The Federal Trade Commission told a U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee that it has been fighting the problem of illegal commercial robocalls through enforcement of the requirements of the Do Not Call program while seeking to spur technological solutions to block unlawful telemarketing calls.

The Do Not Call Registry includes more than 221 million phone numbers, according to Lois Greisman, associate director of the FTC's Division of Marketing Practices - who testified before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance.

Greisman said the Registry has been successful in protecting consumers’ privacy from  unwanted calls of tens of thousands of legitimate telemarketers each year. The testimony Wednesday comes two weeks after the FTC announced the 10th anniversary of the Do Not Call Registry.

The FTC also testified that Mortgage Investors Corporation, one of the country’s largest refinancers of veterans’ home loans, will pay $7.5 million for calling consumers whose numbers are on the Registry.

The Mortgage Investors case is the 105th Do Not Call enforcement action the FTC has announced since 2004, and in that time it has filed Registry-related lawsuits against 298 companies and 234 individuals. 

While some of the cases are still being litigated, the FTC has so far received court orders totaling more than $741 million in consumer restitution or disgorgement and $126 million in civil penalties.

Yet the FTC said that telemarketing robocalls are still a problem, and they cause significant economic harm by peddling fraudulent goods and services. “Therefore, the FTC is using every tool at its disposal to fight them.”
Convinced that law enforcement alone is not enough to solve the problem, the FTC last year hosted public summit on the issue and gathered input from experts including technologists, industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders. 

The summit made it clear that convergence between the legacy telephone system and the Internet has facilitated massive robocall campaigns. The testimony describes how new technologies have make robocalls extremely inexpensive to make and have made it easier for robocallers to hide – or “spoof” – their identities.

At the end of the Robocall Summit, the FTC announced its first-ever public contest, a “Robocall Challenge,” with a $50,000 prize for the individual or small team that could propose a workable technical solution to help consumers block robocalls from their landlines and mobile phones. 

The public response was overwhelming. The FTC received 798 eligible submissions, many of which were extremely well-considered technical proposals to address the robocall issue. The primary goal of the challenge was to encourage the development of realistic ideas for reducing the number of robocalls in a way that law enforcement alone could not. 

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