Robocallers, beware: The FTC is going to DEF CON!

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Quick, what’s the most annoying tech-related problem since internet popup ads?

Zapping Rachel of Cardholder Services, showing a female silhouette with insect face and antennae

If you said robocalls, you’re not alone. The FTC receives more than 150,000 complaints about robocalls every month. And we hear you loud and clear — even if the recorded voices on your phone can’t.

Advances in technology have made it cheap and easy for criminals to send out thousands of calls every minute — and to spoof caller ID information, hiding their true location and identity. The convergence of the internet with our phone system brought many benefits, but it also created the perfect environment for telephone spam.

Because technology is at the crux of the problem, the FTC is tapping one of the world’s largest hacking conferences for some high-caliber technical support.

We’re very excited to share that the FTC will hold a contest at DEF CON 22 in Las Vegas, NV, Aug. 7-10, to inspire the next generation tech solution in the fight against illegal robocalls.

The FTC and our law enforcement partners are particularly interested in the development of robust, cutting-edge robocall honeypots (an information system designed to attract robocallers), which can help experts and authorities understand and combat illegal calls.

Honeypots have been used extensively among information security specialists, but until today, there has been limited cross-pollination between their expertise and the efforts to fight telephone spam. Unfortunately, the technical distinctions between a telephone call and an email have made it difficult to use internet security tactics in the battle against robocalls. We hope to change that by inspiring DEF CON experts to apply their knowledge and creativity on behalf of the millions of people frustrated by these illegal calls.

And make no mistake: robocalls are more than just a nuisance. They invade our privacy, peddle costly scams, and in some cases, threaten our country’s critical infrastructure by enabling telephone denial of service attacks.

The FTC will continue to combat robocallers by bringing cases against them, and we’re encouraged by the success of other strategies we’ve used. In October 2012, we announced the agency’s first public challenge, offering $50,000 to the innovator who could design the best solution to illegal robocalls. Less than six months after we announced the winners, one of them launched a ground-breaking new product, which has already blocked more than four million robocalls for U.S. consumers. While the FTC does not endorse any products or services, we are thrilled that the Robocall Challenge stimulated the marketplace as intended. 

So with new products on the market to help consumers block calls, our next goal is to spur the development of new tools to helpcatch bad actors faster and stop them from calling in the first place.

Stay tuned for more information about the contest, and we hope to see you at DEF CON!

The author’s views are his or her own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commission or any Commissioner.

Comments

Been getting blasted, one call after another, by spammers asking for "Rachael G**bin". As soon as I block one number, two more call. Some phone numbers are displayed on the caller ID, many are "Unknown". I have registered my complaints and as many of these numbers as I could with the FTC 2 months ago. Service provider's solution was to change my number. Serious? Hope this DEF CON will produce a solution!
Hi! We know that these calls are annoying, and appreciate your complaints, which help with our investigations. Please see www.ftc.gov/robocalls for other tips and tricks to stop these calls. Thanks!
Cardmember Services really needs to be stooped - not because they are ever going to scam me out of any money - but simply because they are so damned annoying. They have now taken their scam to the next level. They used to show up on my caller ID as a long distance number or a toll free number. Reccently they have somehow figured out a way to tap into the phone number of a local person. So when they call - a local number pops up with an actual name of a local person. I don't actually know the person, but I called them to tell them to stop calling me - because the phone was ringing and I didn't hear anything on the other end for a few seconds so I hung up. I figured it was someone pocket dialing me or something like that. But today I answered and just sat there for a little bit and the recording came on telling me if I wanted to lower my interest rate to dial one. I could not resist - and of course I got someone on the other end trying to sell me a credit card. I have tried everything with these clowns to get them to stop calling all to no avail. I have even tried just keeping them on the phone for as long as I can so they think they are getting somewhere with me - until I finally ask them how it feels to have their time wasted. I am thinking maybe if they realize I am just going to keep them on the line forever and never buy anything - maybe they'll stop calling. I have even stooped to simply barking out as much disgusting profanity I can think of - but they just give it right back. It's really quite amazing.
Hi, we continue to take action against these copycat scammers that go by "Rachel". In the meantime, check out www.ftc.gov/robocalls for tips and tricks, and file complaints at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
I'm getting robocall's that are using a local number. When I tried calling back, I find its a number that is not in use I didn't talk to the recording but it was about "my credit card".
They use different names. I have one that is Carmen from Cardiverse services? The name and number on the caller id belongs to a local resident that died 5 years ago at the age of 95. They call daily.Then there are the fax machines that call in the middle of the night. My landline phone provider only blocks 25 numbers and is full. I guess I need to invest in a phone that will block several hundred numbers. It really is amazing that they can get away with this. I hope your contest results in a solution.
I get at least one robocall a day, usually a few. This has been going on for many months. I never answer any of these calls that are clearly from bogus numbers, nor do I call them back, but they do not cease. www.ftc.gov/robocalls provides nothing useful in terms of stopping this criminal activity. I would like to see this complaint link (https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx) better tailored for a robocall complaint. That is, have new options like a radio button that explicitly calls out "robocall".
Hi, when you file a complaint, the section that is asks if the call is a recorded message, that's a robocall. Will check with staff about clarifying that language. Thank you so much for your feedback!
Survey on U.S. based “cardholder service” criminal operations. Why do the “cardholder services” criminals mostly use white females, and black males as “live operators”? Does the predator match the “fronter” against its intended primary prey? Survey on U.S. based “cardholder service” criminal operations from documented, and recorded incoming calls. Forty (40) “cardholder service” robo-calls between 2012- 2014 were surveyed, out of hundreds received. They follow patterns of switching off to different call centers, dialers, fronters, live operators. Out of 40 surveyed assumed ethnicity by voice; African American = 8 males & 3 females Caucasian = 3 males & 8 females East Indian = 5 males. Costa Rican/Hispanic = 3 Costa Rican males & 1 Hispanic female No connection to “live operator/fronter/rep“ = 9 Time of day called out of 40; Morning = 12 Noon = 3 Afternoon = 25 Day of the week called; Monday = 5, Tuesday = 7, Wednesday = 9, Thursday = 5, Friday = 6, Saturday =1, Sunday = 0, Day unknown = 7 Levels of verbal threats, abuse, and harassment made by “cardholder services” by telephone; Almost a third of the connected calls are “Extreme”, and includes terrorist type threats, extreme racketeering, and/or carrying out more calls. The increase in verbal abuse committed by the telemarketing criminals almost doubles when compared to 2010-2011. No connection to “live operator” = 9 Medium abuse = 11 High abuse = 12 Extreme abuse = 8
I get up to 20 robo calls a day. Tried to use nomorobo that was listed here. They do not work with AT&T. So what good is it?
Hi Jeff, please check out the other tips and tricks listed at www.ftc.gov/robocalls. Thanks!
Warning to Nomorobo users who switch carriers Nomorobo worked fine with Optimum. But when Optimum doubled their rates and halved their service, I switched to Verizon. My phone number, from Nomobo's perspective, seems to be locked into Optimum (even though it is no longer in the Optimum database). Nomorobo's web page offers no way to move my number from Optimum to Verizon and there has been no response from Nomorobo despite several help requests over the last several weeks. Any ideas on how to fix this? I can't be the only person with this problem.
The description under title What FTC is doing about ROBCALLS is hardly encouraging or of any satisfaction. Citizens and Taxpayers are FED UP and want to see Govt and it's agencies like FTC crack down heavily and completely on such nuisance plus daylight robbing and harassment. Why it cannot be done and done quickly? Why taxpayers money cannot be spent to something to protect them rather than wasting elsewhere?
get these calls so frequently, that i am close to changing my phone number of 17+ years!! have already gotten 4 today(its 4:30p). Seriously frustrating that nobody can do anything about this!! i have called the attorney general numerous times all you have to do is list something on craigslist with your phone number, and you will be bombarded within 24 hours
Hi - don't engage with the calls when you get them, hang up immediately. See ftc.gov/robocalls for tips on limiting these illegal calls. And remember, complaints help our investigations so file when you can: www.donotcall.gov. Thanks.
Does anyone know if the live operators could take you off the list if they wanted to? I'm guessing they can't. Also, how about offering up some big whistleblower rewards to insiders? They probably aren't getting paid much anyway, so make it attractive for them to provide the necessary intelligence for shutting down some of these spammers.
Hi - These are illegal scam calls that operate from all over the world. Press 1 to get "removed" usually leads to more calls since you're verifying your number is a working number. And they're probably not keeping a list at all. Please check out all the tips and tricks at www.ftc.gov/robocalls to learn more.
They got me to pick up today for the first time in ages because they used a local number four digits different from mine! These people are terrorists in a sense, invading our homes, privacy, and possibly our health! I wonder how many people have tripped or fallen trying to answer the phone when they were expecting an important call. The government should divert some of the war on drugs experts to finding and eliminating these criminals. The FBI needs to take on these thugs instead of taking time to spy on our elected official!s!
I receive multiple robocalls from 208-865-7887 each week. The calls are about 3 minutes long, and I pay for those minutes. It's a recording hawking a financial freedom biz opp pyramid scheme -- buy one package of gold, get two people to buy one, etc. No name or number is given, you're instructed to leave your name and number as a voicemail. I traced that number via https://www.everyone411.com/person/12088657887 That site shows the number as being a landline belonging to Clayton Bevan of Salmon, ID 83467. https://www.numberguru.com/208-865-7887 This lookup site shows CenturyTel of Idaho, Inc., dba CenturyLink as the carrier. I called CenturyLink -- 866-706-8592 at 7:15 p.m. EST and talked to “Diane” who told me that there is nothing they can do about nuisance robocalls. I said, "What they're doing is illegal, and they're making these nuisance robocalls using YOUR lines and equipment. And they're doing it to thousands of other people, too." She said, "Nothing we can do." Meh -- methinks Diane is a know-nothing nighttime call center bimbo. I will call tomorrow during business hours -- maybe I'll get a human who isn't sharing a brain with someone else. Why can't they curb illegal activities that their customers are perpetrating? Ummmmm, let's see ... they could cut off the guy's service and turn him into the police! And yes, it's possible that the scammers have spoofed that poor customer's number. In that case, shouldn't CenturyLink be looking into it, anyway? I file a complaint against this caller with the FCC each time I receive a call, the latest being today (08-07-14). I filed a complaint against CenturyLink with the Idaho Utilities Commission today, also.

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