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How to Crush RoboCall Spammers

I make my cellphone number public. If someone wants to call me, I want them to know how to reach me, anytime and anywhere. But there is an enormous downside to doing this. Several times a day, I get a call from "Unknown ID," and when I pick up, I hear something like this:

"The FBI is reporting a break-in.....every five minutes. If you want to stop thieves from..." etc.

They have me trapped. I can't avoid picking up a call that is marked "Unknown ID," because this is what the federal courts or the U.S. Attorneys use, so it might be important.

When the Do Not Call Registry first came out in 2003, it was a godsend. Robocalls and unwanted solicitors just went away. But in the past few years, thanks to modern technology, they have come roaring back. With cheap software and fake caller id's that can make them look local, they blanket the nation in aggravating calls. I've even had robocalls after 9 p.m.

What can you do? If you don't want to put up with it, I can think of two choices:

First, you can sue. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, ("TCPA"), gives consumers a private right of action. Spammers often try to get around this, saying that the marketing agency they hired were the ones who did it, not the product themselves. But courts have held the company benefiting from the robocall to be vicariously liable.

For example, in Mey v. Monitronics, a phone owner was called 19 times, only to receive the annoying message that home break-ins were on the rise, and offering a free security system. Monitronics argued it should not be held liable for the faults of a third party telemarketers.  The court disagreed.

But even if you hit one spammer, there are still many more out there.

So a computer programmer recently came up with an alternative. The Jolly Roger Telephone Co. out robo-calls the robo-callers. They created a bot that acts like an innocent  consumer earnestly wanting to talk to the marketer. The goal is to run up the time of the human sales staff and ruin the telemarketers' business plan. When a robocaller calls you, you conference Jolly Roger Telephone Co. in, and put the phone down.

A bot takes over, giving neutral responses to the sales person, drawing the person out for one minute, two minutes, as long as it takes until the sales person realizes the call is fruitless. If you do it enough, Jolly Roger says, the company will take you off their call list.

Any way you look at it, the only way we are going to get rid of these things is by citizen action - lawsuits or rebel bots.

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