FTC Offers $50,000 To Whoever Can Come Up With A Way To Stop 'Rachel From Cardholder Services'

from the stop-her-before-she-calls-again dept

The current administration has expressed interest in different kinds of “innovation prizes” for a while, so it’s interesting to see the FTC offer up $50,000 to individuals or small companies if they can come up with a good solution to dealing with robocalls (automated telemarketing recordings that call tons of people). There are a few things that are interesting about this. First, the language on the FTC site about this really suggests that the FTC itself is exasperated by their own inability to stop the problem. They specifically call out “shady” practices, and highlight how “annoying” the calls are:

Current technology still allows shady telemarketers to cheaply autodial thousands of phone calls every minute and display false or misleading caller ID information. Among these are the famously annoying calls from “Rachel From Cardholder Services.”

The other interesting bit is that the prize is only available to small companies (less than 10 people) or individuals. If you’re a big company, they’ll give you an award… but no cash. Of course, the FTC also notes that anyone who solves this problem will receive some other benefits as well:

“We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.”

That might be a slight exaggeration, but I do imagine a successful solution will lead to at least 15 minutes of press fame.

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Comments on “FTC Offers $50,000 To Whoever Can Come Up With A Way To Stop 'Rachel From Cardholder Services'”

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Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

15 minutes

a successful solution will lead to at least 15 minutes of press fame.

By coincidence, that’s the same amount of time it will take for the scammers to route around the solution or find some other way to scam people.

As long as there are people who will fall for Rachel from Cardholer Services, or John from the Auto Warranty Center, or a prince from Nigeria, or popups saying your computer is infected and you must run this tool and pay $50, or buy things from spam emails, we’ll never solve the problems.

anon says:

Re: 15 minutes

Easy actually, the way to solve this in no time is to make it possible to transmit a full video in a 5 minute call, then spread the news and get people to sign up for robocalls of there favourite movies.

Then wait for Hollywood to use all of there power to lobby the government to spend billions on developing laws and software to resolve the problem

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 15 minutes

Well, look at how most ISP’s work. They usually limit the number of outgoing E-mail messages/recipients per day and if you want to send out mass mailings you need to hire an online marking service. The practice has been so successful in blocking junk e-mail that perhaps something like this could be implemented for phone services, having phone companies limit the number of outgoing phone call recipients per day per phone number.

ldne says:

Re: Rachel and her Friends

Most of this is run through the state of Colorado, where you can have a few hundred corporations filed for the same address in a residential nieghborhood with an “office” that’s a filing cabinet in the basement. Combine that with using VOIP phone systems that let you have phone numbers from anywhere that show up on caller ID as anything you want and you have a recipe for an anonymous subsidiary based cold calling system that lets your records show you contract with a few dozen outfits that your cousins, inlaws, whiskers the cat, and your imaginary friend Dave own that all reside in one of those filing cabinets. Good luck with the paper trail.

Anonymous Coward says:

You will worship me if though I were a GOD!

“‘We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero.’

That might be a slight exaggeration,”

No. This is no exaggeration. I will bow down and worship the ground they walk on to whomever invents an anti-robocaller solution.

Richard Licker says:

isn't it just a spam filter

couldn’t they just create a telephone feature code that can be dialled back either during or after receiving a call? If a source gets repeatedly identified then the phone number gets cancelled.

Even if they fake the caller ID number, there should still be a source identifier underneath in order to make a connection, surely?

Also, make falsifying caller ID numbers illegal,and look in the backpages for telesales job vacancies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: isn't it just a spam filter

Because I’ve used CID spoofing for both business and harmless pranks, and outlawing such things is at the very least, fucking absurd. There are enough frequently abused bullshit laws on the books that you’ve got to be either a complete idiot or a complete asshole to support adding another.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 isn't it just a spam filter

It shall be unlawful for any pony within the United States, in connection with any telecommunications service or IP-enabled voice service, to cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information, with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.

There’s at least some protection in the bill, it seems. Still, to try to stop something already illegal by making it a little more illegal seems…fucking retarded. Seriously. A law to make breaking the law illegal. If this strikes anyone as a solution, they need to be quarantined immediately until science can adequately explain just how they manage to operate without a functioning brain and whether or not it’s dangerous to society as a whole.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: isn't it just a spam filter

Hey, yeah! Maybe next we could make falsifying any data over the internet illegal too! Seriously, fuck yourself, your mother, your dog, and the back seat of the Oldsmobile 88 in which you were conceived. It’s bullshit ideas like this that lead to laws being abused to ruin innocent peoples’ lives. And you’re willing to add another one just for a little fucking convenience. You’re pathetic.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: isn't it just a spam filter

Yeah the whole outlawing bad caller id info…
Women hiding form abusive spouses etc… they tend to rely on those services.
The police like to use them as well…

most telemarketing is done from outside the US now so they can use the do not call list as a rolodex.

Oh I know lets use those nice NSA black boxes and keyword search cardmember services… betcha they get a telemarketer caught before a real terrorist.

DannyB (profile) says:

Offer a bounty to find the scammers

Okay, here’s a way. Offer a bounty to the first to track down and provide proof of the identity of those behind the scams that results in prosecution. That would motivate the right person with the right tools, contacts, information, skills, etc to track down these scammers and collect the bounty.

I don’t care if they’re in another country. If we can extradite a college kid for legally (in his country) providing links to tv shows (but not actually hosting the downloads), then surely we can extradite these scumbags.

That would stop Rachel. Can I collect my $50,000 now?

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Helpful solution :)

Lets apply spam filters to this problem.

Step 1, Setup Honey pots that you know will get called (google voice numbers that have not been allocated yet for example).

Step 2, Record responses looking for specific patterns, just like the audio finger printing used on youtube.

Step 3, At the phone exchange level, record the first 10 seconds of any call to capture ” Person from card holder services”. If those first 10 seconds from the caller match the audio fingerprint, disconnect the call.

Step 4, At the exchange level, find calls that are coming from the same system, or look for other patterns that result in an auto disconnect. Blacklist those calls and send them to your honeypots, if a call hits the honeypot fails to match current audio fingerprints, forward the call to its destination.

Step 5, build whitelists of frequent call pairs.

What this solution needs to work correctly:
Access to vast arrays of numbers that are not given out.
Access to exchange level phone data
Access to audio fingerprinting tech
People to opt into the system so that a computer can collect an audio fingerprint.
An array of various phone greetings for the honey pots (google has this with google voice).

None of the above tech is outside current technology, when you place it at the exchange level you have access to the entire call routing so you should be able to know who the outbound line or lines are (all the way down to the T1 or PRI trunk).

Only Google or other phone company can even think of doing the above.

Christopher (profile) says:

This is ridiculous.

The FTC can solve this tomorrow.

Every single telephone carrier has the endpoints for all calls. *57 should be available for ALL CALLS, including the fake-legal charities, politicos, et cetera. At the end of the month, I click “opt out” to all reported/tracked *57 calls, and my telco can NEVER EVER connect a call from the entity, no matter how many phone numbers they have.

Force the externality back onto the telcos where it belongs, and this ends today. Forget a 50k prize, start levying fines of 50k per incident to every telco.

Oh, wait, that’s right, the FTC doesn’t actually work for ratepayers. Sorry.


Gumnos (profile) says:

Re: This is ridiculous.

My first thought was to use the star+digits (e.g. *57 or whatever) for reporting after the call. Thich is both easy and reasonable for the telcos to implement. Issues I saw:

– marketing that the feature is available. This can be addressed with money which the telcos certainly seem to rake in hand-over-fist. I still remember *69 from the telco advertising back in the 80s.

– pranksters that report people. This could be mitigated by the telcos maintaining a “this phonenumber/source has received more than N complaints from more than M recipients” tally, and only take action against those that exceed a certain threshold.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is ridiculous.

At the end of the month, I click “opt out” to all reported/tracked *57 calls, and my telco can NEVER EVER connect a call from the entity

This doesn’t sound very practical. “The entity” could be a foreign phone company with millions of subscribers. And even if you can convince every phone company in the world to pass end-user identification, it would be easy enough to create a new corporate entity every month. (It’s probably not automated like in Accelerando, but it does happen. If you search for “eNom” in a domain registrar list, you’ll find about 100 companies with names like “eNom623, Inc.”, “eNom1014, Inc.”, etc.)

Jake says:

An app for that?

I can see an interesting solution on the smartphone side of things. Have an app set up that checks the listed caller ID against an online service where complaints can be registered. Use the complaints against a company to set up a star rating for incoming calls. That way, when an unknown number comes in, I have a better idea whether or not to pick it up.

There would be issues with scammers spoofing reliable numbers, but then it would give legitimate companies a good reason to track down the scammers who are giving their number a bad reputation.

Anonymous Coward says:

I want to buy a cheap gadget for between my wall plug and my phone that I can program with a code that callers have to put in in order for the call to go through and my phone to ring. I’ll give that code to my human friends and robo callers won’t get through at all. Kinda like a captcha to prove the caller is real. But I know this can’t happen since the phone companies rely on spam callers to pay them for access… Or the phone company will make me pay $9.95 a month for that service through them that they of course can circumvent if they want…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think you could buy a small laptop, a modem, and possibly a splitter for your phone line. Connect your phone to/through the laptop, and there’s free software that’d let you whitelist your friends and block any other incoming calls.

I helped my parents set up something like that. Of course, these days they’re starting to wonder if they still even need a landline…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You got it

Unfortunately my technical skill level would require serious handholding to set this kind of system up. And I’d prefer a pass code type system just because I’m hearing impaired and might never get through to someone else if I have to hear a captcha and then say it appropriately. I wonder if TTYs get a lot of Rachel calls….

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Definition of Utter Bullshit

The federal government gives the phone companies a blank check to turn over to government agents every record of every phone call you ever make, without so much as a warrant.

They claim that by doing so they can identify specific individuals engaged in criminal activity.

But they can’t find the source of these particular calls? Calls, that just so happen to be a big part of their raison d’?tre

Guess which branch of the government or the other is bullshitting you.

The correct answer would be “both”

Rex Karz (profile) says:

A solution could emulate the anti-spam technology

Just a thought:

A facility implemented by the telcos and enabled by default would put every phone number served by the telco on a DoNotRoboCall list. Consumer could un-subscribe to the DoNotRoboCall list by using a *xx facility the telcos use to let consumers tweak their own telco service options to enable or disable this feature.

Telcos would implement an out-of-band signaling mechanism where a signal is sent to the originator of the all calls. RoboCallers would have to implement technology to recognize the out-of-band signal and terminate the call immediately before the call rings through to the consumer; a timeout facility is implemented by the telco that if the call does not terminate in (2 seconds (pick a number)) then the telco puts the call through to the consumer. The consumer on detecting a RoboCall presses a *xx number on the telephone keypad. The remainder of the call is recorded by the telco. The telco is required to listen to each call recorded by the DoNotRoboCall facility and determine its validity. RoboCall operators would have to upgrade/replace their existing RoboCall equipment immediately; no grandfathering of existing equipment is allowed. If the RoboCaller lets a call go through to someone on the DoNotRoboCall list, then the RoboCaller is considered in violation of the law.

National legislation would be necessary that says that any RoboCaller that dials a phone number with anti-robocall enabled is liable for payment, say $10,000 per call, via the telco to the consumer. The telco is permitted to take a small portion of the payment to implement the DoNotRoboCall feature.

Violation of the DoNotRoboCall mechanism is also a criminal offense where the officers and directors of the robocalling entity are strictly and personally liable for each and every violation. Financial penalties become the personal liabilities of the owners, officers and directors of the RoboCalling entities and are not shielded by normal “corporate shield” law. After a first conviction, mandatory sentencing of 20 years for ALL owners, officers and directors is the law of the land. Fines cannot be discharged by bankrupcy. Community property laws do not shield spouses under the principle that the spouses benefitted from the ill-gotten gain of the RoboCaller. The US Marines may be deployed to any nation that shields assets of a RoboCaller.

… No prisoners.

Rex Karz (profile) says:

Re: A solution could emulate the anti-spam technology

An addendum to my proposal:

Political and not-for-profit RoboCalls are not exempt from the DoNotRoboCall law.

Penalties for political RoboCalls are the imprisonment of the candidate for 20 years, no exceptions. In the case of RoboCalling on behalf of ballot initiatives the the vote goes against the desired outcome of the RoboCaller. The officers and directors of the payor for the RoboCall are presumed to be the initiators of the RoboCall; penalties are the same as commercial RoboCallers. In the case of “front” organizations, strict liability is passed through to the real backers of the initiative.

Penalties for not-for-profits is the same as previously stated for [presumably] for-profits. In addition, the not-for-profit is dissolved with all proceeds from its liquidation going to the US Treasury.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: A solution could emulate the anti-spam technology

Penalties for political RoboCalls are the imprisonment of the candidate for 20 years, no exceptions.

OK, you seriously do not have anywhere near enough experience with security. You have to think like a bad guy. How would a bad guy use a law like this?

“I want Barack Obama to get reelected. Let’s set up a bunch of pro-Romney robocalls!”

hmm (profile) says:


Telemarketing scum divide people into 3 types:

1. Gullible idiot (i.e. you followed their instructions)..Your info will be used over and over in future scams.

2. People who said No and generally hung up. Telemarketers believe they can ‘grind’ you down into doing what they say just to make them go away.

3. Time wasters. A typical telemarket agent has to call HUNDREDS of people a day to get the 1 or 2 that are gullible enough to fall for the scam. If you waste 10-15mins of their time, which could have been spent speaking to more people, then admit at the end of the call what you did, they won’t want to waste time with you again.

— side note —
My favorite thing to tell telemarketers is that it’s against my deeply held religious beliefs to use the telephone…..do they a) Agree and hang up the phone or b) call me a lying piece of crap – in which case they’ve lost me anyway?

Beta (profile) says:

basic economics

My solution: a toll barrier. A caller who wants my phone to ring must pay an amount set by me, say $1. That money goes to me, not the telco or anyone else, and I can remit it with the touch of a button.

I can adjust the barrier. I can make a whitelist of numbers that my sentry will let in without payment, or a blacklist of suspicious numbers that must pay a higher toll. I can put in a standing order to remit payment on any call I don’t actually pick up. Anything else I can think of, that the open source community can code up.

If Rachel wants to beat this, she’ll have to either get much better at the Turing test, or break every online finance system yet invented.

Anonymous Coward says:

Where I live if a stranger enters my house without my permission and looks through my cupboards and closets, reviews my reading material,reads my mail,checks out my audio visual collection, copies my address book, looks at my bank and credit card statements and pay stubs, they would be subject to arrest or being legally shot and killed by the home owner.

We all have to protect our homes with security devices such as locks,alarms,dogs,extra personnel,bars on the windows and neighborhood watches.

But if strangers or the government want to invade your computer or phone and track your movements read your emails and texts, watch where you shop and what you buy, listen to your phone calls,look through your contacts for associations and believe that you’re a thief or terrorists because of your political or religious beliefs, thats OK and perfectly legal!

With all of us being bombarded and harassed and having to continually protect ourselves from unscrupulous governments and marketeers, this is what everyone is worried about?

RACHAEL!!! Really!


The feds can find anyone anywhere anytime, and they can’t find some telemarketers?

But I’ll play the game anyway.Just remember you heard it here first.

This appears to be a land line issue…so forward your calls to your cell phone and unplug your landline telephone.CID spoofing will most probably trigger the default ringer.Assign different ring tones to all the contacts that you want to receive calls from.

Alternatively just have everyone call you on your cell phone
and disconnect your landline.

I’m sure there will be an APP for this soon.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

I average at least one call from Rachel a week. At first it was just my cell but now it is my land line too. I don’t have caller ID on my land line but on my cell it shows up as a different number with a different area code every time. Because of them I have to turn off my phone when I sleep. If a family member needs to contact me about some emergency I guess they will have to come over and knock on my door. I hope they catch the bastards behind this scam!! If I wasn’t on a fixed income I would be glad to donate to the reward!

Christy says:

Rachel must be stopped!!!!

Looks like a desperate attempt to stop Rachel. But sad to say, I feel the same way about these robocalls. I’ve had calls from this credit card services and there’s no way to make them stop because I never got to speak with a live person. It’s always automated message.

Even at consumer complaint websites such as http://www.callercenter.com, “Rachel” rules the place with her most number of complaints. I wonder why the authorities, with the help of telephone companies, can’t do something about her.

Charles LeDog says:

Rachael at Card Holder Services

The solution is severe pain in the ears, but it’s probably against the law.

Install a device on your phone what upon its button being pressed, closes down the speaker so you can’t hear, (and you can go back to whatever you were doing), but keeps ‘Rachael’ ‘s robotic voice on the line. The device then presses the keys to bring a real human on the line, and then, having confirmed a human, plays a very high decibel, ear-spitting (literally) shriek into the microphone.

Yes, this is painful for the poor telemarketer, but when it is installed on enough lines, and enough telemarketers begin showing up with hearing problems, then Rachael’s boss will have a tough time finding people to work the boiler rooms.

Charles LeDog says:

Killing Rachael

I like the suggestion above that puts a bounty on Rachael and her boss. The New Orleans Saints players who are suspended could simply be informed of her whereabouts, and told that they get to come back to the NFL as soon as they take care of Rachael and her boss. The telemarketer who works for the company that sends out these calls can be incentivized through a massive marketing campaign to rat them out. Pay the peons the $50k, let the Saints take care of business, everyone wins (except Rachael).

Todd says:

This is a sick waste of govt money and time

It’s call SS7 code. Caller ID is easy to spoof and the increasing use of software call handlers vs. true PBX system makes the spoof easier. The use of telcoms using SIP trunking vs. PRI trunking, again makes this problem harder to solve as they are IP address vs. true trunking numbers or DiD’s associated to a circuit ID associated to a physical address. The best, fastest way to end this is to follow the money. The federal govt is the best at securing communication and monitoring it. They need NO help from civilians. If they did, we’d be in a very very scary place. All we need is an extremely powerful punishment for both owners and telecoms for knowingly, that is a single bill and a check paying for the service and hardware, operations like this.

Jaqi says:

"winner of our challenge will become a national hero ..."

"SLIGHT EXAGGERATION"? Are you kidding me? I’d personally star a gofundme page and a petition to erect a national monument to whomever can stop the plague of spam calls.

Also of note, is that my family and I own both iPhones and Androids and have found that these calls are more excessively prevalent on iPhones. Has anyone else noted the same? (Extremely curious).

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