On October 4th, 2017 the FTC issued a prepared statement of their testimony to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging which provided an update on their battle against illegal robocalls. The FTC used this opportunity to highlight their progress in several key areas including Law Enforcement, New Technology, and Consumer Education.
Since the FTC began enforcing the Do Not Call provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) in 2004, the Commission has brought 131 enforcement actions seeking civil penalties. From the 124 cases that have been resolved thus far, they have collected over $120 million in monetary relief and civil penalties.
In 2017 the FTC has received an average of 400,000 robocall complaints per month.
Below are highlights from the FTC’s testimony to the Senate entitled, Still Ringing off the Hook: An Update on Efforts to Combat Robocalls.
Robocall Law Enforcement
TSR provisions went into effect in September 2009, prohibiting the vast majority of robocalls selling a good or service. The robocall provisions cover prerecorded calls to all consumers, including those who have not registered their phone number on the Do Not Call Registry.
The FTC has aggressively enforced prohibitions against robocalls, filing 45 cases against 163 companies and 121 individuals responsible for billions of illegal robocalls. From the 41 cases concluded thus far, the Commission has collected more than $29 million.
Strategic Targeting of Robocall Violators
Over the past two years the FTC, often in conjunction with its law enforcement partners, initiated nine new actions targeting defendants alleged to be responsible for billions of illegal robocalls selling home security systems, free vacations, medical alert devices, energy savings, and credit card interest rate reductions.
As an example, in January 2017, the Commission filed two lawsuits, FTC v. Justin Ramsey and FTC v. Aaron Michael Jones that shut down operations responsible for billions of illegal robocalls. 70 million of the telemarketing calls were to numbers on the Do No Call Registry. For more on this lawsuit read our blog article, FTC Takes Down Two Companies Accused of Illegal Robocalling.
Reaching Violators Attempting to Avoid Detection
Illegal robocallers often hide behind abusive and fraudulent calls. They take steps to avoid detection, either by operating through a web of related entities, “spoofing” their Caller ID information, or hiding overseas. The FTC uses every investigative and litigation tool at its disposal to cut through these deceptions. Again, the Jones and Ramsey cases are examples of how defendants operated through a tangle of related individuals and entities to avoid detection by law enforcement.
Another tactic used by abusive robocallers is to evade law enforcement by operating overseas. To address the issue of consumers victimized by fraudulent calls from international call centers, the Commission has cracked down on their U.S. enablers.
Coordination with Law Enforcement Partners
The FTC maintains collaborative relationships with state law enforcers, including through the National Association of Attorneys General Do Not Call working group. The Commission also coordinates with its counterparts in other countries on particular cases and broader strategic matters such as Caller ID spoofing. The FTC’s collaboration with its partners takes many forms, including sharing information and targets, assisting with investigations, and working collaboratively on long-term policy initiatives.
New Technologies Benefit Robocallers
Evolving technologies have created even more problems for the FTC in their ability to combat what has become a sophisticated illegal telemarketing networks. The major issues in play revolve around the following:
- Inexpensive Calling. Robocallers benefit from automated dialing technology, inexpensive international and long distance calling rates, and the ability to move internationally and employ cheap labor. The only necessary equipment is a computer connected to the Internet.
- Masked Identity. Technological changes have enabled telemarketers to conceal their identities. New technologies allow callers to easily manipulate the Caller ID information that appears with an incoming phone call.
- International Calling. New technologies allow robocallers to operate outside of jurisdictions where they are most likely to face prosecution. The entities involved in the path of a robocall can be located in different countries. The process for tracing calls often fails because one of the carriers in the chain has not retained the records necessary for a law enforcement investigation.
The FTC delivers practical, plain language information on numerous issues in English and in Spanish. The Commission also uses law enforcement announcements as opportunities to remind consumers how to recognize a similar situation and report it to the FTC.
In the case of robocalls, the FTC’s message to consumers is simple: if you answer a call and hear an unwanted recorded sales message—HANG UP.
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