“I’ve Made $40,000 going after illegal robocallers.” (Side Hustle #84)

Welcome to another installment of our Side Hustle Series!

And this one is a WHOPPER… Gratifying on so many fronts depending on your level of hatred of robocalls, haha… Requires a bit more legwork and patience, similar to our past hustles on being a Forensic Accountant or Patent Researcher, but all very doable and lucrative for the right type of personality.

Huge thanks for taking the time to share your story with us, Steve! And FYI – Steve is not a lawyer or giving out any legal advice here or anything. He’s just outlining his story for us after I begged him to do it on Twitter because it was so fascinating ;) He’s made over $40,000 so far doing this – all in his spare time!!

Take it away, Steve!

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How I Got Started

More than 15 years ago a relative of mine was having an ongoing medical issue. I would get calls to my cell phone while at work, sometimes multiple a day, and they were never good news. Each time I heard my cell phone ring, it was like a mini heart attack.

About this same time frame I started getting robocalls, multiple times a day. When I would hear the robocall center start talking and realized the brief moment of panic I had just experienced was from someone I knew was breaking the law, the anger boiled over.

Fast forward to December 2020. At this point the relatives’ medical issues had been long resolved but I was still getting the robocalls, often times 10 – 20 a day, every day. I would waste as much of the robocallers time as possible hoping at some point they would realize calling me was a waste of their time and would reduce the number of calls. The other hope was that if I was wasting their time, they would not be talking to a vulnerable senior citizen since they were talking to me instead.

Long story short, they did not stop calling and I have not stopped wasting their time.

One day, right around December 1st 2020, I get a call from an overseas call center and I play along as if I am interested and get to a US based insurance agent and I read him the riot act over the illegal robo call. He tells me to call their customer support which I did and I continued to read them the riot act.

About an hour later I get a call from the Philippines and the overseas caller says he is the one who called and asked if he could pay me instead of me suing his client and him losing the contract he has with them. I am thinking he is offering $20 or maybe $50.

He says, is $1,000 enough?

At this point I am thinking, this is not the first time this guy has paid for a violation. I do a little research and that is where I stumble upon the name Doc Compton and his Turning Robocalls into Cash Kit. (Not an affiliate link – just a super helpful resource)

Doc’s background is in consumer credit repair, and his kit sells for $47 which is packed full of valuable information and tells you how to go after these robo callers. He used to run a private Facebook group too where we would discuss tactics and exchange information on how best to get these guys which I received a lot of value from, but unfortunately it closed down due to FB group issues and the inability to keep things private (it turned out multiple people in the group were leaking information to call center / lead generators).

Doc now runs a private forum which costs about $200/year to be a member, but return on investment wise, both $ and time, it might be the best money I have ever spent.

The Process of Catching Robocallers

Once I had more information, I started going through the process of figuring it all out… and it is a process.

You have to document calls, figure out the best tools to use to organize what you find, locate who is behind all the calls, find emails addresses, etc. There were multiple times where I thought this is just not going to happen. It’s like anything, starting a blog, a YouTube channel – you need to put in the effort, push past the frustration, and keep at it before it will pay off. Most people are not willing to put in the effort required to get to the pay off.

I keep at it and I get my first two checks within an hour of each other, one through Paypal from a call center in Pakistan and another from a local security system company delivered by UPS an hour later. Shortly after that I am on Twitter and a local reporter posts something about robocalls which leads to me becoming their featured story and news segment seen below:

robocalls news segment

[King 5 News: ‘It felt like a victory’: Woodinville man gets $3,100 in robocall revenge]

Fast forward to today…

With the settlements I should be receiving in the next couple of weeks, I will have put in my pocket, net of costs, about $40,000 chasing these callers down.

I have settled about 15 total cases, only 1 of which I used an attorney which was settled before trial. One other case I filed a lawsuit on my own, which just settled this week before it went to trial.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg… I know many people who have made way more money than I have in a much shorter time frame. I only go after a small fraction of what I could, and if I were more organized the net profits in my pocket could easily be well over $100K.

However the money is not the motivation for me. It’s about payback. It’s about getting these calls to stop.

If you talk to the people in the Doc Compton group, the overwhelming majority are also more about getting these calls to stop than the money. Having a settlement agreement where it’s laid out how much more a call center / lead generator will pay you if they make the mistake of calling again is a real motivator for them to stop calling. That being said, I still get a similar number of calls each day, only with $40K more in my bank account now.

So here is a very high level overview of the process…

How to Get Paid by a Robocaller 101

First: put your phone on the national do not call list – the “DNC“. Your phone must be listed for at least 30 days on the DNC before a call can potentially be a violation for it being on the DNC. Just do not think putting your phone on the list is going to in anyway reduce the number of calls you get because it won’t.

Some people get paid through state laws. Those like me, whose state laws are weak or non existent, use the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, TCPA, which covers commercial telephone solicitations. Specifically sections 227b and 227c of TCPA which contain a private right of action. A private right of action simply means you can sue someone for money when they violate the law.

  • Section 227b says a call can not be automated. For example, a call that is a recording that asks you to press 1 to speak to someone is in violation of 227b.
  • Section 227c covers calls made to phones on the DNC. 227c specifically states you can not make more than 1 call to a DNC registered phone within a 12 month period. So a company can commercially solicit your DNC registered phone 1 time every 12 months if it is not using an automated telephone dialing system, ATDS. There is a lot of nuance in what is and is not an ATDS, however. The TCPA law dates back to the early 90s and could use some 30 year later updating.

Here is another important point to know: scam calls, those calls claiming to be Amazon support or the IRS or whatever is the latest scam, you will never get paid from. They are just criminals out to steal your money and are overseas outside of the reach of US law.

Anyone who calls you saying they are from the government, asking for your social security number, saying they are from Amazon or Apple, or Microsoft needing to access your computer, claiming to be from the cable company offering a deal to lower your bill, those are scams. Have some fun with them, waste as much of their time as possible so they are not stealing from Grandma, but don’t try to make money off them as you will fail.

Focus on US based companies attempting to solicit you

To get paid, you need to get a call that is a violation of your state laws or either 227b and or 227c that ends in a US based company attempting to solicit you.

This could be for health insurance, a security system, car warranty, internet services, or it could be a political action committee depending on their tax status, to give just a few examples. The key is to get past the call center who is almost certainly overseas, and who is almost certainly giving you a fake company name and spoofing the caller id – both violations of laws that do not have a private right of action.

Once you get past the call center to the US based company, you need proof of who they are. Get an address, an email, a valid call back number. That is the hard part and can take some time to learn the skills to do it. This almost always means you play along with the call until you have identified the US based company.

At times you may even need to purchase their product, as crazy as that sounds. My state has very specific laws regarding getting refunds from telephone solicitations. Buying the product is one way to 100% find out who was behind the call, then you simply cancel the purchase according to your state’s laws.

The Demand Letter

Once you have a case built up – you have 1 or more violations, you have proper identification – you send the US based company, who is equally liable for the TCPA violations as the call center they hired, what is called a demand letter. I like to email mine but some send the letter certified mail.

This letter outlines what happened, it explains the violation, the penalties they could face if you file a suit and they lose in court, and then you make an offer to settle.

TCPA specifies that each violation is $500 but also states that if the violation is “willful”, that amount can triple. So the penalty for 2 violations is $1,000 but would increase to $3,000 if those violations are willful, that they knew they were violating the law and that they made no effort to avoid the violations.

When the company gets your letter, they either respond or ignore. For me it’s about 50-50 if I get a response. Sometimes a response will say we disagree and then there is some back and forth communication. But it almost always ends in the company offering some sort of settlement which will almost always include a multiple page settlement agreement and will usually include a non disclosure section.

If the violator wants to include a non disclosure in the settlement, they need to pay extra, that is not part of the payment I am entitled for their violations. It is fairly standard for an NDA to increase the settlement amount by $500 or more. I know some who will not include an NDA unless they get a lot more than $500.

If you do not get a response, it’s common to send what is called a final notice that states they ignored the first letter and the offer to settle so you will be filing a lawsuit as a result.

Once again they may respond or they may ignore. If they ignore it, it’s now up to you if you file a lawsuit or not. If you are getting ignored and are not filing, the reason you are getting ignored might be the violator checked your local court system and found that you are not filing any suits.

In Closing…

I need to be very clear on something…

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Laws also vary from state to state. I am just outlining what I do. What you can or should do might be completely different based on your location. The information I have provided here is just the tip of the iceberg. This is not for everyone. In fact, most people probably should not do this, going after robo callers for violating the law.

I would, however, encourage each and every person to waste as much of the robocallers’ and scammers’ time as possible. I would say if your motivation is making money and you do not get any satisfaction in any of the process, it’s probably not for you.

I get extreme satisfaction knowing I am fighting back, that I am being a pain to those who caused me so much pain, and that by spending time with me means they are not trying to sell my elderly mom an incredibly poor product at an inflated price because that is why they are violating the law in making these calls – they are not able to legitimately sell their products using legal marketing.

I would close by saying this is not free money, and is not for everyone. I just happen to have some of the skills that help me, and more importantly I have the motivation that they provided 15 years ago with my sick relative.

If this is something you are interested in pursuing though, check out Doc Compton’s tips which will help you as much as it helped me: Turning Robocalls into Cash Kit

(I am in no way getting paid to share this link or from sharing my story here. J. asked me to write something up after hearing about my success so I politely obliged. I do hope this gives you a good glimpse into the illegal world of robocalling, though)

– Steve

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Thanks again for this, Steve! And congrats on all your success!!

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10 Comments

  1. Liz July 7, 2022 at 8:16 AM

    Someone named Edward (who I have never met) gave out my phone # in 2017 and I still get spam calls & texts for him. I spent 1 week reporting every one to the FCC and took the next week off. I have upgraded the spam filter from my phone company and that’s made the biggest difference.

    Thank you Steve for your story! I wish you much success in keeping them on their toes.

    Reply
    1. Steve July 7, 2022 at 10:53 AM

      Many years ago I reported most of these calls to the FCC but eventually realized it was not worth the time. I am now researching other reporting options, Federal, State and BBB which could be more effective for those calls that are violating laws and or regulations but do not have a private right of action. I will not get paid but as I said, that is not my primary motivation. For example, internet phone services, VOIP, are not covered by TCPA but are covered by FTC regulations. Calls that have a spoofed caller ID or call outside of permitted calling times are violations but do not have a private right of action. The reality is govenment agencies do not have the time to go after the billions of violations that happen each year. The solution to all of this is for Congress to update TCPA to add private right of actions for all violations and to make the law reflect current technology, not what existed when the law was written in 1991.

      Reply
      1. Liz July 9, 2022 at 7:57 AM

        It was incredibly time consuming the week I reported each one. I’d reached a frustration point where I wanted someone else to ‘feel my pain’, and if the FCC got as many reports as I got spam, they could. I figured it also created a file with the Federal government, as local police can’t do anything if I don’t know him and he didn’t scam me out of money. It was mostly texts, as I just ignore calls from unknown numbers. Thank you for your advice!

        Reply
  2. Lenny July 7, 2022 at 9:52 AM

    Hope you get ’em all Steve!

    Reply
  3. Deborah July 7, 2022 at 12:04 PM

    Thank you, Steve and others who are doing this job to make robocallers stop. The more people who work like this “on the good side” the sooner robocallers will fall off the face of the earth, or go back under the rock they came from, either way, it’s good news. It’s not a side hustle I would want to do, but I’m thankful there’s people like Steve who are doing it.

    Reply
    1. Steve July 7, 2022 at 12:35 PM

      One way everyone can help without going after them like I do is simply waste their time. Answer the calls and spend some time with them. Have fun with it. Make it a game to see how long you can keep them on the line before they figure out they are the ones getting played. The overseas callers pay one of the highest rates per minute and if everyone who is not getting scammed or purchasing their overpriced products would simply spend a few minutes wasting their time, running up their phone bill, they would be out of business in a few weeks. The phone companies could put an end to this tomorrow because they know who is making these calls but it would cut into their bottom line.

      Reply
  4. Financial Fives July 8, 2022 at 3:34 PM

    I can’t believe people are still getting calls even after being on the DNC list, as if they are banking on people being gullible and not knowing their rights. Thank you for shining light on this, as consumer protection rights are not something everyone learns in adulthood.

    Similarly, people are victim to errors and incompetence from financial companies, affecting everything from their credit score to financial penalties, through no fault of their own. We have the CFPB for that, and a whole army of investigative local news reporters that will help as well. Don’t be bullied!

    Reply
    1. Steve July 11, 2022 at 12:30 PM

      Being on the Do Not Call list does almost nothing to stop robo callers. Most robo callers do not check the DNC before calling. They make millions of calls, only a fraction of which are answered and a live person shows an interest. Once they have a person on the line showing an interest, then they check to see if the number is on the DNC using either the actual list or some other service that tracks those of us that go after the callers. The reason for this is they save a ton of time and effort not checking the massive amounts of calls that end up not being answered or not getting to a person who shows an interest.

      Reply
      1. J. Money July 11, 2022 at 2:37 PM

        Ahhhh that actually makes a lot of sense, productivity-wise! Though technically it’s still illegal right, even if no one answers?

        Reply
        1. Steve July 11, 2022 at 4:45 PM

          Yes, the violation is the call. The problem is there is no way of knowing who is calling. Sometimes when you are talking with the US based company who has outsourced the robo calling to overseas call centers about a settlement, its obvious they know what is going on, that what they are doing is illegal but it comes down to net $. The profit made from the calls far outweighs any settlement or penalty they pay for the few times they are caught.

          Reply

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