Complaints about automated calls up sharply

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Robocalls can be highly annoying to consumers because they’re hard to stop. Fraudsters use caller-ID spoofing so that when a person tries to call back the robocaller, they get a disconnected number or something other than the source of the original call.

The best thing people can do when they get an illegal robocall is to hang up. Do not press “1” to speak to a live operator to get off the call list. If you do, the FTC says, it will probably just lead to more robocalls. The caller will know you’re there and willing to answer, and may continue to call.

The FTC says people can also contact their phone providers to ask them to block the number. But be sure to ask whether they charge for that. Telemarketers change caller-ID information often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will soon change.

The industry says most legitimate telemarketers don’t utilize robocalls to generate sales.

“They give a bad name to telemarketers and hurt everybody,” says Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs at Direct Marketing Association, a trade group.

Cerasale says the do-not-call list has resulted in telemarketers making far fewer cold calls to random people. Instead, he says, marketers have shifted to other methods of reaching people, such as mail, email or targeted advertisements on websites. That, he said, could be one of the reasons that the number of telemarketers checking the registry has dropped so sharply.

In light of the increased complaints, the FTC is stepping up efforts to combat robocalls. It recently released two consumer videos to explain what robocalls are and what to do about them. It also announced an October summit to examine the problem and explore the possibility of emerging technology that might help trace robocalls and prevent scammers from spoofing their caller ID.

Enforcement is another tool. The FTC has brought cases against about a dozen companies since 2009, including Talbots, DirecTV and Dish Network. The cases have yielded $5.6 million in penalties.

The agency said this month that it was mailing refund checks to more than 4,000 consumers nationwide who were caught up in a scam where the telemarketer used robocalls from names like “Heather from card services” to pitch worthless credit card rate reduction programs for an up-front fee. Checks to consumers range from $31 to $1,300 depending on how much was lost.

To file a complaint with the FTC, people can go online to http://www.ftc.gov or call 888-382-1222 to report their experience for possible enforcement.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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