The Federal Trade Commission highlighted to Congress its multi-faceted approach to protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls and illegal robocalls (prerecorded phone messages) in testimony today before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Testifying on behalf of the agency, Lois Greisman, Associate Director, FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices, said the Commission is using every tool at its disposal to fight illegal robocalls (some of which target seniors) including aggressive law enforcement, crowdsourcing technical solutions, and robust consumer and business outreach.
To date, the National Do Not Call Registry has garnered more than 217 million active telephone numbers and protected consumers’ privacy from the unwanted calls of tens of thousands of legitimate telemarketers who subscribe to the Registry each year. The FTC amended its Telemarketing Sales Rule in 2009, making the majority of robocalls illegal – regardless of whether a consumer participates in the Registry or not.
According to the written testimony, the Commission has brought 120 Do Not Call enforcement actions against 377 corporations and 298 individuals, of which 37 are robocall enforcement actions against 121 companies and 90 individuals. Of the $100 million collected in Do Not Call cases, $28 million have resulted from cases involving illegal robocalls. The FTC also regularly coordinates its enforcement actions with state and federal law enforcement partners, including referrals to its partners for criminal prosecution.
Yet, illegal robocalls remain a significant problem for consumers because Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and other telephony technology make it possible for telemarketers to blast millions of prerecorded messages at low cost. Many scammers from around the world also use these calls to harass consumers and attempt to defraud them.
Recognizing a need to spur the marketplace to develop technical solutions, the agency has hosted a series of crowdsourcing initiatives in recent years. These public challenges are designed to put solutions in the hands of consumers as well as further the development of investigative tools used by law enforcement.
The qualifying phase of the FTC’s current contest, Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back, ends on June 15, 2015. The agency is challenging contestants to build solutions for consumers that not only block robocalls from reaching consumers, but also enables them to forward unwanted calls to a crowd-source honeypot so the data will be accessible to law enforcement and industry stakeholders. The FTC is offering up to $50,000 in cash prizes for the winners.
Staff also engages with industry experts including academics, telecommunication carriers, technology companies, and other counterparts to better understand the robocall landscape and seek new strategies and technical solutions to tackle this difficult issue.
Public education is another critical tool used by the agency. In addition to a variety of tips for consumers, the agency encourages consumers to sign up for the Do Not Call Registry, and to report violations, including illegal robocalls.
In wrapping up its written testimony, the FTC stated it is committed to remaining agile and creative in deftly responding to fraudsters who exploit technological changes.
The Commission vote approving the testimony and its inclusion in the formal record was 5-0.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.