FTC and all 50 states join up to bring illegal robocallers to their knees

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Listen to some real robocalls so you know what to expect

Do you like getting scammy robocalls? You’re not alone. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t either.

With the help of law enforcement authorities in all 50 states, their Operation Stop Scam Calls initiative has cracked down on illegal telemarketing calls involving more than 180 actions targeting operations responsible for billions of calls to U.S. consumers and selling more than 700 million telemarketing leads.

Count this as one more step to curb the onslaught of robocalls Americans receive, a spokesperson for Robokiller told ConsumerAffairs. 

"[The FTC's] efforts thus far have shown the industry can shut down well-known robocalls and facilitators of these calls. It’s clear the government’s focused efforts against prominent scams and holding the responsible parties accountable are proving effective."

How effective can this move be? Robokiller thinks hugely effective.

"We’ve seen the government successfully crack down on the infamous car warranty robocalls, which went from being the number one robocall to now making up less than 2% of robocalls. Then the government's efforts to curb student loan robocalls made an impact and reduced the frequency of these harmful scams that target vulnerable populations," the company said.

Tricking people into signing up was what did them in

The FTC targeted companies it says has crossed the line in regards to getting consumers to sign up for marketing solicitations.

The FTC complained that one company operated as a quasi-consent farm lead generator, seeking to collect, through a single click of a website button or checkbox, consumers’ general agreement to receive marketing offers, including robo- and other telemarketing calls, from dozens of third parties.

Another company, the FTC claims, duped consumers into sharing their contact information in exchange for receiving local job listings.

“The real purpose of the sites, however, was to collect and aggregate ‘leads’ consisting of consumers’ personal information and purported consent to receive telemarketing robocalls,” the FTC said.

Once the company had that information in hand, it would supposedly then sell those leads to telemarketing clients, who in turn, rely on consumers’ supposed permission to justify robocalling consumers.

The good news is that four of the five companies that the FTC charged have settled with the agency. Not only did each pay hefty fines but more importantly for the consumer, they may never hear from those companies again and if they do, the pitch will be far closer to the truth.

For example, Vision Solar and Solar Xchange will be prohibited from misrepresenting that they are associated with any utility or government agency, making unsupported claims regarding the cost of installing solar panels, or taking part in “abusive” telemarketing practices.

How consumers can help in the meantime

What the FTC has done is impressive to say the least, but given the cockroach-like qualities of many of robocall-related companies and the growing scourge of robo texts, consumers can't lay down arms. Not just yet. 

In the meantime, the FTC and Robokiller says there are things consumers should remember and can do to help out:

  • Know your rights. Unless the company has your written permission to call you that way, a robocall trying to sell you something is illegal. Read the article Robocalls for more.

  • Spot the scams that use illegal robocalls. Scams are often associated with illegal robocalls. They might try to convince you it's from the government, tech support, or your auto warranty company, but it's not. You're being scammed. Listen to some examples of robocall scams.

  • Hang up on phone scams. You may receive a call from a scammer claiming to have won a prize but you need to pay for it. Don’t. It’s a scam. In other cases, the scammer may threaten arrest if you don't pay up immediately. Also a scam. Hang up or delete the voicemail, and whatever you do, don’t press any number or call back. For more advice, read Phone Scams.

  • Report scams and illegal robocalls. In order to prevent scams and illegal robocalls, reporting is essential. Report scams at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and report illegal robocalls at DoNotCall.gov.

  • Don't press "1". It may seem like an innocuous thing because we're so used to do doing it, but Robokiller says the resist pressing "1" on any call that you receive. The reason is that the robo company may have built some hook into the call where pressing "1" signifies that the consumer is giving their permission to receive even more telemarketing. .

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