Scammers and others blanket Americans with billions of illegal robocalls annually — more than 50.3 billion last year, according to the call-protection app YouMail — many of which originate overseas. To fight this scourge, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is accelerating its efforts to block these calls though a joint federal and state effort involving all the states’ attorneys general called Operation Stop Scam Calls. The FTC, which announced the crackdown July 18 in Chicago, says it’s targeting not only telemarketers but also the “lead generators who deceptively collect and provide consumers’ telephone numbers to robocallers.”
These lead generators often falsely claim that the consumers have given their consent to receive these calls. For example, the FTC alleges that a company called Fluent Inc. lures consumers to its websites “using deceptive ads that falsely promise employment opportunities or free valuable items, such as a job interview with UPS or a $1,000 Walmart gift card.” Those sites then use “dark patterns,” a complaint against the company says, to elicit consumers’ personal information and “consent” to receive robocalls. The government’s suit against Fluent is calling for a $2.5 million civil penalty and that the company be banned from such practices. It’s also taking action against similar businesses.
An ongoing battle
A few months ago the federal government ramped up its Project Point of No Entry, which targets the “point of entry” providers that field illegal calls from outside the U.S.
Regulators describe these gateway providers as “on-ramps for international call traffic.” Overseas robocallers send a call to a gateway provider, which in turn hands the call off to a U.S. network carrier.
Robocallers use a variety of deceptive techniques to get you to answer, including spoofing, which tricks caller ID into displaying fake phone numbers. Sometimes those numbers are designed to use your three-digit area code, making the call look like it’s coming from a neighbor — not another country.
If you answer, the robotic voice on the other end might claim to represent a utility, a name-brand company (Amazon is a common one), or a government agency like the Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service. Another extremely pervasive robocall involves a pitch for an extended warranty on your car. The goal: to get you to give up personal information or cash.