Hello, this is Lenny
September 1, 2015 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Phone bot keeps Canadian campaign volunteer on line for eleven minutes Lenny is a bit hard of hearing, has some meddlesome daughters (and ornery ducks), and is also not actually human. But perhaps he'd still take a Conservative campaign sign for his lawn?
posted by MACTdaddy (49 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are 170 Lenny clips.

Good for Lenny, because campaign volunteers and questionnaires have taught me one thing: don't ever answer any of them.

Because once you do, you're added to databases of "people who will actually spend 20 minutes on the phone to answer surveys." The latest one we received was some nonsense about the Hillary Clinton email servers, complete with trick questions (trying to bore people into not paying attention when they changed the order of preference at the end of the survey, and thus saying you're against whatever it is they wanted you to be against).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:48 AM on September 1, 2015


Lenny's homepage, if you want to use him yourself on your own (voip only) phone. You can even install him on your own PBX if you're running some of the more common freeware ones.

This has been all over the place in Ottawa in the last few days. Certainly isn't helping Poilievre.
posted by bonehead at 10:50 AM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


So is a person driving Lenny, or does it just sit there and fire off a clip completely at random whenever it hears the line go quiet?
posted by Naberius at 10:50 AM on September 1, 2015


This is awesome. I love the vague ways he NEVER ADDRESSES WHAT SHE IS ACTUALLY ASKING but completely keeps the conversation going as if they are actually interacting. Kind of like politicians.
posted by chococat at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


Good lord. I know people who talk like this.
posted by Mogur at 11:05 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lenny sounds a bit like Wallace of Wallace and Gromit.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:05 AM on September 1, 2015


I, too, was wondering how Lenny was implemented. I think it's the same technology that implements help line "phone trees", which can (automatically) play pre-recorded messages, listen for responses, and even do some limited voice recognition and vary the response they play based on that. I think they just kept Lenny's messages very non-specific.

I also found this code for Lenny:

[Lenny]
exten => talk,1,Set(i=${IF($["0${i}"="016"]?7:$[0${i}+1])})
same => n,ExecIf($[${i}=1]?MixMonitor(${UNIQUEID}.wav))
same => n,Playback(Lenny/Lenny${i})
same => n,BackgroundDetect(Lenny/backgroundnoise,1500)


which makes me think it's implemented in dBaseIII.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:06 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apparently, after a bit more digging, the toao.com one is a customized version (with added ducks among others) used in the call linked. He recovered it from an older version that seems to have fallen off the net.
posted by bonehead at 11:07 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


benito.strauss, that looks like an Asterisk call file to me.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


Man, I would pay to have this installed on my line. Poilievre is the only politician I hate more than Harper.
posted by sneebler at 11:12 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks Elvis.
Asterix is an open source framework for building communications applications. Asterisk turns an ordinary computer into a communications server. Asterisk powers IP PBX systems, VoIP gateways, conference servers and other custom solutions. It is used by small businesses, large businesses, call centers, carriers and government agencies, worldwide. Asterisk is free and open source.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:14 AM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh my god this is fantastic software.
posted by odinsdream at 11:22 AM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Check out the subreddit It'sLenny for more calls and commentary. Whenever I answer an obvious telemarketing call, I'll 3-way call it into the outside line for Lenny. Mango, the operator of the Asterisk system hosting Lenny does a nice job of moderating the calls, selecting the best ones for posting to YouTube.

Here's a call I forwarded where the scammer gets very abusive very quickly (and actually called me back after hanging up to further abuse Lenny.) And this one is stunning in how little Dillon hears what Lenny is saying (for over 30 minutes!).

I used to feel bad for wasting the time of these folks. But after a 30+ minute call of Dillon trying to sell something to someone who obviously shouldn't be making decisions like this, and the short call of the scammer cursing at Lenny for just being Lenny, I don't feel bad at all.

What we really need is more voices and personalities (a library of Lennys, if you will), so that the scammers don't catch on so quickly.
posted by ensign_ricky at 11:50 AM on September 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


Surely there's an Android app for this?
posted by blue_beetle at 12:01 PM on September 1, 2015


my god this is incredible, this is a work of art. I feel so bad for the people who are "tricked" into wasting their time like this, but I take comfort in the knowledge that it's just desserts for us having to sit through robo phone operators.
posted by rebent at 12:02 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it sounds like it's not even as smart as I thought. It just goes through the same responses in the same order. But it still works.
posted by Naberius at 12:06 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


So it sounds like it's not even as smart as I thought. It just goes through the same responses in the same order. But it still works.

It's arguably smarter, just in a totally different way.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:08 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


This reminds me very much of that time Arnold called Gateway Computers.
posted by Existential Dread at 12:08 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


So it sounds like it's not even as smart as I thought. It just goes through the same responses in the same order. But it still works.

Well, that... that does sound good. I mean, you have been very patient with an old man. It is something that I've been told I should be looking at.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:19 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Save your drama to your mama!"

I don't understand why the scammer in ricky_ensign's "abusive" link stays on the line for so long! You'd think that the first time you tell a client to go fuck himself would be the moment you hang up. You're not coming back from that.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:29 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used to feel bad for wasting the time of these folks. But after a 30+ minute call of Dillon trying to sell something to someone who obviously shouldn't be making decisions like this, and the short call of the scammer cursing at Lenny for just being Lenny, I don't feel bad at all.

Here is my logic on that: I have taken every legal measure available to me to let people know preemptively that I do not want solicitation calls by putting my number on the state and federal no call lists.

There are legal exemptions for non-commercial calls, so it's not illegal for them to call (necessarily), but it's still rude as fuck. They're still bothering me, using a service I pay for to communicate with family, friends, and business contacts; and when I get any kind of unsolicited call or visit in my home, that person is making a choice to interrupt whatever it is I happen to be doing at the time with their shit. That is just inherently disrespectful. I don't care what it's about.

I still feel a little sympathetic to the people calling for technically legal purposes, as long as it's not actually a cover for fraud (which almost all charitable and many political and survey calls are), but I tell them that I don't work for free, so unless their survey or whatever will pay my going rate, I'm not doing it.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:45 PM on September 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm astounded that anyone actually answers their phone these days if they don't recognize the number of the incoming call.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:45 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks to a previous thread I have Nomo Robo running on my phone. The sudden end to 99% of the scam callers is wonderful. But. The idea of jerking them around in this quietly malacious way would be fun.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:49 PM on September 1, 2015


Don't even with that "lol why you answer your phone?" crap.

I answer my phone because I am an adult and I have received many emergency calls from family and friends, often from strange and unknown numbers. I have even had to pick up someone else's sick child at school for them because the call came from an unrecognized number so they didn't answer.

Shit happens. People have emergencies and sometimes have to call from strange numbers because their cell phone died or is out of range or maybe a stranger is calling you to tell you someone needs you.

Some people have clients and coworkers who call from different numbers they don't recognize. Some people are job hunting. Some people don't even have caller ID.

I hate it when people say that kind of thing. Hate it. Someone has to be the grownup and deal with unexpected things, so don't be bragging that it isn't you.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:54 PM on September 1, 2015 [34 favorites]


I have stayed on the line long enough to get the guy to swear at me, but by that time he'd already wasted 20+ minutes on the fairly elaborate Microsoft Spam script, so he felt that I deserved a good cussin'. What really gets them going is explaining slowly that most Indians don't have names like "Brad Taylor" or "Simon Easthope", and it's pretty unlikely they're calling from Ohio.
posted by sneebler at 12:55 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I wish there was a way to get these edited to have Lenny out of them. His responses are great and the voice acting is superb, but after two or three calls it's getting annoying listening to it over and over again.

I find people's different reactions to this fascinating though. This is so great. Do any of our local Lenny aficionados know of any calls where Lenny gets called out for being a robot?
posted by mayonnaises at 1:24 PM on September 1, 2015


"Save your drama to your mama!"

I don't understand why the scammer in ricky_ensign's "abusive" link stays on the line for so long! You'd think that the first time you tell a client to go fuck himself would be the moment you hang up. You're not coming back from that.


arcticwoman, it got even stranger than that. I don't have a recording of it (unfortunately), but the same scammer called me back within a second or two after hanging up from the first call! When I answered the phone, he started cursing and yelling immediately. So I became Larry, Lenny's angry grandson and yelled and cursed back at him. The caller certainly had some unresolved anger issues that Lenny (and I) didn't help.
posted by ensign_ricky at 1:35 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I prefer it more when it is directed to scammers like ensign_ricky's examples. It is much more satisfying when Lenny answers one of those Microsoft Virus scam phone calls, and the guy gets madder and madder when the Lenny won't turn on his computer so the jerk can try to trick him into downloading a trojan horse.
posted by eye of newt at 1:43 PM on September 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just last week I got a call from the same "credit card services" guy!

It was not yet noon and I had already gotten two other scam calls - one from "windows services", and another from the "congratulations, you have won a free cruise" guys. I had just gone to the FCC Do Not Call web page to check that my number was still on the list (it is) when my phone rang again. It started with a robocall message telling me to press 9 to talk to a service rep to lower my credit card rate, so for the hell of it I did instead of hanging up like I usually do for robocalls.

The guy (I swear it was the same one in the clip ensign_rickey posted) answered, and as soon as he paused , I said "This is really an amazing coincidence that you called just now. I just happen to be online at the FCC complaint page for spam telemarketing calls. If you'll just give me your company's name and phone number, I can complete the form right now." His response? "Go Fuck Yourself!". I said "I beg your pardon?", and he came back with " I SAID, GO - FUCK - YOURSELF". At that point, I started laughing and he hung up.
posted by TwoToneRow at 1:48 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is unbelievable. While I was typing the posting above, my phone rang. Caller ID said "Thor IA", so I didn't answer (don't know anyone in IA). I just googled the phone number and found out that it is the "microsoft support" scam via the 800Notes web site.

I get several of these a week. At first I ignored them or just hung up when they started their spiel, but a couple of times I've asked them whether or not they feel bad about working for a company that preys on the elderly. When they insist that they are not a scam, I tell them that I teach computer science at University level (true) and know all about how their scam works, and to please not call again.

Damn -- here's another one right now -- caller ID says "Santa Ana, CA". 800Notes says it's the windows scammers again. Not gonna answer.

It looks like if you engage these guys, they call you more often to get even, which doesn't make much sense -- if they know they're wasting their time, why bother? Maybe they're passing my number along to other people in the same call center that they don't like just to fuck with them.
posted by TwoToneRow at 2:05 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


How can anyone possibly feel sorry for these criminals who are trying to steal money from people who can't afford it? When I get the Microsoft calls, I tell them :"You are a liar. You are scum. Does your family know how you cheat people? Is your mother proud of you?" And so on.

But now that I've heard Lenny, I may try a different approach.

What's that? I didn't quite catch what you said. Can you repeat that?
posted by CCBC at 2:11 PM on September 1, 2015


Just so we're clear, this is the MP on who's behalf the call was made:
""My view is that we need to engender the values of hard work and independence and self reliance [in Aboriginal people]. That's the solution in the long run -- more money will not solve it."

Poilievre delenda est.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have a Windows XP VM that I clone for the Microsoft scammers if they call. I make it as primitive as possible (little RAM, VGA video), connect my host to a barely reachable AP and let them take a run at it. If I were patient enough and had the time, I'd lash a USB modem to it. It's a honeypot that keeps them busy for a while while I run Wireshark on the host to see what they're doing. Alas, they've stopped calling me.
posted by ensign_ricky at 2:48 PM on September 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


TwoToneRow, I think the combination of low cost per call and poor management of prospects makes for all of these annoyance calls. I get (perfectly legal) calls from the NRA all the time. I tell them that they are calling the wrong household, and to please take me off their list. But they don't, I'm guessing because they don't have to and because it's cheap to ignore my request.

And the DNC list only helps a teeny bit if you are getting calls that originate in the US. It doesn't help you at all if the calls originate from overseas and are spoofing a US number. And the scammers are getting better at that, in that most of the scam calls that I get originate from my area code. So they are spoofing a random number in your area code to increase the likelihood that you will answer it.

Alright, I don't feel bad about Lenny at all anymore.
posted by ensign_ricky at 2:57 PM on September 1, 2015


Poilievre delenda est.

One can hope!
posted by chapps at 3:10 PM on September 1, 2015


It looks like if you engage these guys, they call you more often to get even, which doesn't make much sense -- if they know they're wasting their time, why bother?

It's because they work for $5 a day in a boiler room supervised by assholes. Some of them are so brow beaten they won't deviate one iota from their script even when you make it clear you know exactly what's going on.

Lately I've been saying things like, "Look, I know you're calling from India and your employer has no respect for either of us. I'm very sad that you have to run this scam for those jerks just to feed your family. I know things aren't easy, and if there was some way I could help you I would, but I'm not giving you any information." Usually they just hang up anyway.
posted by sneebler at 3:21 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I have the time to talk and the inclination, I do my own "Lenny." Lenny says "yes" too often for my script. Since the cold caller is working from a script, and that script is designed to get me to say "Yes," to whatever the questions is, I can dance all around with my response, but I NEVER say yes to anything. In fact, I ALWAYS answer a question with a question.

Example: "Hi, I'm Jessica, calling from AT&T. How are you doing today?"

"Jessica, why is it of interest for AT&T to know how I am doing today? Are you tapping my phone? How do you know so much about me?"


Alternate: "Thanks for your concern. Well, the doctor SAYS I'm in remission, but today it doesn't feel like I am. But I'm glad to hear that AT&T knows about my diagnosis and wants to help. How will AT&T help me with my illness?"


My goal is to get the caller to hang up on me, and it always works.
posted by Repack Rider at 3:22 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


We really don't know how well the DNC lists work, but remember before them, when you'd get all kinds of calls from 'legitimate' companies, too? Remember the long distance wars, when you'd get call after call after call from different providers asking to switch your service?

At least now that we have the DNC list, you've only got the fraudsters calling you. Without it, I suspect it would be a lot worse than it is, because you'd be getting all the fraud and "non-commercial" calls you're getting now, and you'd be getting calls from real businesses on top of that. It just keeps getting cheaper and easier to do mass calling and mass solicitation, and the DNC is very likely helping a lot more than most people think. (I have a vague notion that the situation is similar in Canada, but I am an American, so I feel like I've done enough with the 'knowing that Canada exists' part.)

Another thing that helps is for people to actually do something about the illegal calls they get. Some of the callers are difficult to track down and out of reach of the laws they're violating, but there are some traceable and reachable companies doing this as well, so people who report the calls and/or sue or harass persistent telemarketers for violations are doing a valuable community service.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:28 PM on September 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Poilievre delenda est.

He's in a new riding this time around, but it seems to be a pretty safe seat. Barring a sweep, this seems unlikely. He's in the Ottawa version of the 905 belt. Very minivan conservative.
posted by bonehead at 3:30 PM on September 1, 2015


It's kind of the same in Canada in that we have a DNC list and you can report violations. We might also do some actual mole-whacking, although that might mean arm-twisting the phone companies to to a better job of screening long-distance callers.

Just kidding! I'm actually writing to you from the Matrix. I'm wearing a Maple Leafs hockey jersey and drinking a beer that says "Canadian" on it. Aren't I?
posted by sneebler at 3:33 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's because they work for $5 a day in a boiler room supervised by assholes. Some of them are so brow beaten they won't deviate one iota from their script even when you make it clear you know exactly what's going on.

Here's my fantasy: When you get a call from a spammer, you say "Listen, when you get off work tonight, go to this web site on your home PC ....", and give them an easy to remember URL. When they visit the page, they find there an offer to become a whistleblower on their bosses by giving information about the scam operation's location, its owners, its modus operandi, etc. In return for providing the information they are offered a reward, say $1000, payable when and if the scammer is fined and/or shut down. Would-be whistleblowers wouldn't have to give their name, instead, they could enter a code phrase that they could use to claim the reward later. Now here's the catch -- only the FIRST person to blow the whistle would get paid the full reward amount. Later whistleblowers would get a smaller payout, and the amount would go down quickly. For example: First Whisleblower gets $1000, second gets $500, third gets $250, next five get $50. After that, nothing.

Now imagine what happens when word starts to get out. Say you are working for $5 a day, you'd be looking at 200 day's pay for helping shut down the operation of the assholes that you work for. Sure you'd be out of a job if that happened, but 200 days should be time to find another one. Also, you'd know if you didn't jump on the deal, there's a good chance that someone else will beat you to it and then you'll be out of a job anyway and with nothing to show for it. Not to mention that if someone gets fired for some reason, they'd be on the deal in a heartbeat. I'd expect there would be a bunch of people fighting to get jobs in scam calling centers just so they'd have the opportunity to turn them in as soon as possible.

Of course, the issue is where would the money come from. If the FTC set up a system like this, they could pay the informers out of the fines that they sue the companies for. I suppose that would only work for U.S. spammers that they can actually sue. For that matter, even if a spam calling operation is out of the U.S., you would think that there is someone in the states that has at least a hand in making the operation work (maybe in the telcos)? Maybe they could fine them instead?

Other government departments have programs that reward whistleblowers for information about tax and services procurement fraud, so there are precedents for this kind of thing. Maybe the FCC and or FTC should get in on this action as well?

In case anyone from the FTC or FCC is listening, I've got web design and database experience and would happily volunteer to work on helping set this up. Just give me a call -- but be sure you give me a number to call you back at, or else I'm going to assume you're a scammer!
posted by TwoToneRow at 5:13 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to work for a Major Computer Company as phone support and this sounds exactly like about 20% of my calls.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 5:41 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


And the scammers are getting better at that, in that most of the scam calls that I get originate from my area code. So they are spoofing a random number in your area code to increase the likelihood that you will answer it.

I don't know if it was weird happenstance or a gambit that some scammer reckoned was a novel idea, but I got a call six weeks back where the call display showed it me it was my own phone number calling.

"We've traced the call and the scams are coming from inside the house!"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:13 PM on September 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I used to work for a Major Computer Company as phone support and this sounds exactly like about 20% of my calls.

Even the ducks? (That is actually my favourite part of Lenny: that there is no actual mention of ducks, just a brief pause while he goes to deal with what is evidently, you know, the duck situation.)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:16 PM on September 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Asterisk turns an ordinary computer into a communications server

WOW! I wonder what it would turn an extraordinary computer into?
posted by juiceCake at 9:08 PM on September 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


A few years back, when Canada first made DNC lists, the scammers snapped them up! Here were verified phone numbers that they could call. And they did. Lately, phone scammers have been pretending to be the Do Not Call List operator and spoof the DNCL's phone number.
I don't think the CRTC is capable of stopping this. Years ago, my business used to get spam faxes. That was irritating because the fax was shared and we paid for each message to us. The CRTC was unable to stop that practice. Finally, technology ended the usefulness of fax machines.
posted by CCBC at 10:23 PM on September 1, 2015


Finally, technology ended the usefulness of fax machines.

Oh, how I wish that were true. Still get those every day or 3.
/small-town lawyer.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:19 AM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Turing test = passed
posted by prepmonkey at 7:52 AM on September 2, 2015


Repack Rider: it's clear that your goals are entirely opposite to those of the Lenny system. Your goal is to get them to hang up quickly and stop wasting your time. They want this too, as they are eager to move on to someone more vulnerable. The famous paper Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They are from Nigeria? points out that scammers are looking for the most gullible marks they can, and they want to weed out more perceptive people as soon as possible.

But Lenny's goal is more effective: it attempts to waste the scammers' time. This is why Lenny keeps saying yes and mumbling requests for clarification or more information in between stories about his daughters. He admits having been scammed before, but in a way that makes it seem like he didn't think he did anything bad: he's just nervous that his family will be upset at him again. It's a hint that he may be exactly the sort of vulnerable sap they can make money from.

And if that uses up 8 minutes of the call centre's time, that's 8 minutes where they can't bilk a genuinely confused and vulnerable person out of their money. That's pretty great, if you ask me!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:09 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older Google says it's the other drivers' fault   |   They’ve kept the professional white background Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments