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Cellphones Government Advertising Communications The Courts

FTC Dismantles Two Huge Robocall Organizations (onthewire.io) 121

Billions of robocalls came from two groups selling extended auto warranties, SEO services, and home security systems over the last seven years -- many to numbers on the "Do Not Call" list -- but this week the Federal Trade Commission took action. Trailrunner7 shares this report from OnTheWire: Continuing its campaign against phone fraud operations, the FTC has dismantled two major robocall organizations... They and many of their co-defendants have agreed to court-ordered bans on robocall activities and financial settlements... The FTC and the FCC both have been cracking down on illegal robocall operations recently. The FCC has formed a robocall strike force with the help of carriers and also has signed an agreement to cooperate with Canadian authorities to address the problem.
"The law is clear about robocalls," says one FTC executive. "If a telemarketer doesn't have consumers' written permission, it's illegal to make these calls."
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FTC Dismantles Two Huge Robocall Organizations

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've been getting a lot of "silent" calls recently from numbers that appear to be in the region. Of course, the callerID means nothing.

    I'm guessing these are robocallers that record the voices of people for some kind of identity theft.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm guessing these are robocallers that record the voices of people for some kind of identity theft.

      Seriously, your paranoia, combined with your speculation which is rooted in an utter lack of knowledge, is both comical and pathetic.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        And the calls are coming from inside the house.
    • I get calls that initially seem personal, but turn out to be robocalls promising me a cruise vacation in Florida. It starts like this

      I: Hello

      R: Hello,... Oh, sorry, I was talking to my husband. Here's what I called you about. You have been selected for an all-expenses paid cruise to Florida...

      I: Ma'am, I'm not interested

      The voice keeps talking, and I am left w/ no choice but to hang up. It looks smart only the first time, when the reference to the husband leaves one w/ the idea that one is talking to an actual person

      Actually, this is a good candidate for automation. How many people like making cold calls soliciting sales to anybody, be it insurance, cruises or anything else? If anything

      • Re:Fingers crossed (Score:4, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @03:24PM (#53712131)

        The voice keeps talking, and I am left w/ no choice but to hang up.

        Do NOT hang up. Instead press "1" so that you waste the time of an actual human, and then put the phone on hold. If everyone did that, their business model would not work. If you enjoy annoying people that deserve it, then stay on the line and pretend to be interested, and give them bogus CC numbers until they start swearing at you. But please don't just hang up.

    • Re:Fingers crossed (Score:5, Informative)

      by green1 ( 322787 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @01:12PM (#53711469)

      silent is a call centre. What happens is that real people are "expensive" (comparatively, even in whatever 3rd world country the call centre is in) whereas the auto-dialer is practically free. So the dialer calls more people than it has agents ready to talk to, knowing that many won't answer the phone, each one that answers is sent to an agent, but if there are no agents ready, you get silence. The goal of the system is not to match called parties to agents, the goal is to make sure that any time an agent is free there's a call immediately ready for them (minimize downtime) The end result is that many people will get called, but there will be no agent ready to talk to them.

      • Re:Fingers crossed (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@NOSpAm.gmail.com> on Saturday January 21, 2017 @01:25PM (#53711561) Journal
        And that's why if you do end up on the receiving end of one of these calls, you talk to them as long as you can. If everyone did this, their business model would die because each sucker they reel in would cost too much in human time.
        • by green1 ( 322787 )

          The last one of these I talked to I told him the call was illegal because I'm on the do not call list.

          His answer was "The call not illegal, I in *long pause* *horribly mispronounced version of the name of my city*" The attempt was ridiculous for 2 reasons, first of all if you have to pause to look up which city, and then can't pronounce it, you're probably not in that location, and secondly, there's no exemption to the do not call list for companies in the same city as you!

          • Better to just pretend you're gay and you want to have phone sex with him. And remember, the longer you keep him on the phone, the less time he has to talk to the next person. Keep his numbers down, he's fired.
            • Better is to feign age. That gives you hard of hearing, confusion, memory problems and the need to go look for your wallet with the credit card. After diddling with them for around five minutes I carefully and quietly lay down my phone on the desk and go about my business.

              That or, if I'm in need of catharsis, I speak very softly to make sure they're listening then scream like a I'm being attacked by an axe murderer. Always makes me feel more relaxed.

          • by gstovall ( 22014 )

            :) The last time I stayed on the phone to talk to one of the "Windows support" scammers, I told him that what he was doing was criminal and that he needed to get a better job.

            He started cursing me out in quite explicit terms. I hung up, and he called me back to continue the cursing. I hung up again, and this time he did not call me back.

            He really had a remarkably broad command of English vulgarity for a non-native English speaker. I was suitably impressed.

            • by VAXcat ( 674775 )
              HA! I did the same once and after cursing at me the guy told me that they knew my address and were sending jihadis to cut my head off with a sword. I told him I live in Texas and go armed, and that hereabouts we think it's foolish to bring a sword to a gun fight. He hung up.
        • I seem to find that there is a remarkable coincidence between these scumbags calling and someone at the front door. I see no need to waste *my* time talking to the scumbag, so I ask them to wait while I answer the door and then see how long it takes for them to wise up and hang up.

          What really amazed me was one of these idiots actually called back when I did this to them.

        • by gijoel ( 628142 )
          I work in intellectual disability care. If I have a verbal client who likes to chat about rubbish I'll hand the phone over to them. The longest call lasted three minutes.
    • Re:Fingers crossed (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dcavanaugh ( 248349 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @01:42PM (#53711637) Homepage

      There is a free service called NoMoRobo that implements a massive cooperative blacklist on a grand scale. I use it on my Comcast phone (requires multiple ring). One of the few workarounds for tele-scammers is to falsify caller id with a random number in the victim's area code and exchange. Most telemarketers who call me are dumped by NoMoRobo after the first ring, but once in a while I see what appears to be a local call from an unrecognized number. Any number I don't recognize ends up in voice mail, which is where telemarketer calls go to die.

  • it's the Matrix, i tell ya.
  • Good but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @11:49AM (#53711057)

    tell me when they start putting people in prison for this shit and I'll believe it may actually slow down.

    • I don't think you can imprison a company, but you can fine the hell out of them. Bankrupt a company, and it's similar to death.
      • by green1 ( 322787 )

        You could imprison the decision makers who authorized illegal activities... But wait, it's a corporation so we don't need any laws getting in the way..

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          Being a corporation may grant immunity to the owners, but it means nothing for the decision makers. You go to jail regardless. If prosecutors aren't seeking jail time for fraud, something odd is going on.

          • by green1 ( 322787 )

            That's a great theory, but time and again (as in this case here) we see that this is not the way things actually work in the real world. In the real world corporate directors rarely ever face serious consequences for their decisions carried out by a corporation.

      • Problem is, many of these calls are from outside the country. The phone companies could avoid allowing call spoofing across geographical boundaries, but there's too much money in it.

        Me, I'd settle for a button that I can press that sends 1.2 "jiggawatts" of power through them, give them a permanent Professor Emmett Brown hairdo.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Or... what if anytime anyone called a residential number, a nickel was transferred from the caller's account to the callee's account.

      That wouldn't stop anyone from making a call where an actual person is likely to be involved; the labor costs for a three minute conversation would swamp that. But it would discourage people from robocalling a hundred thousand people in order to turn up a handful of suckers.

      And the public wouldn't have to pay a regulator to try to track down these boiler room operations.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It took FTC 7 years to shut down 2 robot callers, it took them far less to take action against the "pirate" sites. In former case vast majority of Americans were affected and in the latter a few corporations were affected. Shows the priorities involved.

    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      For whatever reason us hundreds of millions of peasants don't complain quite as much as the lobbyists that have been paid to do so.

      We also don't give nearly as nice gifts for passing favorable legislation.

  • sham victory (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @11:59AM (#53711105)

    And the criminals' punishment is that they had to agree omitting their crimes. And they did agree. And they are such honorable and decent people that they will agree to stop doing it the next time that they are caught too.

  • I call BS yet again (Score:5, Informative)

    by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@NOSpAm.gmail.com> on Saturday January 21, 2017 @12:04PM (#53711125) Journal

    "The law is clear about robocalls," says one FTC executive. "If a telemarketer doesn't have consumers' written permission, it's illegal to make these calls."

    I'll believe you when you cut out the exemptions for politicians, banks, carriers, and charities. It's right there in your list of exemptions [ftc.gov].

    • by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @12:30PM (#53711253)
      The most annoying and frequent robocalls I get are from charities, asking for donations. I want those to stop too.
    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      Robocalls need no exemptions. Except for appointments I really appreciate getting a reminder a day before.

      If anyone is more deserving of NOT being exempt it's politicians.

      How is spamming me with 5+ calls a day supposed to make me want to vote for you?

      • How is spamming me with 5+ calls a day supposed to make me want to vote for you?

        Here's how:

        The local democrats went to a fancy restaurant, ordered like there was no tomorrow, gave a lavish tip, and said "Vote democrat."

        The local republicans went to the same restaurant, ordered like there was no tomorrow, gave no tip, and said "Vote democrat."

        • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

          All the more reason they shouldn't be given an exemption :P

          I don't think that's what usually happens but it would make more sense.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You don't understand. Those 5+ calls a day trying to get you to vote for candidate A came from candidate B.

      • by green1 ( 322787 )

        appointments don't need an exemption, they have your permission (and if they don't have your permission, they should honour your request not to be called!)

      • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

        Robocalls need no exemptions. Except for appointments I really appreciate getting a reminder a day before.

        If companies can be considered persons enough that their unlimited campaign contributions can be considered "free speech," then I would think that a political call would absolutely be considered protected speech that the government cannot legislate against. I mean, the barrier to free political speech is pretty low now.

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      At least you're not in Canada, here we added an exemption for newspapers too. How often do I need to hang up on someone trying to sell me a newspaper subscription? and why on earth did they warrant an exemption?

      I can see the argument for charities (though I disagree) and politicians love to make themselves immune to almost any legislation they pass, (hey, wouldn't you if given the choice?) But newspapers????? let them die in peace!

      • At least you're not in Canada

        Actually, I am, and I remember when they brought in the GST on commercial rents, the politicians exempted their riding offices. Then again, most politicians are fools. Before they voted in free trade, I went to Ottawa to point out how much we were giving up ... couldn't find a single politician who had read it. "Oh, how can it be bad, it has the word 'free' in it?" I sh*t you not.

        • by green1 ( 322787 )

          I tried a policy of not voting for anyone who robo-called me, that worked for precisely one election before that would have meant not voting at all. Unfortunately I still think picking the lesser of the evils is slightly better than staying home, so I end up voting for someone who robocalled me, because everyone on the ballot did.

          • Lie. "I'm keeping tabs on you political spammers and I won't vote for them. Congrats. You're now only one call below (other party)." Skeeze deserves skeeze.
  • In the meantime for those of us using cell phones as our primary phone, there are a wealth of apps that block unwanted calls. I use "Hiya" and it's blocked carpet cleaners, credit monitors, and all manner of robocall scams I used to get.
    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      Apps stopped working when the robocallers started changing their caller id for every outgoing call. Now you have the choice of receiving the calls, or working off a whitelist of allowed callers. Unfortunately whitelists aren't a viable option for some people.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @01:14PM (#53711475)
    A slap on the wrist and fines that probably are less than a week's profit for the callers are not going to stop the robo-calls. A few years to ponder one's fate while sitting in a prison cell might be the deterrent the robo-callers require.
    • Nope. It just makes room for the next asshat to take over the operation.
      • ... It just makes room for the next asshat to take over the operation....

        So then, put him in jail also. As an added bonus, also put into jail those who are paying these asshats to do the robocalling. Go to the source of the asshatness.

        • by swm ( 171547 )

          Yeah, like we did with the drug dealers.
          I turned out that there were only a small number of people willing to deal drugs for money, and once we had them all in prison, the drug problem went away.
          I'm sure it will work for telemarketers, too.

  • by Wuhao ( 471511 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @01:39PM (#53711609)

    I wouldn't mind if, after some time in jail, they are given supervised release during which their phone numbers are published so that the rest of the country can call them during dinner.

  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Saturday January 21, 2017 @01:48PM (#53711665)

    I get calls daily from shitbags promising "0 percent interest rates" and would love to hunt them down and administer a fatal ass-kicking.

    First they want to know what kind of card, then the expiration date, and then they want the whole card number to "verify" my credit history.

    Usually I fuck with them and waste their time, but what I'd really like to do is mount one or more of their heads on a spike outside my home.

  • Two "new" robocall comanies incorporated today

  • Cuz that lying bitch won't stop calling me.
  • Silent calls are quite minimal in terms of annoyance.... In my case, it was extremely invasive and rude and stupid too... Two types of calls:

    1. I pick up and the other end says "Hey, can you hear me? [pause 1 sec].. Good! blah blah blah"... This wasn't a person asking me for a yes, then "Good, blah blah"... it was a recording with a 1sec pause.
    2. I pick up and the other end yells "Stop what you're doing and listen"... first time I heard it, I said FU... but then realized it was a recording... so now I j

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