The Federal Trade Commission, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, highlighted its approach to protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls and illegal robocalls.

Lois Greisman, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices, told Congress that the FTC is working hard to fight illegal robocalls - including aggressive law enforcement, crowdsourcing technical solutions and consumer and business outreach.

According to written testimony, the FTC has brought 120 Do Not Call enforcement actions against 377 corporations and 298 people, of which 37 are robocall enforcement actions against 121 companies and 90 people.

Of the $100 million collected in Do Not Call cases, $28 million resulted from cases involving illegal robocalls. The FTC also coordinates its enforcement with state and federal law enforcement partners, including referrals to its partners for criminal prosecution.

Yet, illegal robocalls are still problematic 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, according to the FTC. Many scammers worldwide use these calls to harass consumers and attempt to defraud them, the testimony added.

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.

The FTC, hoping to spur technical solutions to these problems, has hosted a series of crowdsourcing initiatives in recent years. The public challenges are designed to give consumers solutions 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 next Monday. 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.

  

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