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FTC Tells Senate Illegal Robocallers Retargeted

17 Jul, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) told a U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee last week it’s been stepping up its attack to fight illegal commercial robocalls by enforcing the Do-Not-Call (DNC) registry and seeking to spur technical solutions to block those calls.

Lois Greisman, associate director for the agency’s division of marketing practices, said the DNC registry now has more than 221 million phone numbers, and that the registry has protected consumers’ privacy from the unwanted calls of tens of thousands of legitimate telemarketers each year.

But the FTC said robocalls are still a problem causing “significant economic harm” with fraudulent goods and services. To address that, the FTC last year sought ideas and input on the issue from technologists, industry experts, policymakers and other stakeholders. One clear finding: the convergence between the legacy telephone system and the Internet has facilitated new technologies have make robocalls inexpensive and easier for robocallers to hide their identities.

To step up its fight on robocallers, the FTC held a “Robocall Challenge” in 2012 with a $50,000 prize for the person or team that could find a workable way to help consumers block robocalls. The FTC got 798 eligible submissions. In April, the FTC announced that two winners split the prize money for their proposals, which both focus on intercepting and filtering out illegal prerecorded calls using technology to “blacklist” robocaller phone numbers and “whitelist” numbers associated with acceptable incoming calls.

In its testimony, the FTC said as technology changes and fraudsters exploit those changes, it will remain agile and creative with continued aggressive law enforcement, innovative technological solutions and ongoing consumer education.

The registry’s 10th anniversary was three weeks ago, and during its existence, the government has filed lawsuits against 298 companies and 234 individuals. The FTC has so far received court orders totaling more than $741 million in consumer restitution or disgorgement and $126 million in civil penalties.

One recent registry case – the largest civil penalty ever for registry violations – involved Mortgage Investors Corp., which refinances veterans’ home loans (Response This Week, July 3). It earned a $7.5 million fine for calling consumers whose numbers are on the registry.

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