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FTC Awards $50k In Prizes To Cut Off Exasperating Robocalls 216

Posted by timothy
from the award-the-perpetrators-jail-time dept.
coondoggie writes "The Federal Trade Commission today said it picked two winners out of nearly 800 entries for its $50,000 Robocall Challenge which dared technologists to come up with an innovative way of blocking the mostly illegal but abundant calls. According to the FTC, Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss will each receive $25,000 for their proposals, which both use software to intercept and filter out illegal prerecorded calls using technology to 'blacklist' robocaller phone numbers and 'whitelist' numbers associated with acceptable incoming calls." Can't wait until Symantec, Kaspersky, etc. sell competing anti-spammer packages for phones.
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FTC Awards $50k In Prizes To Cut Off Exasperating Robocalls

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  • I know ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:55AM (#43338941) Homepage

    Offer $1k for the heads of anybody who runs one of these organizations. ;-)

    It's gotten to the point where pretty much any unknown caller either gets hung up on immediately, or told to PFO since I can't believe they are who they claim to be.

    If I actually have any business interest with you, send it to me in snail mail, because I no longer trust incoming calls -- between the fake tech support, notification I've won a cruise, or someone offering to lower my credit card interest but who has no idea of who I am, the vast majority of calls I receive are clearly fraudulent and coming from another country.

    • by Bigbutt (65939)

      If you're not in my contact list, leave a message.

      If you are in my contact list already identified as a spammer, don't even bother to leave a message.

      [John]

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        If you're not in my contact list, leave a message.

        If you are in my contact list already identified as a spammer, don't even bother to leave a message.

        [John]

        Do you get multiple spam calls from the same phone number? The only repeat spam calls I get from the same number are political calls - the commercial spammers use made up numbers (or move to different numbers often).

        One time I got repeated calls from a politician to join a "town hall meeting", there was no way to opt-out of the calls, so finally after the 3rd one I put him on speaker phone and waited for the question and answer section - they put me live on the call when I asked "Please stop calling me, I'm

        • by Bigbutt (65939)

          Actually I do. I get multiple spam calls from mainly home security companies. They're all under two entries (I filled the list for 'Spammers' last year so I have a 'Spammers2' list) so it'll pop up as one or the other when they call.

          I also identify as spammers the local marketing companies that try to get me to subscribe to the paper, increase my subscription to the paper from weekends to all week, add cable channels to my subscription, increase my cable subscription (the Xfinity spam calls to add voip and

    • Except as a normal course of work I do call from another country... I could use skype but it isn't as clear as a land line.

      Here is where I see a problem... I'm not too sure, but I seem to remember something about spoofing phone numbers/call display via an asterisk server. If that can be done then using phone numbers would be useless.

    • If I actually have any business interest with you, send it to me in snail mail, because I no longer trust incoming calls

      Meh, I get more junk snail mail than junk calls, and even though snail mail doesn't actually interrupt what I'm doing, its still pretty annoying because of the environmental cost and the cost of recycling, which is born by the council (and hence the council tax payer).

      I do wish that Ofcom would actually do *something* about the illegal cold-callers and spam SMSers though. They just don't seem to be at all interested in punishing anyone, even where either the cold-callers themselves, or the telco they're us

      • Meh, I get more junk snail mail than junk calls, and even though snail mail doesn't actually interrupt what I'm doing, its still pretty annoying because of the environmental cost and the cost of recycling, which is born by the council (and hence the council tax payer).

        Yes, but in the US, at least, bulk mailing subsidizes ordinary first-class letters. It's annoying, but it's the postal equivalent of advertisements on the radio - the noise pays the bills for the signal. I have no idea if it works that way

        • Yes, but in the US, at least, bulk mailing subsidizes ordinary first-class letters. It's annoying, but it's the postal equivalent of advertisements on the radio - the noise pays the bills for the signal. I have no idea if it works that way in the UK, though.

          I have no interest in this subsidy. If someone wants to send me something through the post, they can damned well pay for it rather than expecting me to be subjected to the junk mail just so they can save a bit. Add to that the cost to every household of disposing of the junk, and the net result is it probably doesn't actually make anything cheaper anyway. Junk-mailers should be taxed heavilly.

          • Junk-mailers should be taxed heavilly.

            They should pay the same postage that everyone else has to. Right now they get a discount "bulk rate" even though delivering their junk requires the same effort as delivering first class mail. This would cut down on the amount of their obnoxious spam and help the post office stay afloat.

            Also, if a person doesn't want to receive unsolicited mail, it should be trivial (and free) to return it to the sender. Let them throw it away.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      Offer $1k for the heads of anybody who runs one of these organizations. ;-)

      It's gotten to the point where pretty much any unknown caller either gets hung up on immediately, or told to PFO since I can't believe they are who they claim to be.

      If I actually have any business interest with you, send it to me in snail mail, because I no longer trust incoming calls -- between the fake tech support, notification I've won a cruise, or someone offering to lower my credit card interest but who has no idea of who I am, the vast majority of calls I receive are clearly fraudulent and coming from another country.

      Why would you pick up the phone for an unknown caller if you're just going to hang up on them, even if they tell you who they are?

      I just let unknown calls go to voicemail, the only calls I pick up are for a few known callers (my boss, my wife, etc), everyone else goes to VM. You can tell within the first few seconds of the VM whether or not you want to listen to the whole thing. With Google Voice voicemail->text transcription, I don't even need to listen to the message to know that it's someone I don't w

    • by Mousit (646085)
      Hung up on or told to PFO? Honestly, I'm shocked anyone even answers an unknown call at all anymore. These days Caller ID is almost universal--certainly in the U.S. (this being a story about the FTC), but I'd wager the case is pretty similar in most any first-world nation. And cell phones (smart or dumb, doesn't matter) have contact lists, making CID even more friendly and usable.

      I realize a business line gets plenty of unknown calls from real customers so they need to answer, but a personal/home line?
      • by nukenerd (172703)
        Mousit wrote :-

        Honestly, I'm shocked anyone even answers an unknown call at all anymore.

        You sound like you live in a rather small circle. Here are some wider-world reasons :-

        1) Elderly mother has collapsed in the street somewhere and a Good Samaritan/police/hospital are trying to contact me (she carries my contact number)

        2) Daughter's car has broken down somewhere with no cell phone coverage and she is trying to contact me from a payphone.

        3) A hobby club meeting I go to weekly has been cancelled and a fellow member is trying to contact me to save me the journey (gets m

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Pretty much all of these 'problems' can be solved by the caller leaving a message. A delay of a few seconds, even a minute or two, before I check VM is not going to make a difference.

        • by Mousit (646085)
          I did point out I was trying to talk "average person" here, and for that matter "average day". I'm aware there's always exceptions to the rule, and special circumstances sometimes. I sort of figured someone would go about pointing out exceptions instead of actually using a normal day as the example.

          1) I'd call this one of those outlier circumstances. Plus, voicemail. 2) Very much an unusual circumstance. Also voicemail. 3, 4, 5, voicemail voicemail voicemail. 6) Yet again, special circumstance, but
          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            Still, sorry to hear CID is only an option instead of a standard, included feature in the UK.

            It's not a standard, included feature in the US, either, mate. I just checked my bill and "caller ID name and number" is a $10/month option.

    • Offer $1k for the heads of anybody who runs one of these organizations

      It would be better to expensively fine the businesses who use the robo-callers to advertise their products and services. Once the revenue stream of the robo-callers dries up, the robo-calling will stop.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        It would be better to expensively fine the businesses who use the robo-callers to advertise their products and services.

        Good luck with that ... the calls I get are either from American area codes, or call centers in India who are there just to scam people.

        So much of this is going to be outside the reach of any enforcement as to make it a joke. They don't care because nobody can touch them.

        Send in the Seals or cal in an airstrike. ;-)

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Good luck with that ... the calls I get are either from American area codes, or call centers in India who are there just to scam people.

          The hardware is on local soil.

          Start fining people who install hardware that's subsequently used for robocalling. After a couple of large fines you can be damn sure they won't be installing equipment for any more foreigners (or will be asking for a million bucks in escrow as 'insurance' - same effect).

        • by sjames (1099)

          At least if we use the military option on phone spammers and scammers, it will actually provide some real benefit to the citizens who pay for it. That would be a nice change of pace.

    • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @01:06PM (#43339903)

      Dear gstoddart,
      Thank our lucky stars we've found you on Slashdot! We have tried to contact you by cell and land phoneline both work, and at home and each time without successful. We have only one chance left to you respond or forever your loss. Please text OKYAGOOD to #3832 to claim free cruise or to #2231 to lower your credit rating!

      PS: We have noticed your email is full of virus and we can help you clean that out. Text STOPSPAM to #2002 for reply.

      Sincerely,
      Hazel from Rhodesia

    • the vast majority of calls I receive are clearly fraudulent and coming from another country

      Don't your friends call anymore? Don't you have friends? :(

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Don't your friends call anymore? Don't you have friends? :(

        Sure, but they email or text ... actual person to person phone calls from home is reserved for calling my parents for the most part.

        It's just not a medium I rely on any more, which means the proportion of fraudulent calls is around 90%.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      the vast majority of calls I receive are clearly fraudulent and coming from another country.

      A good number of calls are coming from overseas (India - is there nothing that they won't outsource?), however they often acquire local telephone numbers.

      In Canada, it's a huge problem - enough so that CBC Marketplace hired an undercover Indian freelance journalist [www.cbc.ca] to get hired by one of these telemarketing firms calling Canada from India. They show up as Canadian calls, but originate overseas.

      You'd think they'd be a

    • Offer $1k for the heads of anybody who runs one of these organizations. ;-)

      While this is humorous, it's not a horrible idea.

      Let people sue the businesses that use robodialers for $1000 for each call they received. After this "inexpensive marketing technique" starts costing them money, they'll think twice about doing it. The people who are annoyed get money, which makes them happy. Problem solved.

  • by space_jake (687452) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:57AM (#43338971)
    It's the only way to be sure.
    • by icebike (68054)

      Didn't our Patriotic Attorney General claim the right to us Drones to attack Americans on American Soil?
      Surely they wouldn't have any reservations against hitting some call center off-shore...

  • Pfffff 50k? (Score:5, Funny)

    by dmomo (256005) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @11:58AM (#43338987) Homepage

    I just got a call from this lady who said I could make at LEAST that much EVERY WEEK all at home using my computer. I even get to go on a cruise for a small deposit.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:01PM (#43339043) Journal

    Hire some investigators to wait by the phone for a robocall. When they get one, play along. While they play along, collect evidence. When you have enough evidence, arrest the perp and send him to prison.

    Is this a trick question?

    • by swb (14022) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:14PM (#43339243)

      ...follow the money trail and file a RICO suit against EVERYONE involved in the money trail, especially managers and executives or anyone else who would have "created a climate accepting of working with illegal businesses".

      Perp walk those fuckers on national news, naming names and home towns.

      If we ratchet up the fear factor high enough, nobody will work with these assholes anymore, and if you can't collect money what's the point? Sure, some politically minded assholes will still robocall ("Stop Obama!", "Legalize Gay Marriage", etc), but if it doesn't make any money, nobody will do it.

      There's a big chunk of the "legitimate" economy at work here to keep these guys going -- if we take away their 2% take and make sure some of them do 20 in Lewisberg while desperately holding the soap then this will dampen the urge to dabble at the fringes of the economy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Because robocallers are not the people selling goods and services. Robocallers are "lead generators" meaning they sell leads.

      Say you get a robocall for burial insurance. You press 1 when prompted, and "play along." A few days later, you get a salesman from ABC burial insurance calling you to sell you a policy. Sue the shit out of ABC, and you find out that ABC never even heard of robocalls, and doesn't know anything. ABC bought "leads" -- names and phone numbers of people who were interested in burial

      • by sjames (1099)

        They bought leads. And the money for those leads went somewhere. Ask ABC where the money went and claw it back.

      • by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @04:41PM (#43342473)

        So ABC didn't make the calls, and isn't liable.

        The second that ABC called my number they were in violation of the DNC legislation. That makes them liable.

        Prosecute enough of these innocent "lead buyers" who are paying people who create phone spam and people will stop paying phone spammers. Phone spammers don't work for free, so they'll eventually stop when nobody buys their services.

        The same policy can work for email spammers. If nobody paid Constant Contact to spam potential or current customers, Constant Contact wouldn't spam anyone.

    • by TopSpin (753)

      arrest the perp and send him to prison.

      Investigating, arresting and prosecuting people for violating these kinds of laws is unbelievably difficult and expensive and rarely nets more than wrist-slaps. Cases take years, litigators cost millions and there is and endless supply of replacement spammers to replace the prosecuted. Governments executives and their staffs know this and have better things to do.

      Finding the least statist solution is my preferred remedy in any case; make the practice economically infeasible by creating a generic regulat

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        The Telcos know who's dialling 10,000 numbers per day and who isn't. They could shut down a robocaller in minutes if they were motivated to do so by a large fine.

        After a while they'll stop working for shell companies and/or start asking for large deposits in escrow before they'll work for people who don't have a large physical presence in the country.

        • The Telcos know who's dialling 10,000 numbers per day and who isn't.

          I was about to post something similar. The core of the problem is telcos profiting from crime, not lack of a technical solution. FTA: "...getting private industry to use these to block and reduce the number of robocalls"

          Houston, we have a problem...

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Hatta (162192)

        Investigating, arresting and prosecuting people for violating these kinds of laws is unbelievably difficult and expensive and rarely nets more than wrist-slaps. Cases take years, litigators cost millions and there is and endless supply of replacement spammers to replace the prosecuted. Governments executives and their staffs know this and have better things to do.

        Like throwing potheads in jail.

  • Worthless... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:04PM (#43339083)

    Worthless. 99% of all illegal robocalls currently spoof their CallerID. I get robocalls that appear to be coming from my neighbors (robocallers frequently spoof a number that is in the same areacode and prefix as the number they are calling). When I subpoena phone records, the calls actually came from across the country from some podunk reseller in California. All that will happen is that robocallers will start spoofing the whitelisted phone numbers.

    You need 1) some indication that the callerID has been falsified (i.e. does not match the exchange of the originating ANI) and 2) have carriers impose restrictions on their clients ability to spoof CallerID, such as requiring them to register the numbers they want to spoof in advance, and prove they have a right to use those numbers in outbound calls (such as a call center making calls for a client, where they legitimately need to put the client's inbound 800 number in the outgoing callerID).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Mod Plus a billion! Why the hell does number spoofing still work? Something is very broken in a system which allows this.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Caller ID spoofing works because PABX systems regularly have different outgoing numbers to the most relevant incoming one. When someone calls you from a large company, it's generally useful for their direct number to show up, not the one for the PABX.

        Number spoofing, in the sense of spoofing the real originating number, doesn't work and never has. The telephone company knows what number a call really originated from, even if the caller ID doesn't match it.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

          that doesn't excuse spoofing different area code at all.

        • by sjames (1099)

          So force the real customer name and number in in addition to the one the PABX sends. Then just *something to never hear from them again.

  • Hello! How would you like to have your business appear on the front page of Google search listings AND be automatically whitelisted on millions of residential phones? Press 1 now to speak to a representative and help your business succeed . . .
  • IF there's any good to come of this, it'll:

    1) accelerate the decline of POTS telephony, and
    2) everyone will be have been so frazzled by being robocalled at mealtimes by claims farmers (or the scam du jour); that nobody will trust anything a stranger ever says over a telephone, making life much harder for everyone, but especially the scammers, who will have successfully pissed in the well for their friends and future selves. A classic case of the Tragedy of the Commons (where the 'commons' in this case, is t

    • 1) These calls happen just as frequently (if not more) over cell. (My cell phone usually gets several per day)

      2) People have been saying this exact same thing for 30+ years, yet the robocallers are still here.
      • by Bigbutt (65939)

        Yea but with more cell phones and less POTS, you're more likely to see the number via caller id and so ignore the call. With POTS, you don't always have the option to see the number, and may have to pay for the privilege if it is even available.

        [John]

  • Why can I not do a black ( or white) list of callers on my cell phone?
    Even if they charged for it, this would be useful.
    Fricking ripoff cell phone providers.

  • Rather than try to use technological stopgaps, this should be treated as a law enforcement issue. The purpose of these robocalls is to get people to pay money to the scammers running the operations. Follow the money, and you find the scammers. The FCC should get a surveillance warrant ahead of time, then call up pretending to be a normal customer interested in whatever product or service they're hawking, and pay with a traceable bank account. Find out where the money is going and you've got your perps.

    • hah... RTFA on myself
    • by CCarrot (1562079)

      Rather than try to use technological stopgaps, this should be treated as a law enforcement issue. The purpose of these robocalls is to get people to pay money to the scammers running the operations. Follow the money, and you find the scammers. The FCC should get a surveillance warrant ahead of time, then call up pretending to be a normal customer interested in whatever product or service they're hawking, and pay with a traceable bank account. Find out where the money is going and you've got your perps.

      I've always thought it would be interesting if people could request a fake CC number to use with these bastards. One that will appear to process correctly on their end, but will really trigger alerts and automatic backtracing on any attempt to actually use it. Once the CC processor has the financial info for the scumbags, turn it over to the authorities to get them shut down and their financial assets seized. Hit them where it hurts, the pocketbook, since that's the only thing they'll really notice.

      Of co

  • by swb (14022) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:31PM (#43339449)

    I don't want to run fucking antispamware on my phone.

    Telephone exchange operators should be running this software and doing some basic sanity checks on calls entering their networks from the outside of them.

    Individuals or businesses abusing trunk lines should be barred from future service. CLECs and other carrier-like entities who permit abuse should lose network access as well.

    What boggles my mind about all this is the carriers standing around with their dicks in their hands with a "gee, there's nothing we can do..." attitude.

    The FCC should impose fines on the carriers, too, and then we'll see how quickly they can fix this problem.

  • anti-spam for phones (Score:5, Informative)

    by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:33PM (#43339475) Homepage Journal

    Can't wait until Symantec, Kaspersky, etc. sell competing anti-spammer packages for phones.

    My google voice number discards spam calls all the time. Including political calls.

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/235637/google_voice_spam_filter_blocks_unwanted_calls.html [pcworld.com]

    Best thing ever.

  • This seems like a late 90's solution to email spam. Why not a system that prescreens the call with a welcome message from you. This would trip some sort of probabilistic model that matches known waveforms of audio data that are robocallers. If after a few second delay it doesn't match anything, let the call through. Phone numbers in your contacts list are automatically let through. *123 reports a caller as a robocall at anytime during the call if one gets through. Anti-spam companies already have a good dea
  • by MadCow-ard (330423) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @12:36PM (#43339509)
    Simple, use captcha type audio to trip up bots. All calls allowed through either from the white list or through a quick Turing test (captcha). 1. Use a white list of all known contacts, and let all from the list directly through. 2. All not recognized calls are given a short recording: "press 123 to continue your call". Rotate the numbers and vary the voice message to ensure its not being translated by the bot. Get creative with Captcha type sentances: How many toes do you have... Nothing too difficult, and nothing too costly. Where's my 50K?
  • This is a regulatory issue (unlike many other technical issues where the US government is more than happy to legislate on). Require phone companies to block spoofed phone numbers and alert law enforcement for their point of origin, unless they are explicitly authorized by the owner of the phone number. Phone companies have the technical capability to do this. What they lack is the incentive to do it. A simple fine would be more than enough to convince them them that it doesn't make business sense to allow r
  • Crude ACL (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhraudulentOne (217867) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @01:55PM (#43340595) Homepage Journal

    I run a telephone network in Canada, and I have somewhat of a Crude "ACL" for a system-wide blocklist. I have been using it for years, and it's pretty effective though not very efficient to manage.

    I monitor incoming trunks and alarm on spikes. When I get a spike from a robodialer, I look up the number online to see if it's listed as a scam or generic robo call. If it is, I simply add it to my "ACL," and all further calls coming into my system are rejected with a short message. The message states that if they would like to phone anyone on our system they need to first call our main business office (the only number they are allowed to dial) and explain who they are.

    I have a large list of obviously fake numbers that I reject (all zeros, 01234567890, 1111111111, etc )

    Occasionally I will have a collection agency that phones in and complains that they are a valid business, and that they should be let through (using a number such as 1-000-000-0000. I explain that there is no valid reason why they would need to spoof their number, and that they should dial as PRIVATE or BLOCKED if they want to proceed. I simply do not allow them to phone in.

    I'm not totally sure on the legalities of this, but customers love it, and I enjoy the satisfaction of blocking a tonne of calls. I have no way of dealing with companies that spoof local numbers, but I can at least block all of my exchanges as they would never be coming back in over the same trunk group as these robo dialers anyway.

    This is one of those projects that I have slowly tweaked over time, but I am considering writing scripts that will go out and crawl those common telephone complain sites to build a list on the fly every week and add those numbers to my 'ACL.' It would be nice if there was an up-to-date 'spamhaus' equivalent for phone numbers.

  • I get at least two or three calls a day on my employer-provided cell phone from someone who wants to lower my credit card rates. You have to press "1" to talk to someone about it. If you complain to them or ask who they're calling from they instantly hang up. Unless I'm very busy I always put the phone on speaker and press 1. Then I say hello to the human, and wait for them to say something. If there are other people in ear shot I'll take the phone off speaker and and stage-whisper "die in a fire!" into t

  • " ... Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss will each receive $25,000 for their proposals, which both use software to intercept and filter out illegal prerecorded calls using technology to 'blacklist' robocaller phone numbers and 'whitelist' numbers associated with acceptable incoming calls."

    Wow !! Blacklists and white lists!! Whoever would have thought of that ?!

  • Someone named Serdar came up with a way to cut spam?

    Someone named Foss submitted a closed algorithm?

    Is it still April 1?!

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