United States

FTC, Law Enforcement Announce New Crackdown on Illegal Robocalls

"Operation Call it Quits" was coordinated with more than two dozen federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide

The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday a major crackdown on illegal robocalls, including 94 actions targeting operations around the country said to be responsible for more than one billion calls.

The nationwide enforcement sweep was coordinated with more than two dozen federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, as part of a major government clampdown on illegal robocalls "pitching a variety of products and services including credit card interest rate reduction services, money-making opportunities, and medical alert systems," the FTC said.

"Operation Call it Quits" included four new cases — two filed on its behalf by the Justice Department — and three settlements. The FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith said Tuesday the latest round of actions brings the number of cases against illegal robocallers and Do Not Call violators to 145. 

"We’re all fed up with the tens of billions of illegal robocalls we get every year," Smith said at a news conference Tuesday. "Today’s joint effort shows that combatting this scourge remains a top priority for law enforcement agencies around the nation."

Robocalls have increased as cheap software makes it easy to make mass calls. Scammers don't care if you've added your number to the government's Do Not Call list, and enforcement is negligible. Smith said the FTC receives 3.8 billion complaints a year, averaging more than 10,000 a day. 

"That's just a drop in the bucket," Smith said.

In fact, according to call-blocker YouMail, U.S. phones receive 5 billion robocalls per month.

The rise in debt collectors, telemarketers and, most worrisome, fraudsters ringing up consumers' phones have led the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to push phone companies to do more. The companies have been slow to act against such automated calls on their own.

Earlier this month, federal regulators voted to give phones companies the right to block unwanted calls without getting customers' permission first. The FCC's move could make call-blocking widespread and help consumers dodge annoying robocalls.

Smith said if customers answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it's a robocall. He said the best defense against robocalls is to block the number on your cellphone or install a call-blocking device on your landline. The FTC also urges customers to report unwanted calls to FTC.gov/complaint.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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