The Federal Trade Commission told a U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee that it has been aggressively fighting the problem of illegal commercial robocalls through vigorous enforcement of the requirements of the Do Not Call program and seeking to spur innovative technological solutions to block unlawful telemarketing calls.
Testifying on behalf of the FTC before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, Lois Greisman, Associate Director for the agency’s Division of Marketing Practices, said the Do Not Call Registry now includes more than 221 million phone numbers. Greisman said the Registry has been tremendously successful in protecting consumers’ privacy from the unwanted calls of tens of thousands of legitimate telemarketers each year.
Today’s testimony comes two weeks after the FTC announced the 10th anniversary of the Do Not Call Registry, along with a case that included the largest civil penalty ever for Registry violations. In that case, the FTC announced that Mortgage Investors Corporation, one of the country’s leading refinancers of veterans’ home loans, will pay $7.5 million for calling consumers whose numbers are on the Registry.
The Mortgage Investors case is the 105th Do Not Call enforcement action the FTC has announced since 2004, and in that time it has filed Registry-related lawsuits against 298 companies and 234 individuals. While some of the cases are still being litigated, the FTC has so far received court orders totaling more than $741 million in consumer restitution or disgorgement and $126 million in civil penalties.
Yet the FTC said that telemarketing robocalls are still a problem, and they cause significant economic harm by peddling fraudulent goods and services. “Therefore, the FTC is using every tool at its disposal to fight them.”
Convinced that law enforcement alone is not enough to solve the problem, the FTC last year hosted public summit on the issue and gathered input from experts including technologists, industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders. The Summit made it clear that convergence between the legacy telephone system and the Internet has facilitated massive robocall campaigns. The testimony describes how new technologies have make robocalls extremely inexpensive to make and have made it easier for robocallers to hide – or “spoof” – their identities.
At the end of the Robocall Summit, the FTC announced its first-ever public contest, a “Robocall Challenge,” with a $50,000 prize for the individual or small team that could propose a workable technical solution to help consumers block robocalls from their landlines and mobile phones. The public response was overwhelming. The FTC received 798 eligible submissions, many of which were extremely well-considered technical proposals to address the robocall issue. The primary goal of the Challenge was to encourage the development of realistic ideas for reducing the number of robocalls in a way that law enforcement alone could not. The testimony states that as the winning contestants and others further develop their ideas and introduce them to the marketplace, the FTC expects positive results for American consumers.
The testimony concludes that, “The 10-year-old Do Not Call Registry remains enormously successful in protecting consumers against unsolicited calls from legitimate telemarketers. But as technology changes and fraudsters exploit those changes, we must remain agile and creative.” The FTC will do this through continued aggressive law enforcement, working to stimulate innovative technological solutions to block illegal robocalls, engaging in ongoing consumer education, and working with Congress to protect consumers.
The Commission vote approving the testimony and its inclusion in the formal record was 4-0.
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