IamA guy that fights phone scammers, telemarketers, robocallers and annoying politicians. AMA!
Hey reddit, Aaron Foss here! I created Nomorobo, a service for consumers that automatically blocks illegal robocalls. It's free - I'm not trying to sell anything.
Basically, Nomorobo is like a spam-blocking service for your VoIP phones.
The service was developed for (and won!) the FTC Robocall Challenge aimed at developing tech solutions to phone spam. In 2014 alone, Nomorobo has stopped over 13 million robocalls. This year Nomorobo expanded to stop political robocalls, which are annoying but technically legal.
So why am I here?
Back in September, the National Associations of Attorneys General requested that the FCC stop playing ball with the big telecom companies. The goal is to make it easier for carriers to include spam-blocking technologies into their services. That should GREATLY reduce the amount of telemarketer spam that we receive.
Next Tuesday, I’m sitting down with the FCC and letting them know that US citizens want them to stop supporting shady telemarketers.
AMA! I'm an open book!
Update at 4:45pm: I'm outta here. Thanks everyone! I'll let you know how it goes on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, it's usually older and less savvy people that always get taken advantage of from scams like that. Look at the area code they're spoofing - Florida. But anyway...that wasn't your question.
Nomorobo looks at the incoming calls from hundreds of thousands of phone lines in real-time. Robocalling patterns stick out like a sore thumb. The phone number that called you was most definitely spoofed. But, they spoofed the same number to hundreds of people. Nomorobo has the data to detect those patterns.
Also, we have a long list of legal robocallers on our whitelist. This prevents school closings, prescription reminders, doctors appointment calls, etc. from getting blocked.
Right now, since the carriers don't want to cooperate (or can't, so they say), Nomorobo piggybacks off of the simultaneous ring feature of VoIP phones. This was my "hack" to get the product out there and helping people.
That's the main reason I'm going to the FCC on Tuesday. I think they should clarify their position and tell the phone companies that it's ok to block robocalls if consumers want it.
Thanks for the answer and thanks for doing this. We definitely need less of these calls going around.
Totally. In all honesty, the ONLY people that disagree on that point are the carriers. And, my theory, is they're making $$ carrying these calls so they don't want them to stop.
Can you expand on the simultaneous ViOP ring aspect?
Sure. That's really just my way of hacking the phone system. Without simultaneous ring, Nomorobo couldn't work unless the carriers cooperated with me.
So when are we going to see this on landlines? There's your real problem.
Google voice's spam blocking features are already pretty alright.
Also are you white-listing any charities? Some of them are the worst offenders.
Nomorobo only works on VoIP right now. Once the carriers cooperate, I hope it will be everywhere.
Charities are a tough one. You're right - they are the worst. But some people like them. Right now, they're all blocked. When we put in custom black/white lists, you'll be able to choose charities that you want to come through.
What about an asterisk PBX on a landline?
Yep! We have an API available if you're interested.
Sounds awesome, link?
Drop an email to info [at] nomorobo and we'll get you set up. It's still in beta.
What are you doing with all the data that comes in, other than screening for robo-patterns? Is it stored in any way?
The data is only used to detect robocalling patterns. A lot of people have asked for a way to view their blocked call logs so we'll be storing that data for them.
This same scam has been robocalling me for 2 years! They don't identify themselves as IRS, I don't think they legally can. They just say they're from "the government".
It's rampant. And it must be working because they've been doing it for years.
The do not call list was created over a decade ago to solve a different problem. Legit companies were trying this new "telemarketing" thing. People needed a way to get them to stop. Thus, the DNC list was born.
And it worked...for a bit.
Nowadays, the robocallers are scammers, plain and simple. Trying to scam elderly people. Trying to sell people fake security systems. It's more like email spam than "telemarketing." I have tons of these calls recorded and they're awful to listen to.
Politicians are a different case. They just want to get elected so they'll do anything they can...including carving out an exemption in the law for themselves.
Keep up the good work! Now will the phone one day be silent and not have the one ring before it gets blocked?
Hopefully! That's why I'm going to the FCC on Tuesday. I want them to clarify to the carriers that it's ok to provide robocall blocking services if consumers want them.
If we get them to say that, carriers can build robocall blocking directly into their system - just like email providers have spam filtering. And then, all these garbage calls will quietly disappear.
Is the practice of "spoofing" your outgoing number on caller ID illegal?
Spoofing a caller id to deceive people is most definitely illegal. These robocallers are breaking TONS of laws but they just don't care. The risk of getting caught is low and the reward is high.
There's actually a lot of legitimate uses for spoofing. For example, big companies, colleges, hospitals, etc spoof their caller ID all the time so you call back into the main number. This is not illegal.
Is spoofing for collection purposes legal?
Spoofing to hide your identity or confuse people is illegal. Usually debt collectors just have A LOT of phone numbers that they use. And watch out for fake debt collectors.
What do I say to tell them to f off? I usually get extremely grotesque and bitter, in hopes that makes them not call me anymore.
"Hi, I'm looking for xyz, is he available? This is abc, regarding a recent inquiry you had on remodeling your home." "Oh, that's funny, because I'm a college student, and my dad is a contractor. So why the fuck would I ever contact you, you filthy liar?"
I feel guilty, but I feel like that's the only way to fight these guys
You're just a blip on a computer screen to these guys. One of thousands of calls they have to answer. Doing anything but hanging up is usually a waste of time.
This summer we tried messing with them hard but, I too ended up feeling really guilty. The people at the other end of the line are really just trying to make a living. It's their bosses that are the scumbags.
When we pulled back from harassing them and instead just setup dumb situations, that got really fun.
We made some cartoons from the calls and we're posting them on YouTube. The first one's here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3rFlPc3b_Q
We did a bunch where were acted like we just got into a bad car crash. The people on the other end of the line didn't know what to do.
Another time, some SEO company thought they were calling a tire shop but I pretended it was an adult toy distributor. She kept trying to make the sale until the very, very end.
Are you familiar with http://www.reddit.com/r/itslenny/ ?
I've seen it - do you think the redditors over there would want to mess with our robocallers? I can send TONS of calls over if they want.
uote this 'I am not interested, I have no interest wasting either of our time, and wish to be blacklisted with immediate effect, have a nice day'
I work with telemarketing, and this is the way you can say it without being too aggressive.
That's not a bad tactic. The more legit robocalls might honor that. The more scummy ones don't really care.
Would you mind giving us a slightly more technical explanation of how this technology works? Does it answer every call? Are there false positives? What can I do not to be a false positive?
Oh yeah - I'm more than happy to get under the hood. Most people are just happy thinking it works like magic.
So here's a more technical explanation.
You put Nomorobo's phone number in your VoIP phone's simultaneous ring list. Now, every call that's made to your house also rings on the Nomorobo server at the same time. This lets it do the real-time detection.
If it's a "good" call (a friend, family member, legal robocall), Nomorobo stays out of the way (rings busy) and the call keeps ringing in your house.
If it's a "bad" call, Nomorobo answers the call (you only hear the first ring at your house) and presents the caller with an audio CAPTCHA. "This phone is protected by Nomorobo. Please enter [random 2 digit number] to be connected."
If they enter the correct number, the call is patched back to your house but the caller id is changed to Nomorobo's phone number. This process eliminates false positives and ensures that good callers can always get through but bad guys are kept at bay.
It's slightly annoying to get the single ring but it's the best I can do until the carriers cooperate.
You put Norombo's phone number in your VoIP phone's simultaneous ring list.
So this doesn't work for people using POTS?
Unfortunately, no. Traditional copper landlines and wireless phone don't have the simultaneous ring feature that Nomorobo needs to work.
Very cool! I can tell you've put some thought into this. Haha. Haha. Domo origoto. Mr. romoto.
I think that I've put more thought into robocalls than the carriers and the gov't combined :)
Your service seems interesting, but I have a question. Is there any way to customize the filter for blocking calls. One of my company's parts providers, actually does have you go through a call tree when they are calling you (I know, its weird and very annoying.) Would this be blocked and would there be a way to specify that this number is okay?
Right now it's a pretty blunt tool. Just the global black/white lists. We're launching custom lists this year so you'll have fine grained control.
In your example, that number would be allowed though so nothing would change on your end.
I'm in high school. My school does this thing where parents get automated phone calls saying what period students missed if marked absent. Would those phone calls get filtered?
I know you're still working on it but I'm just curious.
Yep - legal robocalls like that are whitelisted. Also police notifications, tornado warnings, prescription reminders, doctors appointment calls. All of those types of calls are allowed through.
And that's actually a really big part of good robocall detection system. It's easy to block ALL robocalls. It's also really dangerous. You have to be able to tell the difference between good (legal) and bad (illegal) robocalls.
Have you ever used the AT-5000 Auto-dialer (invented by Professor Frink) before?? And if so, is there a better scam to use than the old "Happy Dude" scam??
I actually used it to promote my last business, Mr. Plow.
I don't have VOIP, but I am on the national do not call list, but I keep getting a phone call from "Rachel from Cardholder Services", and they ask me to press 1 to lower my interest rate. They call at least 3 times a day from different numbers from all over the country. Every time I block one number on my phone, another one surfaces. It's a never ending game that is driving me mad. Any suggestions as to how I can stop this? I understand it doesn't work with your VOIP app, but you might have some insight.
Unfortunately, the only thing that actually stops them is Nomorobo. Would you be willing to port your number to a VoIP carrier? Ooma actually has Nomorobo built in.
How can you report someone that keeps calling you? What can I say to make them not call back?
Are they calling from the same phone number all the time or is it always different?
Not who you're responding to with this, but I also get ones from different numbers but it is the same people. I have multiple of their numbers on my auto-reject list yet I still get calls from both the ignored and new numbers.
Yep - they change numbers CONSTANTLY thoughout the day. Take this robocaller for example - 1-786-450-9028. They used that number for 26 hours last week (1/8/15-1/9/15) and then stopped.
And nomorobo stops the calls when they switch numbers rapidly as well?
Yep. There's also a trick where they spoof your own number when they call you. It's sneaky but also easy to block. They keep trying all different things.
Don't have caller ID, its on my landline at work.
Unfortunately, there's really not much you can do. All the common advice is dumb. Don't answer calls you don't recognize. Hang up when they call. That's why we need better tools to block these kinds of calls.
I was getting calls like this three times a day and would hang up. Finally I started taking the calls and would opt to "connect to an operator" and just try to keep them on the phone as long as possible. After a few incidents I stopped receiving them so often but they eventually came back.
If you answer enough of the calls, you'll see that certain operators aren't allowed to hang up. I don't know if that's how they're paid or what but as long as you stay on the line, they will too.
Honestly, I can think of better ways to spend our time but a lot of people get their kicks from this kind of thing.
In my case, the phone number is always different - except there is a trend: the first six digits are always the same. Since I positively do not know anybody else with a number remotely close to mine, I know right away whoever calling me is a motherfucker.
Yep - that's a pretty common tactic. Nomorobo isn't blocking it yet because there's a little too much room for it to block legit calls. We've also see the numbers being almost exactly the same except for the last 1 or 2 digits. This is a battle and the tactics keep changing - just like email spammers.
Quote this 'I am not interested, I have no interest wasting either of our time, and wish to be blacklisted with immediate effect, have a nice day'
I usually say everything you said but I add "eat a dick" at the end. They still call back.
As a telemarketer, I can confirm that you get flagged as a "callback" for that behavior.
Oy. So this actually does happen?
Totally agree. That's what I also was saying in another comment. Messing with the person on the other end of the robocall is misguided. They're (usually) just trying to make some cash. It's the boss(es) that we should be going after.
Hands down, Chik-fil-a. Too bad they're not here in NY.
Legend tells of a secret Chik-Fil-A buried deep within NYU, but I've never seen it. http://www.chick-fil-a.com/nyu
When I was in TechStars, I walked past NYU one day and saw a Chik-fil-a wrapper on the ground. Me thinks you're correct.
My parents have been Nomorobo users from early on and absolutely love it. Please keep it free!
My question is about cell phones. I tend to get spam texts more and more these days. Any ideas for future growth into the mobile space?
I hear that a lot - who still has landlines? Parents :)
I'd love to go into the mobile space but they don't have the simultaneous ring function that I need to get around the carriers. There are some apps - NumberCop & Call Control pop to mind - that can help on Android devices. Apple prevents apps from intercepting calls so robocall blocking on iPhones is impossible right now.
And that's a big reason I want the FCC to come out and say to the carriers that it's ok to block robocalls. This will really help solve these kinds of problems.
Do you have any plans to expand to other countries?
Canada has some robocall issues and I've been working with the CRTC to get up there.
Do you know if other countries have this problem?
Australia... But good luck with our twat of a PM.
You know - you're not the first to mention about Australia's robocall problem. It's my guess that EVERY country will have this issue at some point.
I think it's just easier for them to carry all calls. They have the network capacity so it's not a huge additional cost for them.
But, as more and more people become aware that there are solutions to this problem, they'll have to start taking it more seriously.
I don't know enough about the inner workings of telcos to say if they'd want to buy Nomorobo or do it themselves. Maybe some combination of both.
How do I stop the robocalls that just say "Goodbye" when I pick up?
Those are weird. We hear them all the time here. It's some sort of bot that's trying to find victims.
The only good option right now is to use Nomorobo.
Hey Aaron, thanks for doing this ama!
I was wondering your thoughts on the new breed of telemarketing software used mostly by out sourced phone teams with the complex soundboard:
I'm sure over time your system can combat this if not does already but do you believe that companies using advanced systems like this make it harder to defend against.
Thanks for your time and answers!
Edit: best of luck with the FCC!
When I first heard this tactic I said, "This is the future of phone spam."
Foreign accents usually give robocallers away. These sound super crisp and really legit. You have low paid, offshore workers pushing buttons on their soundboard. Then they'll get transferred to shady domestic call centers to complete the scam.
I'm terrified of the implications of this kind of technology.
what is the legality of conducting sales calls under the guise of an automated script?
i used to work for a call center in canada and it was my job to sell identity theft insurance to RBC credit card holders all over the country. Basically it was my job to read the persons name and then (based on there response) play automated pre-recorded messages under the guise of a man named "jason spearing" (just google jason spearing rbc and you'll see a lot of complaints) at no time was the consumer told they weren't actually speaking to a human, but i did control what messages were played and what at what time. i no longer work there and i always wondered if that kind of deception was legal or not.
I'm not the OP, but out of curiosity, why play messages instead of read the prompts yourself?
the company had a motto "magic phone theory" basically if you play the "same message" to the "same people" (rbc clients) you should get the "same results"...same message + same people = same results.
the script is professionally done and doesn't sound half bad if you listen to the whole thing, there are rebuttals, simple answers, hell i could press L and it would start laughing in case whoever i was talking to said something funny.
basically for maximum consistency they entirely removed human error, minus the fact i had to listen to 2 calls at once and respond correctly within 0.25 seconds to sound more natural.
they knew if they weren't getting the numbers they wanted it wasn't the way the message was relayed, but operator error/bad luck
It's all a numbers game. And if you can increase operator efficiency, you can increase profits. Even fractions of seconds can mean big bucks.
Can I put my number on a "call-me" list? I've always enjoyed messing with people who make those calls.
What's the most/least fun thing so far?
E-just noticed you said you'll be telling the FCC that we don't support such calls. Do we inadvertently support them somehow?
We get a lot of robocalls here - I'll gladly send you all of them. This past hour we blocked 6,894 calls. How many do you want?
Most fun? Hearing that people love my product and that it's made a positive impact on their lives.
Least fun? Paying my phone bill every month.
Favorite food? See my previous comment - Chik-fil-a.
As far as the FCC, I'm going down and telling them that people want the power to choose to block these calls and that they should let the carriers make it available.
Do they have general summaries or videos of the proceedings? I would love to watch it or read a transcript or something
I've never done this before so I don't know what they'll make public. I'll try and get as much as I can.
Sign up for anything on the internet that requires your phone number such as the Win a iPad ones
Just please remember, there is a living person on the other end.
Those are HUGE sources of numbers for robocallers. Yeah, don't give your number to any of those guys.
Thanks so much for your work! Have you heard of Lenny? He's actually increased the volume of telemarketing calls I receive, not the reverse, but I'm ok with that because he's pretty entertaining.
I've seen this subreddit but never participated. I could totally do these kind of things.
Do you believe Wireless providers will ever support the simultaneous ring feature if the customers ask for it? It seems like it is in their best interest to allow such spammers as it uses valuable minutes.
I do. If enough people ask, the carriers will eventually have to listen. And the best case would be if one carrier gets on board. Then they'll all have to fall in line.
What is the best way to get telemarketers to stop calling me?
Use Nomorobo. That's the only way that I've seen that works.
Woah Woah Woah you said you fight these people, not block them! If you could fight these people how and why would you do it?
I'm a lover, not a fighter.
would you rather fight one horse sized duck, or one hundred duck sized horses?
If I stepped on the duck sized horse, would it quack or neigh?
Probably way late to this party but very interested in this topic.
Does your system have a way to block number spoofing? Seems like its becoming a large problem, I'll get the same call (usually a hang-up) from a many different numbers, almost everyday. I individually block numbers but of course they keep getting through because they just spoof a different one. So does your system work only off the caller ID or does it have a way to know where the call was actually routed from?
In my world, EVERY number is spoofed. I don't really have a way to tell the difference between a legit caller id and a spoofed one.
BUT - just because you can fake the number, you can't fake the pattern. Those "many different numbers" that call you also call a lot of other people. That's a big part of the detection algo - having enough data to see patterns across millions of calls.
'm not positive if this is anything you're referring to, but please hear me out. Over the past year, i've been getting an increasing number of phone calls from random numbers. The thing is, there's never any voicemails left, and if i pick up the call ends right away. I have no idea what this is and can't imagine what the purpose of it would be. It happens about once a day. Do you have a clue as to what this is? Any insight on what this is and how to put an end to it would be greatly appreciated. I've tried searching for an answer to no avail.
This is completely a theory of mine. I have no quantitative data to support it but...
I think there's a group of phone spammers who's only job is to scan all the phone numbers and see which are valid numbers. They then sell these lists to the robocallers.
It's a numbers game - calling all 1 billion phone numbers can take a long time. Spammers are looking for fresh, juicy live numbers. Not just to call every number sequentially.
That's really just a guess though.
How do those scams where the scammer ask you to deposit a check for them work? That makes zero sense to me
It's a bogus check. They ask you to deposit it for them and then give them half the money, in cash. You can keep the other half.
Until the bank realizes it's a bogus check and takes the full amount out of your bank account. You're out the rest of the money.
There's a lot of scum bags out there.
I'm sorry I missed you on your AMA, but in case you check back later: will nomorobo block political calls? I know that might handicap your ability to get congressional approval for what you want in the long run, but the political calls annoy me more than the scammers.
If not, do you have any advice/tricks to help me block them on my own without having to use nomorobo or any other service that's trying to win the approval of the politicians behind the political calls?
Nomorobo DOES block political robocalls. While they are legal, Nomorobo users begged me to get them blocked. Not one politician noticed or cared.
Here's a call we blocked by Robo-Newt Gingrich where he accuses Obama of letting terrorists in through Mexico:
I'm a non-tech inclined old F#~*T and want to know what others like me can do to help?
I deal with a lot of non-tech people. That's why I tried to make the setup really easy. I spoke with an 82 year old grandmother in NJ that was able to set it up. If you can't get it working, reach out to our support dept. They're fantastic and will get you setup.
If you sign up for something, let's say home security. And you are getting harassed by numerous phone calls from a lot of companies. Can you use this to block the calls?
The numbers that are calling you are probably harassing a lot of other people and are probably on our list.
How exactly does Nomorobo block robocalls?
Just the other day I got a call from someone in India pretending to the the IRS and demanding that I "talk to her about my serious settlement issue" which considering the call came from a number in Florida and they spoke in broken English is just sad.
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