Ripoff-as-a-Service: Robo-Cons From the Cloud

The low cost of the cloud attracts some riffraff. Telemarketing companies are signing up for “outbound interactive voice response” plans. In turn, we are entering the brave new world of ripoff-as-a-service (ROaaS).

  • Amy Calls Sean to Talk about Some Money
  • The Sad Truth about Amy
  • Enter Ripoff-as-a-Service (ROaaS)
  • Fighting Back – Also from the Cloud
  • Why Not Nicer-Things-as-a-Service (NTaaS)?

Amy Calls Sean to Talk about Some Money

When Sean Gallagher’s cell phone lit up one day with a number he’d never seen before, he assumed it was one of his children calling from a buddy’s phone. However, when he picked up, he realized that he was speaking with the newest Prince of Nigeria.

From the other end of the line, an eerie voice said, “‘This is Amy! … I’m a senior account representative for American Direct Services!‘”

When Gallagher asked Amy if she was a computer, she claimed that she was not. Plus, she had exciting news: she was calling to let him know that he was eligible to win $1 million… just for picking up his phone.

Gallagher was intrigued, especially since the company was local and had the word “American” in its name. Always having appreciated ladies who work at patriotic outfits, he asked her out to dinner. They lived happily ever after.

The Sad Truth about Amy

Unfortunately, that’s a lie. And so was the phone call. Amy was actually an outbound interactive voice response system probably running through the public cloud. According to Gallagher, American Direct Services is a scam organization that signs people up for fake contests and magazine subscriptions – information he derived from speaking with her manager, who also claimed to be human.

“Outbound IVR is the latest evolution of the robo-call,” Gallagher explains, “a telemarketing system that uses the technology of voice response systems we’ve used to navigate through the call queues of insurance agencies and banks and turns it around to make pitch calls.”

Typically, these services are run through voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) systems or otherwise conceal the actual line of the phone-spammer. More and more, we are chatting with computers on the phone, typically through customer support lines – although hopefully Amy gives each of us a call soon so we can have a chance at that million bucks.

AT&T patented Outbound IVR in 2006. It is now for sale from various cloud companies, including Nuance (Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Siri), CallFire, and PlumVoice. NaturallySpeaking is actually being used to write this piece, so welcome to the Matrix, everyone.

Enter Ripoff-as-a-Service (ROaaS)

One of the biggest benefits of cloud computing is its affordability. That’s obviously not ideal when it comes to robo-con operations, who can now barrage you with phone calls night and day without needing their own equipment or call-center. Furthermore, a decision in a Washington federal court has given IVR companies immunity from lawsuits if they send through calls from scam artists.

Robo-thieves play a “catch me if you can” act, unconcerned with blacklisting or do-not-call measures since they can always switch to a different number. The most recent adaptation is to use the local area code. It’s simple with VoIP – just grab a bunch of local numbers and hide behind a phone switch running through a cloud virtual machine.

“By using cloud platforms to drive these calls,” Gallagher remarks, the budget-friendliness means that they don’t have to worry as much about their success rate. Their labor costs are incredibly low since they “only have to involve a human for the targets who are gullible enough to interact with the software-driven call for a few minutes of screening questions.”

Fighting Back – Also from the Cloud

Aaron Foss may not have won $1 million from Amy, but he did get $25,000 from the FTC. The FTC likes Foss because he crafted a solution to combat robo-calls, which have been a topic of concern for the agency for years.

Foss didn’t want all of his callers to have to step through hoops to speak with him. He just wanted everything that came through on his line to be non-annoying. The trick he used, which he deployed in 2013, was simple: screen everything against a blacklist of bad guys and a whitelist of good guys – well, neutral guys at least.

In 2014, his company Nomorobo shutdown more than 15 million bogus phone calls from artificially intelligent nimrods.

“He uses cloud computing services … to block Florida timeshare sellers and fake Microsoft support gurus from the 190,000 VOIP customers who use his free product,” reports Robert McMillan of Wired. In other words, the spammers are using the supercomputer processing speeds of cloud for ripoff-as-a-service, and Foss responded with his own version of nicer-things-as-a-service.

Why Not Nicer-Things-as-a-Service (NTaaS)?

As the story of Nomorobo reminds us, ripoff-as-a-service doesn’t have to set the tone of the cloud. The real-time agility of cloud computing enables anyone to fight fire with … water. Really, nothing drives robots crazy like water. It’s their kryptonite.

Do you have a nicer-things-as-a-service solution you want to introduce to the world – or any other ideas that don’t involve fraudulent million-dollar sweepstakes? Set up and create a Flex Cloud VM for free.

By Kent Roberts