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FTC Gets 744 New Ideas On How To Hang Up On Robocallers 281

coondoggie writes "The Federal Trade Commission today said the submission period for its Robocall Challenge had ended and it got 744 new ideas for ways to shut down the annoying automated callers. The FTC noted that the vast majority of telephone calls that deliver a prerecorded message trying to sell something to the recipient are illegal. The FTC regulates these calls under the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Challenge was issued to developing technical or functional solutions and proofs of concepts that can block illegal robocalls which, despite the agency's best efforts, seem to be increasing."
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FTC Gets 744 New Ideas On How To Hang Up On Robocallers

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  • by YodasEvilTwin ( 2014446 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @02:58PM (#42753491) Homepage
    Or maybe just actually investigate consumer complaints.
    • by The Moof ( 859402 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:31PM (#42753901)
      This is probably the best suggestion. If you ever have reported robocalls, you know that they refuse to investigate the complaint unless you appeal the initial "nothing to see here, move along citizen" cookie cutter response.
      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        Motherfucker! You tell me this now?

        I reported a spate of them a while back. When every single one of them came back with one of those responses, I just cursed the FCC and trashed the whole issue. I didn't even realize I could appeal!

      • by PRMan ( 959735 ) may work better. Where did you guys report it?
    • They do investigate consumer complaints, which is why one of the major companies running the "Rachel from Cardholder Services" scam got caught.

      • by gauauu ( 649169 )

        They do investigate consumer complaints, which is why one of the major companies running the "Rachel from Cardholder Services" scam got caught.

        What I don't understand is how, after she was supposedly caught (twice!), I still keep getting calls from that scam.

        • There's a large ecosystem that provides most of the pieces - call centers that accept calls, equipment and service providers for making calls, workers willing to listen to abuse for low pay, credit card companies that will pay merchants. Long distance telephone calls cost next to nothing even before VOIP made them cheaper, and the Caller ID system wasn't designed to prevent spoofing (in fact, spoofing is a feature, because it lets your office PBX output your phone number instead of the main number for the

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      I think we just found a use for Camp X-Ray over in Gitmo....

  • Too bad the FTC just can't apply for an overly broad patent and sue all of the automated callers in the Eastern District of Texas.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:03PM (#42753543)

    This works well for land lines. The calls stop. On my cell, it hasn't been much of a problem.

    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      Until the FAX spammers find you. Then you will start getting random calls from FAX machines at all times of day.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        Better to have a modem with some obnoxious BBS software behind.

        In one way - the best way is to have an answering machine saying "Please hold - your call will be answered in a moment" but then you just don't provide more and don't hang up until later. That will keep the robocall line blocked longer.

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        Just change your Answering machine announcement to this little mp3: []

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 31, 2013 @04:11PM (#42754393)

        When I was in law school, I worked at the legal clinic. They had a fax machine that got all sorts of spam. So, I followed all the proper techniques for opting out. Didn't stop the spam. So, I sued all of the companies for statutory damages. Winning a couple of those stopped the spam real quick.

        I still remember a phone conversation I had with one of the lawyers. He was talking about how I shouldn't waste everyone's time and money by suing his client. And I said they shouldn't waste everyone's time and money by spamming them and using up their resources. The funny thing is, the FRCP 11 and 37 sanctions imposed by the court caused by the out of state firm playing fast and lose ended up being more than the damage award. They really shouldn't have messed with the largest law firm in the state, especially when everyone works for the fun of it.

  • Why not get rid of robocalling altogether? These are not the days where it was difficult to get the word out to the public for fundraising or other reasons. The reason that robocalls are increasingly made up of scammer activities is that legitimate uses of the technology have gone elsewhere, to email or other online methods which are far cheaper and which leverage existing multipurpose infrastructure...and which, unlike telephone-based communications, also provides for more robust metrics regarding respon

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      Why not get rid of robocalling altogether?

      In what sense? Make it illegal entirely? As TFS says, they're focusing on people who are already robocalling illegally. Making it illegal probably won't stem that much.

      Or are you suggesting somehow implementing a CAPTCHA in the telephone system?

    • by Jeng ( 926980 )

      Wrong first question.

      Why not get rid of the telephone network?

      Go entirely IP based.

      • by icebike ( 68054 )

        Wrong first question.

        Why not get rid of the telephone network?

        Go entirely IP based.

        Yeah, that will solve this problem, after all it worked so well for unwanted CompuServe messages.

    • If all robocalling were made illegal and phone companies were compelled to provide a reporting option that was useable to law enforcement, then you might have a point.

      However, there are a couple robocall uses that are legal that I appreciate. A local school uses it to notify parents of unusual situations, like going on lock down or closing for inclement weather. I believe some cities use robocalling to warn residents of tornado dangers.

  • I'd really like to know why there's so much !@#$ like this going on. Spammers pollute the net with crap, and we can't find them to make them stop. Assholes build botnets to do that and worse, and we can't find them to make them stop. Robocallers annoy millions of people daily wasting their cell minutes, and ...

    This's the 21st Century. Why is any of this still happening? Why can't/don't the telcos police their damned networks?

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:06PM (#42753595) Homepage

    Somewhere along the line, it must be technically possible to identify that the number isn't coming from where it claims to be.

    Most of the obvious fraudulent crap is all using fake caller IDs and they're calling another country.

    If I could simply tell the phone company that I'm not willing to accept numbers which don't match their origin, that would kill off all of the crap I get. And I don't care about the legitimate ones, because by masking their real phone number they're no better than the scammers.

    Unfortunately, these guys lobby hard enough that they make sure nobody could pass anything which cut into their business -- because they feel it's their legitimate right to call us.

    It's gotten to the point where even the ones with legal exemptions like charities and political parties usually get an earful of profanity.

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      I think the best case would be to get rid of POTS.

      The fact that the end point does not know who is actually calling is a major flaw.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        The caller ID is set by the endpoint making the call. This information, along with the billed number is sent upstream. The local phone company strips the billed number when the call leaves their system. It would be trivial to send both to the far endpoint. Then re-design caller-id to capture both and display only caller ID. Someone could get the billed number by selecting the alternate number on their caller ID. You don't want to send billed ID only, because places like my work send 555-1212 for my DI
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't want political parties or charities calling me either. The fastest way to get on my "do not give money to ever" list is to call me.

      Seriously, why does "Save the Puppies" and "Elect My Candidate" get to be except from the Do Not Call Registry? Just because you think your puppies are special? They aren't and I don't care about them. I'm sure "Buy My Awesome Vacuum" also thinks they are special and if they could just get me on the phone I would see that I really do want to buy their vacuum. Well,

    • Somewhere along the line, it must be technically possible to identify that the number isn't coming from where it claims to be.

      I second this. Interestingly, I got a robocall today on my cell phone. Every month or two, I keep getting a call during the daytime offering me a fantastic deal on some sort of cruise they claim I have won. I have looked into it and the callers are rather infamous but what they do is they change their number every time they call. So it does no good to file a report (I have actually done this before) as the number you report is something they'll never use again and probably never really had to begin with

    • Worse than that, Skype always shows the same caller id for spam calls. Which means tracking anybody down would involve entering Microsoft's terrain. If the telcos can't do what you describe then imagine the horror of adding Skype to the mix.

      With VOIP becoming more prevalent, the scams are getting more creative. For example I got a call the other day with a Skype caller id. It was Microsoft calling to inform me that my computer was infected and will shut down after 24 hours. Intrigued, I went along to see

  • If there was a widely publicized shortcode you could text with a number to say has been spam calling you then people could do that, and set up an ENUM–style directory which has the RBL info for use by phone companies.

    Also phone companies could text people with information about this shortcode the first time every month that a previously unknown number makes a call or sends a message (until they say STOP of course ;-))

    Might work for mobile spam, at least.

  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:07PM (#42753605) Homepage Journal

    I've arrived at the point where I hate my land line. I'd drop it in a second but my wife thinks it's important. None of our friends or family ever call the land line, it's always trolls. I dunno.

    But I digress. I had a new one last night. My land line rings and I can't help myself, I need to see what asshole it is this time. I've been getting a lot of survey calls recently and I'm now openly hostile to them "get a real job, f-ck off". This time it's a robocall collecting names for a class action lawsuit against a medicine. "Have you ever taken whateveritscalled and experienced the following side effects? Blah Blah Blah. If so you are entitled to receive penies on the dollar while our bloodsucking ambulance chasers get rich"

    So now we have lawsuit trolling to look forward to.

    • by pla ( 258480 )
      I've arrived at the point where I hate my land line. I'd drop it in a second but my wife thinks it's important.

      Grow a pair and cancel it. Duh.

      "Sorry honey, but we waste way too much money on a useless, obsolete service that no one but fraudsters ever uses. In a local emergency, our cell phones have a better chance of working than the land line; and in a wide-scale emergency, you can't use the land-line from the car as we flee the coming Tsunami."
      • by penix1 ( 722987 )

        "Sorry honey, but we waste way too much money on a useless, obsolete service that no one but fraudsters ever uses. In a local emergency, our cell phones have a better chance of working than the land line; and in a wide-scale emergency, you can't use the land-line from the car as we flee the coming Tsunami."

        And either never get laid again or more accurately have you cell phone die on you because the power is out and will be out for days. That is assuming no cell tower damage and that the tower has a backup g

      • In a local emergency, our cell phones have a better chance of working than the land line

        That is patently false. Landlines have been proven to be far more resilient to local emergencies than cell phones dozens of times.

  • It also helps to never give out your cell # except to friends and family. I found that a lot of the businesses I was giving my phone number to were somehow passing it along to telemarketers (I could tell because sometimes I would vary my name slightly just to see).

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      That is why businesses get my google voice number.

      • Everybody gets my google voice number. I set family and friends to connect directly, but everybody else has to be announced. Don't want to tell me who you are? Straight to voicemail for you. Marketing voicemails? I'll never need to know you called again.

        Saving puppies or trying to get elected? Please feel free to leave a voicemail like every body else I don't have any desire to talk to.

    • by Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:46PM (#42754075)

      It also helps to never give out your cell # except to friends and family. I found that a lot of the businesses I was giving my phone number to were somehow passing it along to telemarketers (I could tell because sometimes I would vary my name slightly just to see).

      I ditched my land line a few years ago, but even my cell number wasn't immune. I'd still get calls from "Rachel" and her friends, not to mention "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooo!!!! This is your captain speaking . . ." []

      Worse, by far were the debt collectors calling for people I'd never heard of -- or even not asking for anyone in particular, just wanting a return call to some number to "clear up a file on my desk". Then if I did call them back and tell them they had the wrong guy, sometimes they'd stop for a while -- at least till that junk debt collector resold the debt to another.

      It wasn't all bad. One agency had a particularly entertaining tactic: each week or so a different person would leave a message. Since it was always the same voice actor, he had to use different names with appropriate accents for each persona. My favorite was fake Scotsman Alistair McTavish.

      Curiously, it seems that while people who do owe money have certain rights when dealing with collections agencies, people who don't actually owe money don't seem to have quite the same level of protection from harassment. You'd think that harassing non-debtors would be a self-limiting thing, since you (presumably) couldn't collect anything from someone without an overdue debt, but they were oddly persistent.

  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:11PM (#42753649) Journal

    Follow the money trail. Once you know what company is getting the money, find out who owns the company.

    Once you find out who owns the company, you shoot them.

    Problem solved.

    • Unfortunately, if there's money to be made, there's going to be someone there to make it. So shut down the current company doing it, and another one will step right in. The only real way to make it go away forever is to make it unprofitable.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I think that is why the recommended punishment was to shoot them.

  • Asterisk (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:11PM (#42753651)

    I solve this problem by having asterisk prescreen all incoming calls. An IVR prompt requires you to press a combination of numbers before it actually rings any phones. A white and black list for caller ID data are used to bypass or simply play line disconnected tones and hang up.

    It's the only reason I still have a POTS line. I never give out my cell.

    • So there are two of us who have found the same solution.

      A+, it has been working for me for a couple of years now.

  • Any law that is not enforced is meaningless. And that's the big problem here. If I get one of these calls that is clearly violating the law, then what? There is no one I can can contact who will immediately take action and prosecute the person who is breaking the law. It would take an enormous amount of resources to really clean up this problem, and so nothing is done. And the people making these calls know that.

    • by PRMan ( 959735 ) I can assure you that companies get the fines. I worked for a couple of them.
  • Phone companies should be required to provide Anonymous call rejection and toll free call rejection. This would solve the problem. The subscriber should have the option to divert these calls to voicemail or reject them outright.

    The only issue here is that phone companies refuse to enact these simple and common sense solutions. They either refuse to allow the subscriber to manage call, as is true for most cell phones, or they charge for it. Really this is a business model issue, not something the end u

  • The FTC aren't in a position to really handle robocalls and SMS spam, other than acting as a last resort legal hammer for egregious cases.

    The telcos, on the other hand, could *trivially* stop the vast majority of it if they had any interest in doing so. But they don't have any interest in that - they get paid by the various crooks doing this sort of thing. And it doesn't cost them any customers - what are the customers going to do, move to a different US telco that's just as bad?

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      Why as a last resort for only the egregious cases?
      Any case they should prosecute as fiercely as possible.

  • by indraneil ( 1011639 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @03:20PM (#42753761)

    Our submission is at: []
    I found that most suggestions fell into the following buckets

    *Things the Govt can do*
    - FTC needs to ensure caller ID cant be spoofed
    - FBI needs to hunt down the racketeers and bust them
    - FTC needs to mandate (likely by fiat) that the telephone companies make the robocallers pay the full cost for the call

    *Things you can do*
    - Use an audio capcha system
    - Provide a system to black list known and irritating callers
    - A few people discussed how Google voice might solve the problem.

    I did not expect to see that many people going through the submission process which tells me that the pain point is real.
    However, I think people are mostly converging on how they intend to block the calls and the winner will get decided on how good your execution measures up to every one else.
    What FTC finally does implement based on the contest is another matter.

  • Can't Congress just pass a law prohibiting this like they are doing with guns and murder?
    • by edibobb ( 113989 )
      They already have. But law enforcement refuses to enforce it, citing "lack of resources", i.e., "we want more money."
      • Whooooosh

      • There's also a large jurisdiction problem.

        US law enforcement can't arrest people in Canada, despite the fact that the US and Canada share the same phone system.

        (Btw, the Canadians are upset by the robocalls coming from the US)

  • by Sigma 7 ( 266129 )

    Examples listed are all variations on a theme. All technical solutions, which are always known to fall to technical attacks (Payment? Use stolen credit card. Whitelist? Implausible if you're running a home business.)

    The only way to stop robocall telemarketing is to cut off the source of income, or make it too expensive to obtain income. Always try to get a live agent (robocalls ask you to press 1), delay tactics to keep people talking as long as possible, providing fake/stolen credit card info, and the l

  • If Homeland Security,, can eavesdrop on any phone call in the U.S. at will, they can certainly track illegal Robocallers. Do they just refuse to do anything that could be considered productive?
    • They do track the calls. To Canada.

      That "different country" thing makes it a tad awkward to enforce US law upon the robocallers.

      And since the robocallers are nothing if not fair, the Canadians are upset about robocalls coming from the US.

  • I am constantly getting robocalls from "Card Services" at the phone number 775-410-1104. I haven't ever owned a credit card. I've tried my best to try and get information so that I can do something about it, but they hang up as soon as they think you are on to them. You can't call the number back. Is there anyway to nail this entity?
    • Call "Magic Jack" and report the number to them (seems to be in their pool), or call the police? (wait, no, they don't do shit until after you fall for a scam). They try to get your card number and expiration date "just for verification".

      Protip: Caller ID can also be spoofed. NEVER give any information to anyone who calls you, unless you know them personally. Even if it says that it's your bank on the caller ID. Just tell them that you have no way of knowing if they are who they say they are, and th

    • No, but you can waste their time every time that they call. The reason that they robocall is that it is cheap. Just string them along so that they have to pay a person for the time to talk to you. Ask which cards they will take. Ask if you can roll in your home loan. Ask them to wait while you look up your balances. After a while they get wise and hang up on you. If enough people waste their time eventually they will go broke. Needless to say never actually give them an account number.
    • by gQuigs ( 913879 )

      I mean the article is about how they aren't doing a great job right now.... but you can still report it here: []

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      You are too aggressive in getting identification from them. Just say "yes" and eventually they'll give you a way to contact them to pay (unless they put it on your phone bill). Give them a credit card and do a chargeback. Put it on your phone bill, but dispute it with your phone company (most will block 3rd party billing if you ask, not sure if they are required to). But get to that and you'll have as much information about them as they have on you. Then you can give it all to the FCC who claims to tak
      • Never ever EVER give them a yes answer. That puts your phone number on a list they sell of valid targets. Made that mistake with "Rachel", trying to get real info from them for the FTC. I am still paying for it, even after they shut her down.

        See, the mere fact that you answered the phone and pressed 1 makes your phone number itself valuable, at least in bulk with all the others. You can bet that "Rachel" has probably made more money selling lists of answered numbers than on the services being marketed.

    • by Almost-Retired ( 637760 ) on Thursday January 31, 2013 @06:28PM (#42756117) Homepage

      Yes, and I have turned that name & number in to the DNC web site until my fingers are bleeding, fat damned lot of good its done. Now the wife is answering them playing like she is hard of hearing and going into hillbilly vernacular as soon as a human comes on the line. They hang up quickly but they keep calling backIt just encourages the bastards.

      We have one of those call centers here. They made the mistake of doing a local call campaign, so I wrote it all down, and had smoke coming out of both ears when I walked into the office. Some red headed bitchj came to the counter & claimed it wasn't them, so I quoted the callerid I had written down, then quoted the number in the phone book for them. She reached under the counter as if to retrieve a weapon but found herself looking at my carry piece faster. I said, slowly and quietly, once, that if that number ever showed up on my callerid again, that I did know where there was about 50 sticks of very old Nobels, and that I knew how to use it. She took me serious. Took my phone number and purged it from the database.

      That was nearly 20 years ago.

      I was serious in case anybody cares.

      Anything that raises their CODB gets my approval. Point is, its my telephone, and I pay the bill for it, so I should have control over what its used for. That part simply is not open for discussion. But I think Card services has changed their name, we are now being harassed at least daily by an outfit called SERVERS TDM, at 1-213-344-4839. Make of that what you will. What we really need is the home address of the owner of the scam.

  • Why aren't there any smartphone auto-screening apps available? Maybe they'd need a rooted phone to operate, but basically, they could intercept phone calls and let numbers on a whitelist through, auto-hang-up on blacklist numbers, and send greylist numbers to a skill-testing screening question asking them to enter, for example, the sum of 8 and 10 using touch tone digits, to prove that they are actual people. Auto-dialers wouldn't do this and thus, wouldn't bother you. The skill test could be more sophis
  • Just like there was a "Captain Crunch" guy that could whistle at certain tones, why cant a group of "trusted parties" have
    a special audio signaler that sends a signal -back- to the originator of the call. This signal could be heard by the phone
    companies and they would know what circuit has the mad dial-er on it.

    Just an idea.

  • Somewhere there is a story about someone that actually got charged with blowing a loud whistle into the ear of a telemarketer. I think this was before it was actually illegal for them to call. Now that it is, it is really tempting to do. And no, I don't care about the poor underpaid schmuck on the other end of the line, they deserve what they get.

  • Tell the govt, police to start doing their jobs. What are we paying them for?

    The one thing which really scares crooks is a decent chance of facing serious jail time. I'd imagine that in the US, the significant chance of getting raped in county/medium security prisons too, is a good deterrent -- so you want to put them in county jail with the gangbangers and meth heads, not the minimum security holiday farm. As the Chinese say, "kill the chicken to warn the monkeys".

    Once some of the big players see what they

  • Why isn't the government using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to arrest and prosecute these criminals like they did Aaron Schwartz? Schwartz didn't actually hurt anyone or do any damage but robo-calls do annoy people. They must be using some kind of computer to make the calls so the Act would apply if the government was serious about the issue.
  • ... is for the phone carriers to test the caller ID coming from their customers to validate. If the caller ID info is not associated with the customer of that trunk, then do not complete the call. Additionally, if the outgoing volume exceeds a certain amount (around 1000 per month), the business gets classified as an outbound caller, and their numbers get added to a list of publicly available numbers people can look up for free to find out the legal name of the company, their address, main contact phone n

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.