Robotelemarketing takes 'creepy' to a whole new level

This could be on the other end of the phone call.

Samantha West works for Premier Health Plans Inc., selling health insurance over the phone. Her voice is friendly, just like your typical telemarketer looking to get you a quote for a decent health insurance policy.

The other thing: she might be a robot.

TIME Magazine reporter Denver Nicks writes that he started getting suspicious when she couldn't answer some relatively simple questions.

"It sounds like a real woman, but she repeats herself over and over again," Nicks says.  "Michael [his bureau chief] starts asking her questions like, 'What is the vegetable in tomato soup?' to which she doesn't know the answer."

When asked, point-blank, if she was a robot, "West" vehemently denies, saying that she's a real person and complains of a bad connection.

Nicks says they did manage to get a hold of a live body eventually, but they denied any use of robots and promptly hung up. But we may never know the true motive behind the strategy, as Premier Health Plans Inc. -- and Samantha West's phone line -- disappeared the day after Nicks's story was published.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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