back to article Feds salute plucky human ROBOT-FIGHTERS

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced over US$12,000 in prizes in its “Zapping Rachel” robocall contest, which was held at this year's DEFCON hacking conference in Las Vegas. The FTC has been on something of a crusade against the curse of the robocall, both because they are illegal and also because it …

  1. Charles Manning

    "The phone channel has become the weakest link in protecting individuals and businesses from scams and fraud,"

    Nonsense. Human greed is the weakest link.

    You can't cheat an honest man and all that...

    While there are people who think they can get something for nothing or can make a deal with a lawyer wanting to hide ONE HUNDRED MILION DOLARS: $100,000,000.00 there will be a people scammed... through the interwebs, phones or people knocking on doors.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "You can't cheat an honest man"

      Being honest is not a scam-prevention shield.

      Paranoia is better for that, paranoia and mistrust.

      A truly honest man will lack the instinctive mistrust one must apply to all marketing spiel and will be at risk of naively thinking that said spiel-spinner is actually proposing a good deal.

      Of course, being honest does not mean being a fool, but there are some pretty slick schemes out there and some you'll only catch on to when you've been hit by them, unless a friend warns you about it.

      On the other hand, you can only fool an honest man once. Once the honest man has you pegged as a liar and a cheat, he won't listen to you any more.

    2. Daniel B.

      You haven't been robocalled, ever? Some of these guys are extremely sneaky. I once got a call offering something free, blah blah, and suddenly they ask to confirm my personal info. Turns out that confirming your personal info is somehow warped into "accepting their service", and that's how I got rammed with a useless life insurance product or something like that. I got stuck with that for 2 years, and the only way I got out of it was by defaulting on my credit card, negotiating a "pay less than full balance, cancel my card" so that the card was forcibly cancelled and thus the scammers were no longer able to charge my now-dead CC.

      The only saving throw you have against these guys is to hang up on them. It's the only way to be sure. Once you speak, you might as well have given them a copy of your CC to charge you a new yacht.

  2. Esme


    Why can't phone companies allow users to create whitelists of numbers allowed to call them, with all others, aside from the emergency services, blocked from getting through? Such a system would avoid the need for any of the shennanigans talked about in this article.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Whitelists?

      Most phone companies already offer an answerphone serice, often as part of a standard call package. I wonder how hard it would be to adapt that so one could choose to have all calls go to that system immediately with a random(ish) message stating something along the lines of "press one to ring our customers phone, press 2 to leave a message, you have 3 seconds to" with the "menu" choices also chosen randomly to make it hard for robocallers to "listen" for keywords.

      Assuming a human pressed the correct button to make the phone ring, it would then transfer to a local answerphone or the provider answerphone as normal after the specified number of rings.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Funny that all the calls seemed to come from my town (pop. 76.000). I didn't realize we had so many call centers and employed so many with Indian accents. Even weirder that they try to convince me that Microsloth is calling from a call center right down the road from me about a virus on my computer. I always wondered why the call center had my neighbors phone number.

  4. WonkoTheSane

    Laws need to be passed

    Robocalls NEED banning in the UK.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Laws need to be passed

      Robocalls NEED banning in the UK.

      Until such time as phone companies are compelled to disclose the true line identity you're out of luck. Companies doing this tend to avoid identifying themselves until they are sure you're on the hook, and have no problem with even using a wholly different CLI to what theirs actually is.

      Secondly, those that ARE found guilty need to be handed real punishment rather than the puny money fines that merely act as encouragement. Being sentenced to live in a place with 24/7 Justin Bieber music would be a good punishment.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Laws need to be passed

        "Being sentenced to live in a place with 24/7 Justin Bieber music would be a good punishment."

        Eeeww! Just hang'em. It'd be more merciful!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The problem in the UK is compounded by acceptable, or even important, callers who suppress their number on outgoing calls. All the recipient sees is a CLI indication of "Withheld".

    Individuals might be forgiven for their personal paranoia. However it seems unnecessary for local council offices and doctors' health centres do so.

    Does not all modern switchboard equipment have the facility to program the outgoing CLI? I thought there were OFCOM directives that any business that rings people should indicate a valid number for call-back purposes?

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

      Re: CLI

      "Does not all modern switchboard equipment have the facility to program the outgoing CLI?"

      Most likely it does, if it doesn't happen automatically at the carrier.

      In my experience, the problem is where the call goes between networks - someone calling me (number not withheld) from a Virgin landline to my BT landline just shows up as "call", (although CLI does work when they phone my Vodafone mobile)...someone else calling me from a Sky landline does show CLI on my BT Landline.

  6. John H Woods Silver badge

    UK Robocalls

    In order to get anything done at all (I work from home and have a landline telephone number ending 00xx, so it's early on in the robodial lists for this area) I have an answering machine silently answer all my calls. Messages are off but the announcement informs callers of the VIP code, which will actually cause the phone to ring; not before it tells them it is for the exclusive use of colleagues, friends and family -- and threatens other users with prosecution under the Computer Misuse Act if they proceed (one great thing about the CMA, you can give prosecute unauthorized users even if they know the password).

    The machine has paid for itself many times over, fielding around 20-30 calls per working day.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can't understand why..

    they rejected my solution.

    What's wrong with the death penalty for 1st time offenders?

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: death penalty fir 1st time offenders

      "He's nothing but a low-down, double-dealing, backstabbing, larcenous perverted worm!

      Hanging's too good for him.

      BURNING's too good for him.

      He should be torn into little bitsy pieces and buried alive!" - Hanover Fiste

  8. John Savard Silver badge

    Fond Memories

    The title of this article brought back fond memories of the favorite comic book of my youth, Magnus: Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. - this was an American comic book, thus available in Canada. I don't know if the original Russ Manning art series was licensed by one of the British comic magazines, although I do know it also appeared in a German translation.

    1. unitron

      Re: Fond Memories

      I was just about to ask (with tongue firmly in cheek) if one of these robot fighters was named Magnus.

  9. Captain DaFt

    Anybody notice how screwed we are?

    First, This quote:

    "The FTC isn't going to use any of the idea to build its own system to pull the plug on robocallers. Instead it hopes private companies will use the techniques the contest produced to make products"

    Knowing Corporate mindset, the technique most likely to be used is this:

    "The second phase, which the FTC called Attacker, "called on contestants to pretend to be robocallers and work out a way to avoid honeypots built to entrap them. Jan Volzke, CEO of anti-phone spam firm NUMBERCOP took the $3,133.70 with an Android robocall-dialer named "Droid Rachel," that was able to avoid honeypots."

    FTC, what hath thou wrot?

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