So I modified the emails to include a link to send calls to this robot. And to prevent telemarketers from  getting suspicious and hitting the robot again if they called back, I added a 1 hour delay before it would answer again. If they call back within an hour, they get a disconnect message.

I wrapped it all up in a “pirate” theme around a Jolly Roger pirate flag and I’ve been intercepting telemarketers for over a year. I have blocked thousands of calls to my house. The telemarketer calls have been entertaining and I really should update the robot to include more entertaining chatter. But it has served me well and there are only a few callers who figure out it’s a robot.

I hope you enjoy. Please let me know how you like it!