In context: Despite the US Federal Communications Commission "cracking down" on robocallers, the problem has far from gone away. The situation continues to plague consumers, with national averages of around 14 monthly calls per phone number. Most are either borderline or outright scams preying on the naive and the elderly.
Even for those aware that the caller is attempting a scam, the annoying interruptions are disruptive and time-consuming. Many people screen their calls and send unknown numbers to voicemail or ignore them, but even that requires them to stop what they're doing and check if it's a legitimate call.
One man in Monrovia, California, is fighting fire with fire. Roger Anderson, the owner of Jolly Roger Telephone Company, uses bots powered by ChatGPT and a voice cloner to keep telemarketing scammers on the line for as long as possible, wasting their time and costing them money. But he doesn't do this solely for his own entertainment. His business allows regular people to use his system for a reasonable fee.
Setting it up is fairly easy. Once you have a $25-per-year subscription, you enable call-forwarding to a unique number created for your account. Then, you can let the bots handle the robocalls or use the "Merge" feature to create a conference call and discreetly listen to the hilarity that ensues as the scammers try to get the bots to cooperate.
There are various voices and bot personalities available. For example, "Whitey" Whitebeard is an elderly curmudgeon who tends to drone on and on, complaining about the subject at hand or getting distracted by background activities. Salty Sally is bot designed to act like a stay-at-home mom who constantly asks the caller to "repeat that" or "start over" due to the unruly kids she yells at in the background. The callers are not talking directly to ChatGPT. Jolly Roger uses the OpenAI bot to analyze what the speaker is talking about and then selects canned messages pertaining to the subject.
The voices sound human, but the phrases can be repetitive and unnatural, often going off-topic or talking over the caller, breaking the illusion. However, they usually work well enough to keep an anguished scammer on the line for up to 15 minutes, especially if they think they're about to persuade the person to provide credit card information. Check out how Whitey keeps stringing a Dish Network scammer along until he finally has a profanity-strewn meltdown at the end of the nearly 10-minute call (above).
Jolly Roger is not the first to use this trick to scam the scammers. A chatbot named Lenny has been giving robocallers their comeuppance since 2008. However, Lenny is not as effective since it doesn't recognize when a key press is needed to reach a human – a prevalent practice these days. The Wall Street Journal notes that auto-dialers can make about 100 calls per second, and the telemarketer only gets on the line if there is a human response, such as a key press.
On the contrary, if the autodialer recording is talking over the Jolly Roger bot, it will recognize this and "push" the most common pass-through keys to prevent the dialer from hanging up. Lenny can't do this, but it is free to use – simply forward or merge your calls to (347) 514-7296. Alternatively, visit the Jolly Roger website to browse the FAQs, sign up for a 30-day trial, or listen to more example calls.