Have you ever been online when a window pops up saying your computer has a virus and urges you to call Microsoft Support (or maybe Apple Support) at the number provided?
That’s a support scam, Microsoft says, and it’s really trying to trick you into downloading malware, or handing over your credit card info — or both.
And now one telecom programmer professional has come up with a brilliant, and hilarious, way to take these scammers offline, and possibly, put ’em out of business for good.
Roger Anderson, a telecom consultant and owner of The Jolly Roger Telephone Company, built an army of human-sounding phone bots that stops telemarketers from harassing homes or business. It’s not his main gig, he makes his living as a consultant designing telecom systems.
He built the bot army after a telemarketer called his house and used nasty language with his son, now he sells it as a service to businesses and consumers. When a telemarketer calls, you transfer the call to the bot service and the bot gabs with the telemarketer as long as the telemarketer wants, until the telemarketers figure out they are being played and hang up. It wastes their time so they’ll stop calling.
The bot says things like “yes” or “uh huh” or “I’m listening” and “Oh geez, hang on, there’s a bee on my arm. You keep talking. I’m just going to stay quiet because of this bee.”
Anderson did a hilarious TEDx talk about it in December.
This week, when his computer stumbled onto one of those support scams, a light bulb went off.
“I ended up getting a popup saying my computer was infected. I felt invaded. I thought, ‘screw that.’ Of all the people on planet, I’m probably the only guy that has the tech to make blast phone calls. And I have robots that sound like people convincingly enough to waste time,” he told Business Insider.
Anderson had never used his bot army to make outbound calls, since it “makes him nervous” to think of the evil that could be done if the technology was in the wrong hands.
So he called the number on the pop-up to make sure it was a scammer’s call center. It was. Then he had one of his bots call. The person was fooled enough for the call to last more than five minutes. (He posted some samples of the calls here. It’s like listening to a prank call.)
Then Anderson unleashed the bot army.
“I called 100 times on 20 simultaneous channels. They answered, talked to my bots. Then they started to put my bots on hold. Then they started swearing, shouting to each other, about what is going on, I could hear in background. Then I made 500 calls on 20 simultaneous channels to the number. After 300 phone, they disconnected the number,” he laughs.
It took about 15-20 minutes to put them out of business, he said. “I completely annihilated them.” Anyone else getting that pop-up with that number will find it out of service.
Anderson wrote a blog post about it and it went viral on Facebook, Reddit, and Hacker News.
And now he’s thinking of taking this to the next level, he tells Business Insider. That means letting people report Windows support scams to him, figuring out a way to verify the phone number belongs to the scammer, and then blasting them out of business with bots.
“I am going to eradicate the inbound Windows Support scam,” he vowed in post while telling Business Insider. “I personally can put a stop to the Windows pop-up scam.You report a number to me. I’ve got tools.”
He hasn’t yet worked through the details. And he’ll be asking for donations to cover the costs, since making hundreds of simultaneous calls to offshore numbers, where the scammers usually operate, will be costly, he says.
And maybe he’ll even take down other phone scams, like the IRS email phishing scam.
“I guarantee I have more [telephone] ports in my system then they have in theirs. Even if they hang up on a robot, I can congest their call center so their potential victims can’t call in.”
Here’s Anderson TEDx talk. To hear the bots annoy the telemarketers, skip to 9:21. It’s really funny.