If you hate telemarketers and robocalls, you're not alone. 

Now a growing group of people, fed up with the seeming inability of government and technology to defeat them, are taking matters into their own hands. In some cases, one call at a time.

(Update: Or else, we could just do this.)

The problem is well-known. We're all being inundated with these spam calls and marketing messages, and it will only get worse. Next year, half of the incoming calls on your cell phone will either be pure scams or at least an unwanted sales pitch. 

According to one anti-robocall app (see below), there were 5.24 billion robocalls in the U.S. in November 2018. That's 20 for each man, woman, and child in the country.

But if you've reached the point where you don't even answer the phone anymore, then maybe there's another solution: join the widespread friendly conspiracy to waste telemarketers' time and destroy their business model.

I wrote recently about Lenny, a voice chatbot that answers telemarketers with a series of rambling, generic questions designed that make it seem like he's just a sweet, somewhat inattentive octogenarian. The ensuing calls are hilarious in a lot of cases.

In all cases: telemarketers waste precious time, as the minutes tick by before they realize, if ever, that they're dealing with a robot.

The only real problem with Lenny is that he (it) is not available for everyone to use. So, I suggested only half-jokingly, people might try using a "manual Lenny," meaning answering telemarketers' calls as if it were all a big game, offering nonsense, and basically just outlasting them.

It's important to have a hobby. At the time, I admit I thought that idea was -- well, fanciful.

Maybe people would try it once or twice, but in the long run it wasn't much more scalable than Lenny (since only Lenny's creator can currently use that chatbot).

Boy, was I wrong. The "manual Lenny," if we can call it that, has become something of a true, even profitable pastime for some people, writes James R. Hagerty at The Wall Street Journal.

They practically compete to see how long they can keep telemarketers on the line, and have created an entire genre of YouTube videos as a result. And if they enable ads, they can make a lot of money at it.

Take for example, this video in which the call recipient tries to work as many movie quotes into his conversation with an IRS scammer as possible.

He gets up to 29. My personal favorite is when a partner challenges him to work in The Karate Kid, and he responds by confirming his address to the IRS scammer, and adding that he's next door to a car wash called "Wax On, Wax Off."

The video has more than two million views.

Another YouTuber Hagerty cites, Troy Hunt of Australia, has a 39-minute magnum opus in which he strings along a scammy telemarketer to the point that you start to feel bad for her.

Well, I did anyway.

Bottom line: The manual Lenny might not be scalable, but it's a lot of fun, and it does put a crimp in telemarketers' style. 

If that's not enough for you, we've got apps. This one, and this one, and this one.

Because one way or another, we'll defeat telemarketers together. It's our collective destiny.

And now, I predict we'll have fund doing it.

Published on: Dec 21, 2018
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