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How one man turns annoying cold calls into cash (bbc.co.uk)
331 points by schrofer on Aug 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments

There are two things to like here: 1) No one like solicitation calls and its nice to see someone stick it to them and 2) he is shifting the economics to be more representative of the costs to all parties. There is a cost to the person being called (being annoyed, interrupted etc) and by charging that cost to the caller only callers who still have a positive return will call. The price to make a call now more accurately represents the resources it consumes to the calls should get both more infrequent and higher quality.

I was trying to figure out the economics... 10p - Is that roughly 15 cents? I assume that's a per minute charge. So he gets 60 minutes/hour * 15 cents/minute * 1 dollar/100 cents = 9 dollars per hour talking on the phone?

It seems a correct cost - probably a little more that the fellow on the other end of the line, but he's the one with the money. It also seems very cost-ineffective unless he's a minimum wage employee or very lonely.

You've got to factor in how funny it almost certainly still is.

After a while that will ebb away and he'll probably do the same cost benefit analysis and go back to hanging up on them.

I bet the first minute is still charged up front though.

For over 21's, minimum wage in the UK is 6.19, rising to 6.31 in October. 7p per minute would add up to 4.20. That's higher than the under 18's minimum wage, but well below even the 18 to 21 minimum wage...

If his time is worth that little, he'd be better off getting an entry level retail job.

Well, his first goal was to reduce the number of unsolicited calls, so it is very effective. The fact that he makes little money on the side is just the cherry on the cake.


Factor in the reduced interruption cost of receiving 10-20 fewer calls/month into the cost/benefit calculation. That's one less interruption per 2-3 days.

Well he only gets 7p according to the article, so more like $6.50/hr. AFAIK, receiving calls in the UK is generally free (as in, it doesn't count as minutes as it does in the US), and the calling party foots the bill. He's essentially made his line a toll number.

Wait, it costs money to receive calls in the US?

USA! Calls should be charged at both ends, internet should be charged at both ends, and if a company like Youtube is making too much money Comcast should be allowed to fine it for not sharing the profits it gained on the bandwidth it already bought.

Are you a communist? Or just trolling?

He is mocking the ongoing attempts by companies in the US to double bill communications.

Got in the US after growing up a decently regulated coutry.

Bought 750min plan.

Used phone first week to do a few conference calls to a 1-800 number.

next week i was already out of "plan minutes" because i had to 'pay' for the 1800 calls.

not to mention SMS costs, and data being billed up to 3x (actual data plan, smart phone plan ($30), tethering ($25-50), plus tax)

Try getting a different plan. T-mobile's unlimited data plan with limited monthly minutes is $30 / month. Their unlimited-everything plan is $50. They nominally charge extra for tethering, but tethering worked just fine for me without actually buying the "service". No idea what "smart phone plan" means.

Summary: the problems you're experiencing don't seem to have much to do with what country you're in, so much as your belief that buying a plan with a ton of bizarre extra costs makes sense.

It does if you're used to paying $20 for a prepaid burner and having it last 3 months with normal use. Coming in the other direction I find it jaw dropping how little Europeans pay for cell usage.

Yeah I was kinda surprised in the US, I got a "burner" for about $20 (at Walgreens, IIRC), charged it with $10 (ok), and it barely last me 3 weeks with minimal usage. Minimal meaning most people calling me. But apparently that doesn't make any difference.

I did enjoy the fact that this simple dumbphone had a very easy-to-use "tip calculator", making it easier to adapt to the local customs :) (until I found out that apparently tip percentage are calculated before-taxes, not over the full bill?)

I don't dispute this; I have similar feelings wrt the price of cell service in China (it's cheap). But the parent comment was complaining about a situation that didn't make sense even in the US, and attributing it to the US.

The smart phone plan was a requirement for buying subsidized non-feature phones from AT&T until last year. they dropped that in favor of the tethering scam. I'm still managing to avoid both. but it's a pain.

I'm actually only on AT&T because they scammed me via my employee. They advertise 30% discount. So you go there, sign up for 2yrs. It takes exactly 90 days for a bill to show up with the discount when you have a FAN id (corp discount). why? because after 90 days you can't cancel the 2yr contract anymore, and then you learn that the 30% only applies to voice, for the first line. so you get $6 instead of the $30/mo you were expecting.

i would have gone with t-mobile. and the 2yrs are ending now, so i might switch.

What carrier is this? Back in the day I recalled my old carrier stating 1-800 did not count against your minutes. Now I have unlimited so doesn't even matter

It's AT&T.

the 700min is already too expensive. $60 + $30data + tax and ridiculous fees (like $4/mo for the ferederal universal access fee. like AT&T even uses that money to give phone access to everyone one...)

Its the same in the UK. I never go over my monthly allowance so the only billable calls I tend to have are the 'free' 0800 ones.

On cell phones. This is for the same reason as you have to pay for receiving calls while roaming internationally on cell phones - basically the difference is a historical fluke based on numbering plans and how billing are done for landline calls.

US local calls don't have per-minute changes. And cell phone numbering is not using a separate number sequence as in most other countries (e.g. in UK all cellphone numbers start 07x where x is 4 or above, so everyone knows when calling a cellphone).

Because of that, it'd be unreasonable to charge callers for cellphone calls, as people don't have an easy way of knowing if they're making a local landline call or calling someone on a cellphone that's potentially at the other side of the country, or abroad.

Similarly for international roaming we pay to receive in Europe too, as the caller don't know if the cellphone is abroad. Except caller pays whatever their plan would normally charge if the phone was in the country its numbering plan indicates, and the roaming charges covers the rest.

On a mobile phone, for most carriers, received calls are deducted from your plan's allotted 'minutes'.

It does too in Europe, at least, when calling internationally to cell phones; the caller pays up until the border, the cell phone owner pays after that. This has led to a lot of cases of OMFG WTF when people come back home after a vacation and get their phone bill, :p.

This pay structure makes sense to me. If I'm calling someone's mobile and don't necessarily expect them to be in another country: it would be crazy to be slapped with a massive charge for that call. Makes far more sense for the receiver to make up the difference.

Which is why in EU there's a law that phone companies have to cut you off after you spend €60 in a month while roaming. You can opt out of that, but legally you have to be in that by default. It's to stop people getting screwed over massively by their phone companies when they didn't know.

Only on cell phones. Most cell phone plans include some number of free minutes per month (e.g. 450), then charge an exorbitant rate per minute after that. When you receive a call, it counts towards your free minutes or the rate.

Are there other kinds of phones?

Part of the reason he's not able to charge more is the approval process for a higher rate number is much more complex. If he want's to be more than a minor annoyance he can always leave them on hold for 20 minutes, or route them through a tele-marketer torture script with Asterisk or FreeSWITCH.

it's somewhat automatic if he puts them on hold shortly after receiving the call, and maybe checking in once in a while to assure he'll "be right back". could even be scaled to multiple lines!

> it's somewhat automatic if he puts them on hold shortly after receiving the call

Preferably with an automated message in an overly cheery voice saying "your call is important to us"

Every call becomes a mini timeshare

Don't forget the ever reliable counter-script to use against them:


FWIW I've set up some disposable number like this guy via Flextel.

If ever I've been looking for a new contract I put a disposable number on my CV. When I get a contract, i disconnect and they cannot call again

And what's the point of that?

Particularly when there are much more effective scripts to use, such as asking where your number came from, and requesting the TM not contact you and pass that request upstream.

Or get a call-blocking app/service / Google Voice number (not that I care to feed Google any more personal data).

Because it's hilarious to hear random telemarketers describe their favorite brand of toothpaste? And the kicker is the last bit:

"Do you have a problem answering questions from a stranger on the telephone?"

On Flextel you can set 0871 numbers up to an auto-attendant menu, which means that robot auto-diallers just hang up, but real people can get through.

They don't pay as much money though, but some 0871 numbers are free.

I think you can also set a divert on anonymous caller (number withheld)

You might be able to set two numbers to transfer to each other endlessly, unless the right pair of menu numbers is pressed.

Back in the day when 0898 numbers existed in the UK you could make £1.50 per minute.

I knew a guy who made a LOT of cash by hooking one up to a fax machine and then calling window companies and telling them "I'm about to go into a meeting where we are going to decide which windows to buy for a skyscraper we are building, please can you fax me your brochure immediately". He then gave them the 0898 number to fax the 200 page brochure to...

I'll bite.

With the original story there's some feeling of comeuppance, and it's not really a huge financial burden on the company making thousands of calls a day.

In your story—illegalities aside—they're just being a complete asshole.

Agreed. I didn't suggest otherwise. I'm just recounting a similar story about premium rate numbers in the UK.

Which is the very reason why most of the expensive premium rate numbers are now only in the 09 range and heavily regulated. You can still try doing this, but people would immediately question why you were giving them an 09 number.

The remaining premium rate problem in the UK is mainly 070 numbers, which are "personal numbers" used for forwarding services, and while there are some legitimate users, most uses these days are scammers trying to confuse people to think they're cellphone numbers.

In a sense it's no different than sending false invoices to large corporations in hopes that they won't double check for a service or product.

Sounds pretty unethical.

Yeah, it's one thing to charge companies for phone calls when they were going to call you anyways, it's another thing to suggest to a company that you're interested in a bulk order, and then charge them to send you the information that you requested. That's sounds more just like theft.

You are correct. I'm pretty deeply involved with telco fraud and it's countermeasures. This is really tip of the iceberg as to what goes on.

The latest scams involve making your iPhone show missed calls even though your phone didnt ring by sending it a really short call attempt. Guess what the caller ID of the missed call is? Premium rate number. The amount of people who ring back these calls is incredible.

When you call the line you hear a long dial tone. You think its dialling the number but its already been answered and is charging you per minute...

Again, I'm not making any representations that these things are ethical, but they absolutely go on today, and these are the only kinds of scams I feel comfortable sharing - the reality is a lot scarier.

That's very interesting.

I've seen lots of toll fraud at my work. Often a VoIP device like an Asterisk server or a VoIP phone will be compromised and used to send calls to a premium rate number, usually at a very high call rate. This is their downside, they're exploited by people who want to make a quick buck. And carriers are forced to pay them because they have contracts with their toll trunk providers that all calls sent through those trunks are legitimate calls.

jdee, have you ever had any success prosecuting anyone committing fraud? Wonder if that's even possible.

Some of the offices in our building are serviced and come with telephony systems included. The owner of these offices has been hit with exactly this attack and ended up with a bill for £150k . Nearly ruined his business and the carriers are not at all sympathetic.

I've not heard of a single case where successful prosecution has occurred. I think OFCOM and the police view these attacks against financial institutions as a 'cost of doing business' - if you dont want fraud, dont run a bank - attitude.

The whole point of publicizing gambits is to make them less effective. (Sounds like you could write a book and make a killing on this topic.)

Edit: An obvious hack in the US would be to spoof a bank's caller id and start calling as the "fraud department" ... Leaving the rest to the imagination.

Well now you have to tell us about the really scary ones!

Without going into details there are vulnerabilities that are being exploited today that are netting fraudsters millions a day and there is very little can be done to stop them.

The most interesting thing you learn about these fraud teams is that it is a job to them - meaning they work 9-5.30, dont work weekends or holidays. This is industrialised fraud on an enterprise scale.

If you wanted my advice: Dont trust any 2 factor authentication system that uses your mobile unless its for a large bank

Dont data roam with your mobile when abroad, better still, leave your mobile at home.

Before doing anything secure with your phone, call it to ensure its not been redirected

Dont say anything in a call that you wouldnt want played back to you at some point in the future...

I do not offer to buy things often from stuff posted on HN.

PLEASE WRITE A BOOK. I would most definitely buy your anecdotes, and even more for anecdotes that motivated this advice to pass of to people.

Also, how did you get into the line of work you are in?

Joined a startup as CTO/investor at an IVR company. Built up 4 years domain knowledge working with telephony fraud. exited a month ago as part of a $150m sale.

Final anecdote. A certain attack requires the fraudster to call the target's bank and ask a few questions. For some reason in ALL of these calls there is the sound of a baby crying in the background.

Our theory is that while testing the attack vector, the first time it 'worked' a baby must have been crying. The fraudsters think it works as some kind of high frequency disruption to confuse any biometric systems that are processing the call, so they play a RECORDING of a baby in the background of all subsequent calls.

It reminds me of learned behaviour in animals. The pigeon stands on one leg and gets a treat. The pigeon now thinks the one legged approach is what makes the treat appear.

The icing on the cake was when I got a call from a bank asking if there are any biometric systems that can detect the sound of crying babies...

I was joking. :) But that is funny.

"To paraphrase Felix Dennis, 'It is like watching a millionaire point his finger at the sky, then running out to write books with titles like `How to Become A Millionaire by Pointing at the Sky`, when all along the millionaire was just trying to show people the glory of the sunset."


We had a whole spate of these in Ireland recently. A large % of mobile users on a particular network woke up to missed calls: http://www.thejournal.ie/mobile-phone-scam-slovenian-number-...

Like cold calling?

Sounds like he committed a crime (fraud). Be careful with that tactic.

very, very unethical; you should write a book.

Very sneaky! I wish I'd thought of it!

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_pumping which has involved companies like FreeConference.com, Google Voice, and others who route calls through rural carriers using standard long distance area codes. Through a quirk of the 1996 Telecom Act (since fixed), the rural carriers were able to charge access fees of up to 20 cents a minute. The carriers had revenue sharing agreements with the companies driving the calls. Multiply this by thousands of callers, where everything is handled over VoIP by a rack of servers and it was quite lucrative.

More reading: https://www.google.com/search?q=free+conference+termination+...

If you actually read the first link, you'd see that Google Voice won't connect to exchanges where "traffic pumping" occurs.


AT&T filed a complaint against Google for this behavior (and lost).


This reminds me of how direct response companies would send out envelopes with pre-paid postage on them for return mail and people would fill them with pennies so that the companies had to pay a lot more in return postage.

It's funny how clever people can be when they are annoyed by something.

I have wrapped a brick in a reply paid envelope from a very annoying direct mail company.

"The Postal Service is unable to assure that a Business Reply Mail piece will only be used in a manner and for the purpose intended by the distributor; this is a risk assumed by the distributor. If the piece receives postal handling, the legal rate of postage and appropriate fee should be collected for the service given the piece upon delivery to the distributor. The fact that a returned BRM envelope may be empty or a BRM card may not have been completed has no bearing on the distributor's obligation to pay postage and fees on all returned BRM pieces."

So if you just send back the empty envelope, it sounds like it will cost the company postage, even if it's less than a brick.

> So if you just send back the empty envelope, it sounds like it will cost the company postage, even if it's less than a brick.

It will. They pay per piece to get each envelope/card back, the rates vary based upon volume (https://www.usps.com/business/reply-mail.htm).

So, if you notice how little they paid to get the letter to you, if everyone returned the empty BRM's, it could easily double or more their cost for postage to have mailed the things out.

USPS is complicit in delivering junk mail, so it's fair game.

Not really sure I understand this position.

Also, if you want to get less junk postal mail, you can opt-out of the vast majority. It's not too hard: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0262-stopping-unsolicit...

1. As eli wrote above, it accomplishes nothing but annoying your postman.

2. Why would you try to sabotage a public service?

Junkmail is not a public service. Or at least, not to everybody. If it was solely good then I highly doubt it would be called junkmail, my suspicion is that it is called junkmail because a large chunk of it ends up unread in landfills.

Where I live we have simple stickers that allow you to pick yes / no for receiving unaddressed mail and free periodicals. We simply slapped a no/no sticker on the mailbox and forgot about the junk mail problem but not every country has a system like that.

"junkmail because a large chunk of it ends up unread in landfills."

So what? So does food that is not eaten and other forms of waste. I don't follow sports but I understand that there is plenty of waste by people who drive to games, consume beer as well as other costs associated with sporting events. There are people who send out "junkmail" who are legitimate and get business from it. And they are selling things that people want. Obviously no marketing campaign is 100% effective (a few percentage points is usually good actually).

"If it was solely good then I highly doubt it would be called junkmail"

There are pros and cons to most things. Giving it a different name wouldn't make it better or worse. People also don't like television commercials or ads on web pages. If you asked them they would like to eliminate those as well expecting everything to be to their liking.

Junkmail ("direct mail marketing") is to mail as advertising is to the internet. It pays the bills.

It's probably hypocritical of you to hate on junk mail while working in web development.

>1. As eli wrote above, it accomplishes nothing but annoying your postman.

And if 20% of people sent bricks in with their junk mail? What do you think the postmen would say?

Junk mail keeps the cost of other mail down. Not to mention a whole industry and jobs are linked to it. And it works if it didn't the junk mailers would stop mailing.

I'd be willing to pay slightly more in postage in order to eliminate junk mail. The mob (or patent troll industry or insert random undesirables) employs people, too, but you wouldn't argue for its protection solely on that basis. And the fact that it works ignores the fact that it irritates everyone who isn't a junk mailer. There are far more honest ways to advertise.

Not sure what you're trying to say here.

I'm not arguing for it's protection based on that fact at all. I'm pointing out that this idea that junk mail is bad because it annoys some people is wrong.

Guess what? Not everyone is annoyed or bothered by junk mail. Not everyone is annoyed by spam either and I'm not talking about idiots who respond to spam or even read it. There are people that get so few emails that if they login and don't see any mail they think the mail is not being delivered at all. So they'd rather have something show up to show that "the system is working".

Guess what? The number of people who are annoyed by junk mail or spam greatly exceeds the number of people who gain some benefit from it (mainly spammers and junk mailers - and since they are dishonest actors, I give their considerations very little weight).

My argument is not that junk mail is bad, because it annoys some people. My argument is that it is bad, because it annoys almost everyone.

PS - Surely you can think of a better system of informing users their inbox is working than regularly spamming everyone who has an inbox...?

" The number of people who are annoyed by junk mail or spam greatly exceeds the number of people who gain some benefit from it (mainly spammers and junk mailers - and since they are dishonest actors, I give their considerations very little weight)."

Really? What about the postal service employees?


Or the people (there are a great number of unmarked trucks on the street) that haul postal service mail. Or the airlines that haul postal service mail (of which a large portion is "junk" mail).

Or we could go further into the people who work in the printing industry or paper suppliers or the makers of the mailing equipment or the people who lease industrial space to these people.

"My argument is that it is bad, because it annoys almost everyone."

Disagree. Is there a survey that shows this? And have the people who (if they were surveyed) fully apprised of the benefits of "junk" mail and if so did they still get "annoyed" by it?

Add: One more thing. Where are you getting that the majority of people who send junk postal mail are "dishonest actors"?

All those workers are still a small minority of the people who receive it, otherwise junk mailing would be completely cost prohibitive.

Of course, even if they weren't, that's still not a good reason to keep it. If we're going to pay just to keep people employed, there are better holes to dig and fill up again.

Disagree. Is there a survey that shows this?

Why, yes: 81% of Americans support the creation of "Do not mail" lists to reduce advertising on their postal mailbox[1].

: http://phys.org/news/2012-12-survey-americans-mail.html

Yes. Junk mail is economically inefficient and solely supported by the subsidization allowed via high first-class post rates. There is a cost for every piece they send out. They are not paying this cost. Hence, externality.

Alright, I'll bite. First off, as I said above, plenty of objectively bad organizations like patent trolls and organized crime provide employment for some people, but that is not a reason to support them. You claimed that that was not your argument, but now you're bringing it up again.

Since you seem unwilling to do any research yourself (while asking a great deal of me for basically a throwaway comment), here are some facts:

1. In 2010, 'advertising mail' (in which junk mail is included) constituted $17 billion in revenue for the USPS, as opposed to $34 billion from first class mail. Direct mail advertising does provide a lot of revenue for the USPS, but not a dominant amount.

2. 44 percent of junk mail is thrown away unopened, and junk mail produces 5.8 million tons of waste in landfills annually.

3. I can't find any statistics or junk mail approval rating, likely because anyone who proposed such a study would get laughed at for trying to answer such an obvious question. I'm not sure what you want me to say here (I'm definitely not going to conduct the survey), but I think that based on the existence of things like spam filters, do not contact lists, and this entire thread that junk mail is not something most people appreciate receiving.

You seem to be arguing in favor of junk mail, because it generates money for certain businesses, including so far, the USPS, other mail delivery services, paper companies, the printing industry, and corporations which use direct mail advertising campaigns. I posit that junk mail is not a good thing, because it harms the environment, consuming over 100 million trees per year in the US alone and contributing to landfills. In addition, it annoys the vast majority of its recipients (even you admitted a successful advertising campaign will convert only a few percentage points of users above). Finally, the industries which you have named are not dependent on junk mail for their survival; even the USPS receives at most a third of annual revenue from the practice, and as I (and several others in the thread) have said, we would be willing to pay more in exchange for a halt to junk mail delivery.

If you have another argument to offer than supporting industry, please share it. Otherwise, I'm finished with this thread; if we're stuck on the basic point 'spam is bad,' we're never going to reach agreement.

Edit: I forgot to include my (admittedly found via random Googling) sources.

1. http://stateimpact.npr.org/new-hampshire/2011/09/27/how-junk...

2. http://environment.about.com/od/greenlivingdesign/a/junkmail...

> So they'd rather have something show up to show that "the system is working".

Haha, that's such a ridiculously poor argument. Why not just email yourself something or ask a friend to email something? How bewildered by the internet are the people you imagine? "Oh good, 'embolden my penis'. It's still working. I was worried for a second there when I closed all the internets on my screen."

Actually, at least in the U.S., the regular first class postage rates subsidize the junk mailings. That is one part of the reason why the USPS is bleeding red ink. First class mail is way down (due to electronic bill pay and email and other internet systems) and they no longer have the cash cow that was first class mail to utilize to subsidize the junk mail delivery.

I thought it was the other way around. Can you cite a source?

Title: Junk Mail's Endless Summer URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/todd-paglia/junk-mails-endless... Quote: "Our standard postage subsidizes junk mail. "

Title: Why Do We Subsidize Junk Mail? URL: http://shuthimup.mitzenmacher.net/?p=252 Quote: "So why do we pay 45 cents to mail a first-class letter while direct-mail advertisers pay only 18.5 cents? Can you say “crony capitalism?” Can you say “union busting?” This amounts to nothing more than a very costly subsidy given to the direct-mail industry, at the expense of first-class mailers,"

Title: Snail Mail Spam Subsidies Stuttering Towards A Stop URL: http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/09/08/snail-... Quote: "the USPS loses billions of dollars each year so that advertisers can send out billions of pieces of spam at below market costs."

I would pay 40 dollars a year to not get junk mail.

Well first it doesn't matter what you individually would do (because your idea would never be adopted by others who aren't bothered as much) but more importantly what about junk mail bothers you so much?

Also in theory you have a greater chance of getting your important mail if you get a lot of mail than you do if you don't get any mail at all. Because there is a bundle of mail for you.

Just theoretically: Why shouldn't we want our postal services to just be a dumb pipe? Isn't it basically a slow internet?

But that's not what is happening. Government subsidiaries (in this case, USPS) are selling lists of addresses to businesses based on one piece of knowledge: Zip codes. You provide tons of mail (literally) and a list of zip codes and USPS sees to it that the junk mail is delivered accordingly.

That's not a dumb pipe. ARIN/RIPE or Network Solutions aren't handing over lists of email addresses to spam.

you just ruined a childhood dream...

This is how direct mail companies acquire the bricks their offices are made out of.

The brick is likely put in the trash and the direct mail company isn't charged. You're mostly just annoying your postman.

And did you have to ship it as a package? I'm pretty sure it wouldn't work with a mailbox.

I used to just send them back with the entire contents of (and including) the original envelope they sent me... but with nothing filled out. I would usually try to remove any references to me. Otherwise I'd just send the empty envelope back. I figured it put the burden back on them to dispose of the trash they had sent me. But I never thought to put some heavy stuff in them. :)

True story, I had to do this to get the Good Sam (basically an RV services company) to stop mailing me. Phone calls didn't work, so the next time I got one of their mailers, I shredded the contents, stuffed them all in the reply envelope (that thing was at least a full pound - the junk was manilla-envelope sized), and added a note that says to remove me from their list.

It's been two months now, no more messages from them.

If the postage was pre-paid, why would post office mail a letter that exceeded the postage already paid?

They aren't "pre-paid" but rather "we will pay the postage, provided you return the envelope". I.e., the PO charges for the count of what comes back through the mail.

In the U.S., the postage cost is full first class rate plus a service surcharge.

For all the people saying this should be applied to email, it already has been (sort of) with LinkedIn's InMail. Basically, premium accounts for recruiters et al. get a limited number of InMails every month. If they want more, it costs something like $10 each. The trick is that the mail doesn't count unless you actually reply to them.

The end-game is that I politely reply to every recruiter who contacts me that I'm not interested. I don't make any money, but at least there's a downside for them to spam a bunch of unrelated accounts.

Not quite - if this was the same, then LinkedIn members could set a fee for recruiters to contact them and /they/ would receive the $10. However, this system is interesting - I should go reply to all those recruiters.

So to avoid spam, you sign up for a service from one of the biggest spammers in the business?

Little hack which happens to be true in my case and is 100% effective: "Thanks $NAME. I appreciate where you're coming from since I used to work in a call center myself. Good luck." "Oh, thanks, $TERMINATE_CALL_SCRIPT."

I used to work retail. Occasionally we would get telemarketer calls, I would just tell them, "We are a retail store, please stop calling us." It works as far as I can tell.

>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.

This where I started to dislike this guy. A deterrent to cold calls is great but tricking the other party to stay on the line is fraud if you ask me.

My understanding is that when an 0871 number is advertised, or at the beginning of the call, you must provide a disclaimer announcing its rates. Since he's putting this number in forms, he can't be giving them a disclaimer, which means he'd need to do the disclaimer at the beginning of the call. If he's not doing that, then yes, I would imagine that this is fraud.

You may want to look up the definition of "fraud."

fraud noun 1. wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

"He added he was 'very honest' and the companies did ask why he had a premium number."

I suppose this honesty was directed to the initial acquirer of his personal number - bank or utility supplier whatever. Once the supplier had sold his personal details on, presumably without mentioning the problem, to some unscrupulous middleman for personal data, who then sold it on via a black market to various marketing companies... I mean, does it even count as fraud any more?

As long as he's previously disclosed the fees involved with calling him, he's within the law. If the lackey who works for the would be vendor knows nothing about the fees, that's not his problem because the company had been informed.

He may be within the law however I doubt at the start of the call he tells the lackey that he has zero indent on purchasing the product/service and just wants to keep the lackey on the line.

To me that is a wrongful deception intended to result in financial gain.

That's not fraud. Let's look at the full definition.

    1. a representation of an existing fact;
    2. its materiality;
    3. its falsity;
    4. the speaker's knowledge of its falsity;
    5. the speaker's intent that it shall be acted upon by the plaintiff;
    6. the plaintiff's ignorance of its falsity;
    7. the plaintiff's reliance on the truth of the representation;
    8. the plaintiff's right to rely upon it; and
    9. consequent damages suffered by the plaintiff.
The idea of this being 'fraud' dies at the very first point. He would have to outright lie to the salespeople, though explicit or strong implicit action, to say that he was planning to buy the product. The normal expectation on a cold call is that the person listening was not planning to buy at the point of contact, and will only buy if they are very convinced.

(Yes this is the US definition but it makes it much clearer what kind of threshold you need to throw around criminal words.)

you do realize that you can commit(or be a) fraud without it being criminal, right? In fact the definition I posted was 100% copied and pasted.


Then again, if the representative can do their job and make a truly compelling pitch, maybe he'll buy their product. I think it's unfair to assume that his interest in every tele-marketed product is absolutely nothing.

>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.

For less than $7/hour? I mean, I guess it's really easy money, and it would be great for the unemployed, but to me, 9 minutes of my free time (or worse, since he works from home, his work time) is worth more than a dollar.

In fairness, I could vaguely mumble at the phone without being overly distracted from my work

You'd need to pay enough attention not to agree to anything.

"Tell me more"


"I'm not sure I get it?"


"How much does this cost?"


"Could you go over the benefits again?"


"You have me convinced, I don't want it. Bye."

Sounds like Elizer + speech synthesizer could work well here.


It would be funny, if there was an Eliza like program named Elizier

"Tell me more about X" then leave the phone on the table. They take surprisingly long to hang up.

I had a summer job as a telemarketer and learned some of the inside tricks. They maintain two "call back later" lists. If no one answers the phone, the number is put on a "call back next week" list. If someone answers but says they're not interested, their number is put on a "call back in six months" list. If the person is very rude, some telemarketers would put the number on the "call back next week" list just to annoy the person. So the lesson is don't be rude.

It's not quite the lesson if you're making money on simply leaving the phone on the table while you go about your stuff.

Frankly, if someone pisses me off enough to want me to be rude to them, I'd happily continue to be rude to them every week safe in the knowledge that I will contribute to increasing their employee churn and drive up their costs accordingly.

You might be able to keep them longer with a long recording of yourself saying "hmm... right... I see... wait could you repeat that, you cut out for a second... oh, I understand" and so on.

"So would you like me to explain the benefits?" YEP, go ahead "Would you want me to explain who uses it?" YEP, go ahead. "Would you want me to charge your CC right now?" YEP, go ahead.. Wwait... what?

http://www.linuxsystems.com.au/astycrapper/index.html - An Asterix plugin which waits untl they stop talking, then says a random phrase. You don't even have to be on the phone :)

Ideal use for soundboard apps.

Combine with speech recognition for extra fun.

Just a simple, "there's someone at the door, can you please hold?", and then leave the phone on the desk.

I'm having a serious 'now why didn't I think of that?' moment here. Brilliant :)

I think all business-to-consumer calls should be charged a premium rate that's passed on to the consumer in question as a credit off their next bill.

Rather than telling this guy he's rorting the system, we MAKE this the system.

If only there was a way to do something similar with email. My "premium" @yahoo.com account would make a killing off everyone's newsletters and drip campaigns.

That's been proposed from time to time. If everybody charged a dime to accept an email, you could email back and forth with your friends at no net cost, but spammers would be out of business.

Or alternately make the sender do something computationally expensive before their email can be accepted.


The problem is the bad guys have botnets. They're already not really paying for their CPU time.

If you require proof of work equal to, say, 3 "average modern CPU core seconds", they're still not going to send you spam because they could've sent spam to a few hundred other people in the meantime. It may not be costing them money directly, but it is a cost measured in a finite resource.

Fundamentally, the system is always going to hurt the honest people running e.g. a developer mailing list harder than spammers who can take advantage of stealing other people's resources.

The developer mailing list can digitally sign their messages with PGP, and all the recipients can add that PGP key to their whitelist. Whitelisted senders don't have to pay or do proof-of-work.

Historically "just make everyone use PGP" has been a major issue.

Totally breaks newsletters, of course.

Not if you whitelist.

Ian Ayres from Yale had a paper with similar ideas and they quoted a court case at the beginning that reads:

"[T]he right of every person ‘to be let alone’ must be placed in the scales with the right of others to communicate.” - Rowan v. Post Office Department, 397 U.S. 728, 736 (1970)


Actually, this makes a lot of sense, and I don't see why the use of premium numbers should be restricted. Why not make it part of a business model?

I should be able to get a number that costs extra to call. My time is valuable and anyone calling me should think twice whether the call is worth his money. And I don't mean just telemarketers — anyone. Getting my immediate attention should not be free or cheap, it should be expensive.

I am willing to share profits with my telco. I think telcos should make this a standard offering and let any number be switched to a premium one, with cost per minute set by the user. To avoid unexpected charges and subsequent problems they should play a recording while connecting (before actually charging for the connection), warning about the costs and explaining that holding will ring my phone and start accumulating charges.

If there was a telco offering that kind of service, I'd switch in a heartbeat.

The use of premium numbers are heavily regulated because they are subject to a lot of scams. The main consideration is that the caller needs to be aware of the cost, and there needs to be a mechanism to handle complaints. I think the regulator is exaggerating here - "eveyone" knows that 0871 numbers are charged at a higher rate, and as long as he is prepared to answer complaints and doesn't try to misrepresent the costs, he should be in the clear. For genuine companies it should not be a big deal - after all they happily call cellphones all the time.

Now, if he was using 070 numbers it'd be dicier. 070 numbers are notorious - they're basically "follow me" numbers that can be rerouted wherever you want. Except they cost 40p per minute, which means there's whole armies of women paid to hang out on chatlines and dating sites and drop 070 numbers to people because people confuse them with cellphone numbers (07x where x is 4 or above, though there are some other services like pagers too in that range). In fact, the last time I saw a "genuine" 070 number was in 2000 or so.

As for your proposed service: While you can't keep your number, in the UK you can certainly set up your own 09 number at 25p (I think) up 150p per minute, or 07 number at 40p, or the 0871 at 10p. The 09 numbers must play a recording, and most 0871 numbers will also play recordings to be on the safe side. I think that's the closest you will get - in the UK the regulator will not allow premium charges outside of the designated ranges not just because of confusion but also because if you can have premium rates everywhere, then automated blocking of premium rate numbers becomes problematic - you'd have to create an API or something to check the rate, and have everyone who wants to block premium rate numbers update their PBX's, and then it's far simpler to just keep the numbering plan.

Glad to see someone fulfilling my dream -- I called it "the money moat".

I submitted an idea like this to my previous job (phone company) -- it was not popular (what a surprise.)

Apparently toll-free solicitation calling is considered a sacred right in the US. Your inclinations be damned.

There is a probably an idea in here somewhere for businesses that receive many wrong numbers (as we do).

When someone calls and is a wrong number (they sometimes launch into an entire diatribe as if it's the first time we've gotten a wrong number like that (it's not)) we should give them a pay number to call where someone will not only listen to them but direct them to the correct place.

We've done a version of this will misdirected emails. We would email back a paragraph stating they are writing to the wrong place and include a list of paid links to the place they should really be contacting instead of us.

There's an opportunity here for a startup to provide premium DIDs for people to give out that forwards to their number and provides all the info necessary to comply with the codes.

90% of my calls are robo calls where its just silence on the other end. Whats stopping me from answering the phone when one of the bots calls and never hanging up?

Uh, is it that common, really? Where do the companies they get his number?

I don't live in the UK but I get maybe one unsolicited call per year.

I don't know why really: I'm not on any do not call lists or anything. When I get that yearly-in-the-average call of mine, I just ask if they're selling something and then tell them I never buy anything from a phone marketer which kind of leaves them hanging and soon hanging up.

I don't receive 30 a month as the guy in this article does, but absolutely get one or two a week (usually from recruiters or people "from Microsoft" who've spotted an issue with my computer).

The calls I get always say they're from "Windows".

"You mean Microsoft?"

"No, Windows"

"Microsoft Windows?"


"So you're from Microsoft then?"

"No, Windows"

"You know this might be a more convincing scam if you didn't try to make out you're my operating system?"

...and so on...

Are you working from home much? The vast majority of these junk calls happens during the daytime to early evening.

On Flextel you can set 0871 numbers up to a menu, which means that auto-diallers just hang up, but real people can get through.

They don't pay as much money though, but some 0871 numbers are free.

I think you can also set a divert on anonymous caller (number withheld)

You might be able to set two numbers to transfer to each other endlessly, unless the right pair of menu numbers is pressed.

What I find surprising is that the telemarketing systems don't appear to be filtering out the dialling of 0871 numbers.

Can we have the same solution for email address? Say you have to pay money in order to email me, that might get rid of spam!

A friend tried something like this a few years ago. He built a resume site where recruiters had to pay to contract you about a job. If you didn't respond in 24 hours they got a full refund. If you responded (even if the answer was, not interested)then you and the site shared the revenue (70/30 IIRC). Each person set their own price.

I thought it was a cool idea but he launched in 2008 just as the economy tanked and he never got any traction.

Autorespond to recruiters with a link to your "updated resume", but make it an Amazon affiliate link instead. Any purchase they make in Amazon in that same day = commission

Or sell your resume as a PDF or e-book on Amazon!

[ insert Bill Gates $1 to send emails joke ]

I believe people have talked about something similar, namely requiring cryptographic operations which are relatively cheap (time, electricity cost) to do for one email at a time, but which would make it infeasible for bulk mailing spam.

One such system is Hashcash [0], there is an extension for Thunderbird [1] which uses it.

The only thing is that legitimate mass emails (think mailing lists) will be delayed as well, unless some sort of exception is added.

  [0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashcash

  [1] http://pennypost.sourceforge.net/PennyPost

I think the standard solution for the mailing lists is the "subscription" email pays the hashcash, but has an automated way to whitelist the email upon receipt.

Only accepting encrypted email would be a start, I guess – at the very least, the sender has to know the ~1 kB for the public key and he also has to encrypt every email individually.

People have also proposed it with money; I believe the overhead has consistently been too high.

Spam filters are long overdue on phones. Thankfully where I live now someone has made an app that automatically filters out telemarketers.

It uses a crowdsourced list. Firs I set it to only warn my when of thus telemarketers called, but it worked so well that I now just block them automatically. Haven’t had to talk to a telemarketer in 4 month :)

In the Netherlands we have a Don't Call Me List (https://www.bel-me-niet.nl/ (call-me-not)). When you subscribe to the list it's illegal for companies to call you (for advertisement). Works very well.

We have this in the US, but companies use it to find people to call and hope you don't actually report them.

We have a service in the UK called TPS which is voluntary to adhere to. Companies use it as a telephone directory here too.

I'd be interested in the number of legitimate calls he gets to his landline. At some point, it's probably more worthwhile saving the cost of said landline and directing all his contacts to a mobile number / email address.

I think this is brilliant, and if I could charge people £10 a minute for ringing my landline I would. What I don't understand is why the phone agency is recommending that people don't follow his approach ... why exactly?

10p/minute, or 6 GBP per hour, is probably good enough money if you are on minimum salary (but then you don't work from home like this guy) or unemployed. I don't think it makes sense otherwise.

It's 7p/minute after the cut, and 6 pounds per hour is already below minimum wage (assuming he's 21 or over, there's lower minimums for 18-21 and below 18)

Scroll down after the comment textarea:

"If you are happy to be contacted by a BBC journalist please leave a telephone number that we can contact you on."

Leave your pay phone number ;)

Great protection against Recruiters in Silicon Valley!

One of my friends did this in London. Except he was a recruiter and was floating fake CVs to cause other recruiters to ring him. He eventually got chased down over fraud charges but nothing every ever eventuated in a legal sense (as far as Im aware).

I would love to see TV advertisements for premium numbers for recruiters to call, I can see the ad copy now ... "Want to talk to a hot hot prospect? Maybe someone who not only can program in .NET but they are an open source GOD? They hit all the right buzzwords on their CV? They not only went to the right school but they are school chums with the CEO of the company you're working for! Call 1-976-NERD-4-HIRE and get some hot candidate talk now."

Incidentally, this is similar to the free fax numbers (taking advantage of the regulatory fees that are set by the area code)

Only one question: does this exist in the US?

I can see a phone company offering you-pay-me-to-call as their core service coming up soon.

I feel this is a microcosm for our society today. Particularly in America. "Let's find a way to manipulate people into giving me money for doing nothing"

As a hardcore coder, a workaholic, and someone who came from rags to riches, I find this kind of behavior deplorable

Did you make your riches by making unsolicited phone calls to sell people stuff? I can't see why this would annoy you otherwise.

I'm assuming you're talking about the telemarketers.

This is the future. Thinking how to build a service around this.

True hacking.


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