Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Man makes money from cold calls with his own higher-rate phone number (2013) (bbc.com)
384 points by Jerry2 on Mar 30, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments

This almost sounds fair; Time is money. You want to use my free time to sell me something? Then compensate me for using up that free time or get lost.

10p a minute is £6 an hour or $7.83 USD, slightly more than US minimum wage which I see as being a fair starting point.

Time is indeed money. Most companies track customer acquisition cost in dollars and I've often wondered whether both parties - customers and companies - would like a more direct model.

Let's say an employee earns $50/hour. And a SaaS has identified that employee as being a decision maker on their service. And let's say my current CAC ie $10,000 and the lifetime value of the service is 25k. And let's say that the SaaS closes 1 out of every 5 people that sees the demo.

Wouldnt there be appetite for the SaaS to offer 5 potential decision makers $500 each to participate in a demo? And another $1000 to the DMs company? The CAC decreases by 25% and the spend goes to the people and companies most participating in the process as opposed to tools like Marketo, and spend, etc.

Anyway, I think the guy here has hit on something but not at a high enough price.

1 out of 5 people who see the demo without compensation buy the product. The only incentive they had to see the demo is that they were at least somewhat considering purchasing.

But if you start paying people, then a lot of people who have zero interest will participate just to pocket the money. Your close rate will go way way down.

If you think you have a really kick ass product that everybody will want when they see it though?

well probably you will alter your thinking based on feedback, but maybe not!

This is basically how advertising works. You're using most likely several, free, ad supported websites or apps. Instead of paying for the app you're using, you're compensating the developer with your attention on ads and the developer is then paid based on that. Instead of directly getting money for hearing pitches or being the subject of cold calls, you get to use free services.

Most serious companies have ethical policies that would require disclosure of such a scheme (as in, if you are targeting me, and giving me a gift, I need to tell my boss) and others will flat out deny or disallow such gifts.

I think a disclosure would be part of it for sure.

Pretty sure that would be a conflict of interest

And that is how the yearly HR ethics video you are required to watch was born. Lol

One place I was at had a scenario where working on location with a client and they offered you a private chef. I told my manager there is no way I'm passing up a private chef.

LOL that’s awesome.

I suspect the better answer is to just lower costs for the same benefit - customers come to you attracted by the lower costs and you don't have the free-rider problem that it becomes profitable to generate time wasting corps to do a bunch of paid demos to make money at the cost of productivity to all involved.

Surprisingly this doesnt work that well and degrades the product. I've actually had success in RAISING the price to get more demos booked.

that would be surely against any anti-birbing policy a company has.

at least do what doctor do and book them expensive vacation at exclusive venues where you coincidentally are pitching your company product.

Wasnt this the premise of earn.com?

> You want to use my free time to sell me something? Then compensate me for using up that free time or get lost.

If this isn't used widely, it's a diabolical strategy. "Hey can I give you $5 for some of your time, I have a product I really believe in and would like to tell you about it." It not only creates an expectation of reciprocity, but creates a sort of cognitive dissonance (salesmen are usually asking for money, not giving it) which is an event that is known to make people more susceptible to influence... there's probably so many reasons why this could be a viable strategy in some cases.

This is how timeshares are sold. The testament to their success is that they offer much more than $5, typically show tickets or hotel stays.

Yeah, now that I think about it, almost everyone does this in some form or another. I would even argue that making your business look nice (like a well furnished bar, etc) has the same type of effect. You go in, it looks nice, and you feel good about being in nice surroundings. So you get that initial reward before the business engagement even begins. Just reflecting on my own experience, I feel like I have been colder to businesses that don't look nice. I didn't think it was related to reciprocity[1] until now.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reciprocity_(social_psychology...

This is done for consumer surveys quite often. They will send you a $5 or $10 bill (cash) along with a, usually long, survey.

Nielsen, check your post, people, free unsolicited money!

IMHO inbound calls should have negative price for everybody by default. Phone network operators should raise prices for calling people and share part of this money with the recipient.

Just ban spam calling.

This is not easy to define, so this does not seem like a realistic strategy.

Not all annoying and inane calls are spam.

I also don’t want my doctors office to call me to remind me of a reservation I already got reminded by SMS and email, and would have received a fax if they knew I could receive them.

I strongly agree inbound call should have way higher cost for the caller, except for very special cases like emergency services and administrations. I’ll pay to call my family, it’s important enough to me. I’m already paying for support and other service lines anyway.

On the other hand isn't it amazing that we live in a world where phone calls are so cheap almost everyone can afford to call their families?

How does this work when a friend is calling you?

If they're a real friend and you're not an asshole you'll call them as often as they call you.

Whitelisting, and you can press a button to refund after the call.

No, there should be no option to refund. If there is it will become a moral obligation, many people will feel bad about not-refunding in whatever a case.

I mean when non-spammers but annoying people call.

It's about mass marketing spam, not people you know. People you know will call from a consistent phone number, and you can use time tested methods such as not answering instead of making them pay 0.10 to talk to you.

Most of my friends don't (and I love this!), they send me messages in Telegram and WhatsApp and we either discuss the matter this way or meet in person. If I felt like I am to call a friend I wouldn't mind to spend twice the rate and I would certainly love a half to go to the friend's account instead of just the phone company account.

To all the calculators here who are counting his riches:

>so to call him now costs 10p, from which he receives 7p.

10p/min sounds nice, but 7p * 60 minutes = 4.2GBP

The real trick is then tying it into the jolly roger and having it do all the hard work.

There was some story here before about a person that figured out they could muse these kinds of semi-premium numbers for automated verification calls from online svcs (like Microsoft and Twitter). (If) They automated the process and could make some semi-reasonable amount of money per hour.

edit: here it is: https://www.arneswinnen.net/2016/07/how-i-could-steal-money-...

Interesting ... it's more or less like the 90s call rates or post stamp fee. Maybe the most effective way to combat spam is to "tax" it? I would gladly pay 10 cent to the called or receiver for every call or mail I sent to recipients who hadn't whitelisted me, as long as it was mutual. The spammers would not.

Then again, I still receive alot of paper spam in my physical mailbox and humans paid full time to sell me stuff still call where the call cost is not the main cost, so it wouldn't solve very much and would be hard to organize practically.

If you are in the US your paper spam subsidizes the USPS.

No, mass mail receives a significant discount. At most add to economies of scale, but with significant costs.

Look at the actual numbers, and it’s not nearly as significant as the bulk would suggest. https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/financials/revenue-pieces-...

That's why they killed Outbox, which could block paper spam. They later started running that service themselves (until they decide the security challenges are not worth it):



Emailing a photo of the front of an envelope, as Informed Delivery does, is very different from opening mail addressed to another person. I beleive I’m remembering correctly that when I looked into Outbox in 2014, they required a Power of Attorney!

When I signed up for Informed Delivery, I had to show id at a USPS office. Seems like fairly strong authentication when compared to any other web or mail service.

You could sign up for Informed Deliverey online with just an address. There was no verification whatsoever.

The usps is in league with paper spammers.

The Lumber Cartel

I would gladly pay the extra tax to opt out.

I went three or four months without checking my mail and eventually they gave up and stopped delivering my mail entirely, which was a welcome surprise. Unfortunately the 0.1% of mail that is useful forced me to rectify the issue.

The USPS is not directly funded by taxes.

Forbes says that they're effectively funded by tax payers to the tune of $18 billion a year.


That’s adding the value of supposeded benefits from congress but not actual dollars. Also congress mandates crazy shit that the usps must do so any benefits are probably wiped out by them.

I think giving someone a tax break or low-interest rate is basically the same thing as giving someone the dollars to pay that tax or interest. Calling that a 'supposed' benefit is silly.

Forbes' assessment is the effective value is $18 billion.

Is it not the other way around? I would think that the USPS subsidizes paper spam. I find it very hard to believe that paper spamming would be even remotely economically viable at market cost.

If you look at the mass mailing options that the USPS markets on their website, they ask you to basically buy a whole delivery route at a time.

There's no routing and sorting they have to do. The carrier just picks up a stack of letters at the start of the shift, and drops one in every mailbox.

The labor cost that the USPS has to put in for a mass mailing is a fraction of what it has to do for normal mailing.

There is another cost - the cost to society of paper garbage and dead trees. I live in a 200+ unit apartment building and recently received a mailer for hedge cutting. I promptly went to the mailroom recycling bin and threw it out, discovering about 150 identical copies thrown out by other unit residents. Obviously no one in a building needs hedge cutting — we live in apartments, not houses — but the mailer didn’t care or put much thought into even basic ad targeting. What a waste.

Why would USPS subsidize spam? What’s the upside to them? They have literally no incentive I can think of to do that.

They subsidize it by charging a rate per piece that is less than a regular stamped mailing, but at a price level that still turns a profit.

It's market segmentation, full price service for those willing to pay it, and a cheaper option for business without enough margins to justify that.

Let me clarify my argument. Ostensibly, the goal of the USPS is to connect all of America with flat-rate first-class mail. The USPS charges as much to send a letter across the country as it does to send it to your apartment neighbor. That means that people in cities (or really, people in routes with high density first-class mail usage) subsidize people in lower-density areas. Let’s assume that we agree that this goal is reasonable, and thus that this subsidy of low-density customers by high-density customers is reasonable.

This means that mass-mailers are being subsidized by the USPS’ implementation of this goal of nationwide first-class mail, because presumably they are paying less than the actual cost of mailing their advertisements. I suppose we could go a step further, and say that high-density customers are in fact subsidizing mass-mailers, which I think most people would agree is not a reasonable subsidy.

Same in the UK with Royal Mail (which is now privatised, but it was true before that too).

The difference her is that hashcash is hackable (send spam via a botnet from other people's machines and them bearing the cost). With telephone calls such a scheme is harder to implement, it would be discovered quickly by the phone company, you'd be prosecuted and end up in jail.

Is there an opportunity for startup which can give you a pay-call number and handle all legal requirements behind it? Then it would be easier to own pay-call number for everyone and give it out to everyone.

The company can give you option to absorb the cost by yourself instead of charging caller. Math wise, if cost to accept legitimate call is 3 cents and if you get 20 such calls a month then its less than a dollar for you each month.

Yes there is a great opportunity here, and I know that because when I read this article I thought to myself what a wonderful specimen of native advertising this is. Turns out that its not though, its actually a five year old article and PhonepayPlus is a public regulatory body.

I'm just amused by Phone Pay Plus huffing about how people shouldn't do this. Maybe don't pester people with cold-calls...

Huffing? They're saying that as the operator of a pay phone service you have several legal obligations and you will be subject to possibly stiff penalties if you don't comply and someone complains.

I'd be pretty surprised if their lawyers would let them discuss this scheme without emphasizing that.

While cold calls are an issue, I don't think phone numbers should be able to charge you money without you being aware of it.

You are aware of it.

They always have a well known prefix, in the us its 1-900, in the uk its 0871.

..unless you're not, since you don't know the magic prefix of the country in question.

There is a lot of variety https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premium-rate_telephone_number

Well, yes, it is up to you to check beforehand what certain things cost in different countries. Do you want countries to post signs with their exact speeding fines at borders?

Ideally I could charge anybody any amount to call me. Not a timed rate but cash just to get through. I could charge nothing for my friends, family, building doorbell service, and everyone else I approve, and $10k for everyone else. If robots fail to determine that charge that's on them.

Fyi, calling normal phone numbers costs your carrier anywhere from $0.05 to $0.00007 per minute in the US for normal numbers. The more rural a number is, the higher the cost

"The number of calls received by Mr Beaumont has fallen from between 20 and 30 a month to just 13 last month."

I would have expected the calls to fall down to 0. I am amazed that at-least some cold callers don't mind paying the money. Their profit-margins must be high! Is the data on the profit margins of cold callers publicly available somewhere?

I would assume that a certain percentage of callers are newly contracting, and the rest recurring.

The former probably won't figure it out until after, the latter probably has a percentage dropoff based on how fast their accounting department notices (assuming it's not lost in the noise of being a truly enormous company).

Could write a little bot that answers and then keeps asking generic open ended probing questions, laying out hypothetical situations and then questions related to them.

I've never successfully merged a phone call to Lenny. I would absolutely pay money for this to be a standalone app on my phone. I'd be fine with using it as the default dialer.

Lenny's the best. The part with the ducks kills me every time!

In a similar spirit, check out https://egbg.home.xs4all.nl/counterscript.html

How would you do something like this in the US? 900 number?

What I can’t stand is the default practice of recording phone calls. “This call may be recorded for training purposes” with no way to opt out. Sure, I could hang up but what if I absolutely have to make that call. I don’t want my calls recorded by default, I want to be asked and the answer will always be No. If you are using my calls to make your company money by training your staff, I want to be compensated.

In many states in the US, you only need one party's consent. In the cases where you need dual party consent, they must explicitly ask you. Of course, that works both ways in each case. If you only need one party's consent, you can be that party and record. You don't even need to ask consent.

Also, you can opt out. Just ask them to stop recording. If they don't, hang up. But most companies will stop recording when asked.

It's not really about training. It is to provide evidence in court in case you try to sue the company.

It also motivates customers to behave in a civil manner because they know they are being recorded.

Let the first human who answers know that you are recording too, for quality assurance and training. Additionally, apologise. The call is important but the current high demand has made you slower than normal.

This article was written in 2013, I wonder how he's been getting on since?

I'd imagine a lot of companies have wised up and won't call 0871 numbers.

Interestingly he mentioned he puts his 0871 number as his contact number for banks/energy bills etc so if they contact him about something he gets money for it.

Generally they only contact you by phone if they’re trying to sell you something. Banks being the one notable exception but I still get more than my fair share of sales calls from the bank too.

Plus at the time that was written, it was pre-GDPR so you’d often find your number getting sold on if you weren’t extremely careful when signing up to even non-free services.

Fun fact, in the Netherlands the government sells data to these companies, knowing it is against GDPR. They will partly cease this in the future (not immediately) How it works: Chamber of commerce requires all companies to register there. They sell your data to other companies. There is no option to not have your data sold.

Since I registered there (one man company) I have received countless calls and mail. Most calls are trying to scam me into a more expensive energy contract. It has not calmed down in the last year at all.

Brilliant. Can I setup a line so all Robocalls are charged $1000 per minute?

[Regulator Phone Pay] says Premium rate numbers are not designed to be used in this way

Yes they totally are. The whole point of them is to make money from callers. Exactly what else were they designed for?

This is answered in the article it seems. Those numbers are associated with obligations of fairness, liability, etc. which an individual is unlikely to be able to provide the callers with.

Rubbish! Why do you believe that an individual can’t be fair yet an organisation can?

Premium rate numbers are used by some of the most scammy businesses out there, the regulators don’t seem to mind taking their money.

Surely all he has to do is point out to whoever he gives the number what it will cost them. What more could be needed? And as someone else pointed out, in the UK at least, these numbers all have the 0871 prefix.

I've thought about getting a 1-900 number and putting that as my cellphone number on my company profile. Any weekend or night production calls... I'd get some extra $.

Is there an american equivalent to this VAT number in the article?

The 1-900 number as other poster mentioned is an obvious "premium rate number" [0] but there are also others which are typically used for scams which are assigned to Caribbean countries. [1] [2] I have no idea how to acquire one of those and how to link it to your SIM card or land-line.

>Consumers usually receive a message telling them to call a phone number with an 809, 284, 649, or 876 area code in order to collect a prize, find out information about a sick relative, etc. The caller assumes the number is a typical three-digit U.S. area code; however, the caller is actually connected to a phone number outside the United States, often in Canada or the Caribbean, and charged international call rates.

>The 876 area code has been linked to a form of telephone fraud known as the "one ring scam". The person perpetuating the scam calls the victim via a robodialer or similar means, sometimes at odd hours of the night, then hangs up when the phone is answered with the hope that they will be curious enough to call the number back. When the victim does this, an automatic $19.95 international call fee is charged to their account, as well as $9/min thereafter. Similar scams have been linked to Grenada (area code 473), Antigua (268), the Dominican Republic (809, 829, and 849), and the British Virgin Islands (284). [2]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premium-rate_telephone_number#...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/809_scam

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_code_876

I'm sure there are voip carriers in those countries that will sell you a DID (inbound number), and then you can forward calls wherever.

However, I would expect most businesses to have their phone systems set up not to connect to numbers outside the US. It's not terribly difficult to get your phone company to disable international calls, and it's a good idea, unless you're actually calling internationally on purpose.

Yes. But think about how often web forms were not sanitized in the past.

I get those 473 area code calls all the time. I learned years ago that due to caller ID spoofing I should never, ever call back a strange number because either I’ll get some confused person who didn’t actually call me, or I run the risk of dialing a premium line and getting charged.

If it’s an important call, they will leave me a voicemail or call my wife.

A VAT number is (more or less) analogous to a sales tax number in the States (that have a sales tax).

If you mean is there an equivalent to a calling-party-pays, premium-rate number, it is +1-900 or +1-area code-976 numbers. I am all but certain that zero businesses or spammers will call it even if you ask them and they’re virtually useless these days because VoIP and mobile carriers don’t generally support making calls to them. The only lines that still work for calling them are regular, regulated, post-paid billing POTS lines.

Added: I also just looked and apparently both AT&T and Verizon no longer bill customers for premium-rate charges (pass-through billing) so there are even fewer lines that still support calling those numbers.

Well 900 numbers I'd guess, used for psychic hotlines and other entertainments.

I suppose if I had a 900 number and used that in place of my real number on all the signups (e.g. safeway club), who I know sales their info whatever they claim, that would be funny. I wonder how many of these spam services blacklist 900 numbers?

For those of us not in the UK, what is a PPI refund?

PPI stands for payment protection insurance. There was a huge legal case where it was found that it was mis sold (card companies and banks didn't follow rules) and so refund were due. The landslide was so huge the business of applying for refund has itself become big business.

Is there an app that, upon clicking a button, will play a standard message to the caller and hang up the phone?

No. Android has limited access to the audio streams for voice calls, which is why call recorders rarely work.

One could work around this with an external blue tooth device.

Strange that consumer protection rules would apply to companies (especially those making unsolicited calls)

The problem is that it doesn't cost much to call someone. If the costs rise, then it lowers the rate at which people call. Not a bad idea, if only it can work for everyone!

that is great... you could pay back the 7p to legitimate callers... if only this could be automated (at least for numbers on your contact list)

10p an hour? And he keeps them talking for longer?

I have better things to do with my time.

Edit: hour? I meant to write minute. Vagued out I guess.

Per minute. Keep them talking for 10 minutes and he gets a pound. If he is getting 30 calls per month and keeps each of them talking for just ten minutes, that is 30 pounds worth of beer money that month that he can drink with his friends at the pub - for about 5 hours work/month. Not sure how that compares with minimum wage in the US, but it may be close.

People really value getting things for “free” over working for them.

Don’t believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free.

Is this a saying? Google isn't returning anything, and I've can't think of a florist structure, where what you were actually buying was obscured.

I wouldn't expect the quality of the free roses to be very good though.

It’s a line from a Ween song from 1994 that I first heard as a cover by Phish at a show in ‘99

Amazing Robotic Ween Music Video Version: https://youtu.be/jogJHY-h7n8

Great Live Phish Version: https://youtu.be/-18cAiRCur0


Take a piece of tinsel and put it on the tree Cut a slab of melon and pretend that you still love me Carve out a pumpkin and rely on your destiny Get in your car and cruise the land of the brave and the free

But don't forget to understand exactly what you put on the tree Don't believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free

Take a wrinkled raisin, and do with it what you will Push it into third if you know you're gonna climb a hill Eat plenty of lasagna 'til you know that you've had your fill Resist all the urges that make you wanna go out and kill

But don't forget to understand exactly what you put on the tree Don't believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free

Throw that pumpkin at the tree Unless you think that pumpkin holds your destiny Cast it off into the sea Bake that pie and eat it with me -

In tourist destinations around europe (particularly Italy) there are people who go around with a bunch of roses and will try fairly forcefully to give a free one to your partner then fairly persistantly request a donation from you. Guessing thats what they are referring to although calling them a florist seems a push.

Ok, never come across that, even in Italy, but would make sense.

> 10 minutes and he gets a pound

Come on, that's the least effective use of anyone's time I've ever heard of.

Before I started ignoring unknown numbers entirely, every time I got a scam call I would just tell them I needed a minute, ask them to hang on, and mute my phone while I went back to work. They'd usually stay on the line for 5-10 minutes. A bit tougher with this guy's scheme where there are regulatory requirements for transparency, etc. he's fined for not meeting, but I felt quite satisfied knowing that for 5 minutes, a scammer was taken out of circulation while I just went back to honest work. Required almost none of my actual time.

I’ve recently taken up trying to sell them my own brand of snake oil or the secret to immortality.

Don't forget he is just watching TV on his couch while doing it. He doesn't have to put on a uniform or commute anywhere. He doesn't even have to be actively participating in the conversation - just mumble a few things to keep them talking while he makes a sandwich or browses the internet...

it might not be a waste, especially if this becomes popular. if we all unite maybe we can stop organized lawful mass harassment over cellular telephony!

Nope, the article states he gets £0.70 - presumably the provider gets the other £0.30.

10p a minute, although checking rates for calling an 0871 in UK from a landline, it can be from 15 to 30p a minute.

Yeah oops, I meant to write minute. Vagued out for a minute there. Slip of the tongue, or fingers as it were.

So a typo.

Wouldn’t a typo be more like mintue instead of minute.

I wrote an entirely wrong word spelled entirely correctly.

Wikipedia has this to say about typos:

A typographical error (often shortened to typo), also called misprint, is a mistake (such as a spelling mistake)[1] made in the typing of printed (or electronic) material. Historically, this referred to mistakes in manual type-setting (typography). The term includes errors due to mechanical failure or slips of the hand or finger,[2] but excludes errors of ignorance, such as spelling errors, or the flip-flopping of words such as "than" and "then". Before the arrival of printing, the "copyist's mistake" or "scribal error" was the equivalent for manuscripts. Most typos involve simple duplication, omission, transposition, or substitution of a small number of characters. (emphasis mine)


Hmmm. Definitely spending way too much energy here.

It isn't an error of ignorance, if you knew it was minute though?

Your quote mentions "scribal error". Your spelling part of the brain knew what it wanted to write. The writing part inserted a different word. Now my lack of knowledge of brain parts is an error of ignorance, so 'spelling part of the brain' isn't a typo.

If you are able to work on something else at the same time, it's free money.

More importantly, he probably has a vastly different opportunity cost than you. If all he was doing was watching the TV, why not make a little extra money for no additional effort?

I guess the feeling that you are being payed, even if a little bit, helps considerably to raise the mood.

Hook it up to a chat bot (as mentioned above), so it takes ~no time after configuration. :)

I've always wanted to do the same thing for my e-mails!

It's called proof of work.

I did this for email. Get in touch if you want to try it.

I'm now working on doing this for the browser.

> It's called proof of work.

> I did this for email. Get in touch if you want to try it.

How? Via email?

I'm not going to implement your proof-of-work scheme just to email you.

Nobody else is, either.


> Because he works from home, Mr Beaumont has been able to increase his revenue by keeping cold callers talking - asking for more details about their services.


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact