“It’s the dirtiest scam ever,” said Ildar Khakimov as he sat in his office at Notman House in Montreal. “It’s a person who calls an elderly woman pretending to be her grandchild. The person calls with a very distraught voice and says ‘Hey grandma, it’s me, I’m currently in jail being held on bail and I need some money urgently, please help me.'”
The older person panics while the scammer presses on.
“They tell them ‘If you don’t go to western union and send the money I’m screwed,’ and these people almost have heart attacks. Some of them go online to check out the number just to make sure and that’s when they land on our webpage.”
Khakimov is the founder of CallerCenter.com, the Montreal-based startup that created a free consumer complaints board for reporting telephone calls. An elated Khakimov announced on his Facebook page Friday that the startup had been acquired by FlyDart, a New York-based investment management company specialized in online properties acquisition and management.
People from around the world can share and report suspicious phone callers from telemarketers, scammers, robocallers, fake debt-collectors and more. CallerCenter offers guidance and tools, helping people to report the numbers to government organizations like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Most importantly though, after reporting suspicious numbers users can come back and check if others have commented on the same number. Those who think they’re being scammed can do a simple search of a suspicious number, and CallerCenter will often be one of the search results, providing information and reports.
“You can click on the link and go to CallerCenter and find out who is calling you and why,” said Khakimov. “We use a combination of large data sets and a social layer: people sharing information with people so it’s very easy to classify the phone numbers that call you.”
The telemarketing and scamming industry has become very sophisticated in its methods, said Khakimov, and it’s not the cliche “shady guy” in his basement. Instead, many offices are filled to the brim with people calling non-stop at all hours. “It’s organized crime basically, but high-level, mastermind work. They’re from around Canada and we do see a lot of Montreal numbers that initiate these phone scams.” he said.
CallerCenter provides a myriad of resources for the distraught, like powerful blog articles such as “How to File a Complaint,” “14 Ways to Annoy Telemarketers,” “Robocalls on the Rise,” and more.
Khakimov said the website has been generating over a million page-views per month, but that doesn’t come without large amounts of backlash from the scammers themselves. He receives at least an email a week threatening a lawsuit, mostly cease and desist letters demanding that a reported number be taken down immediately.
In some cases CallerCenter complies, in others they ignore them.
“We’ve seen plenty of example of people initiating what is called a ‘slap lawsuit,’ a baseless lawsuit where they’re trying to suck out as much money from you by forcing you to hire a lawyer and do all of this legal stuff,” said the founder. But even in those cases there’s help around the corner through websites such as Public Citizen, which provide contact info for lawyers offering their services pro-bono for sites like CallerCenter.
For Khakimov, the reward is in the feedback though. He said the biggest perk of the job is receiving emails from people around the world thanking them for creating the website.
The project, originally started over five years ago, is the product of someone who came from humble beginnings. Born in Zambia to Russian parents who worked as university teachers abroad, Khakimov grew up in Moscow and moved to Montreal with his family on his 14th birthday. “It was very humble beginnings. When we came from Russia we didn’t have much, and it was a very big motivator,” said Khakimov. With CallerCenter I was like, ‘this thing has to work.’ Im glad it worked out in the end.”
Khakimov was still working full-time for CGI, the global IT services company when he started CallerCenter. He then chose to devote his weekdays towards CallerCenter while working a full 36 hours every weekend at CGI for about six months. He’d work 18 hours on Saturdays, sleep over at the office and work another 18 on Sunday.
The sale price from the acquisition wasn’t anything special, noted Khakimov in his Facebook post, but it will give him a two-year runway to start something new. While he wouldn’t budge on the exact sale price, he did tell us it was a six-figure deal not exceeding half-a-million dollars.
Now he’ll look to create something physical, likely a gadget that he’ll seek to crowdfund on Kickstarter. It will be the real deal too, he said, and not some scam.