Because it’s still relevant, I’ll leave my initial robocall fix idea below. But I’ve had some time to think about robocalls for a few years and I have a better idea.
Charge for every call.
Find some amount. I’d like to make it high, like a penny. One measly cent. But others have arguments to make it smaller, like a tenth of a cent. Either way, making the origination of a call actually cost something would be a game-changer. It would help to stop spam. At scale, even a tenth of a cent is daunting.
If the cost itself wasn’t an effective barrier, the potential to follow the money would maybe scare some spammers off.
Anyhow. I’ll leave my late-2019 addition there. On to the original idea from 6+ years ago.
In early November I received my umpteenth call from Rachel at cardholder services. A few years ago I wasted time filing FTC reports on these jokers in a wholly ineffective effort to thwart their incessant nagging. Of late I’ve instead taken to passive aggressively nagging them back.
How I Used to Deal With Rachel and her Cardholder Services Minions
This time, as is now my custom, I pressed whatever number would get me to a consultant to discuss the urgent scam relating to my credit cards. I then pressed mute and walked away. A few minutes later, per my routine, I picked up the phone to hang it up, but this time there’s a guy whispering all sorts of awesome stuff still on the line. So I listened for a while. He’d just started at his call center job two weeks earlier and had yet to get any training. He was bitching about the people near him and how backwards and horrible everybody and everything about his job was. Very entertaining. (He was using more colorful language than I’m willing to recount here.)
I wanted to un-mute and talk to him but decided not to. What would I have said? “Become a whistle-blower!” These $#%^ing phone spammers are breaking the law and I’d love to see some convictions. Unfortunately I (and likely most call center drones) are unaware of incentive to blow the whistle on such illegal activity, if any even exists.
FTC Robocall Challenge to the Rescue?
The FTC is planning to spend serious dough on “new and innovative ways to block these illegal calls,” and is soliciting fresh ideas via the U.S.A.’s official challenge website. They’re also offering $50,000 in prizes for challenge winners. But I recognize problems with most of the submissions. They’re either ineffective, costly, unproven, violate basic privacy or show other weaknesses. Solving this problem is as simple as the American dream itself and it’s a bargain too.
From aforementioned breathy undertones of the underbelly of the robocall world, I was able to infer that call center workers are overworked, underpaid, shown little respect and mistreated. What if we offered cash rewards for proof of illegal telemarketing activity? How much would it take? I’m guessing not much.
What person working at a thankless illegal job is going to turn down a four figure reward for ten minutes of work? IT WILL WORK. But how will we fund it? While there’s likely already a budget for this sort of thing, I understand that taxing and spending isn’t sexy these days and that we’re to rely on the private sector for things like… money. (?!)
I’ll start. If I win the challenge, I’ll donate 10% of my take to an FTC telemarketing whistle blower fund.
Won’t you join me? (Boring details for my FTC challenge submission follow. Thanks for reading!)
Project Details FAQ
Q: What is required to stop robocalls and encourage whistleblowers?
A: Funding. A website to field scam reports. Small staff to review reports. Initial marketing push.
Q: What about robocalls that don’t provide an option to speak to a human?
A: There are still underpaid minions in these shady organizations. We can turn them from the dark side.
Q: What about robocalls from other countries?
A: People in other countries like cash too. We can turn them and stop the flow of robocalls.
Q: Harumph! I hate government spending! What else would we need to crowdsource the funding?
A: If the gov doesn’t have the ability to do it already, hire somebody to use free, off the shelf, open source scripts to accept donations. Initial marketing push.When he’s not traveling or making music, Dan Dreifort likes to consult on search and usability. Dan also likes his wife even though she has neglected him for almost four years while she’s been at veterinary school. She comes back in three weeks. Dan is very happy about this.