Robocalls: Do Not Call Me, Maybe

It's not your imagination. Robocalls are a robust business and they're almost always a scam, according to the FTC

By Vicky Nguyen, Liza Meak, and Mark Villarreal
|  Tuesday, Oct 16, 2012  |  Updated 12:08 PM PDT
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Even if you’re on the Do Not Call Registry, it’s not enough to protect you from telemarketing robocalls.  Learn how to fight back and see which services are the biggest violators.

Even if you’re on the Do Not Call Registry, it’s not enough to protect you from telemarketing robocalls. Learn how to fight back and see which services are the biggest violators.

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If the first rule of fight club is “You do not talk about fight club,” the first rule of robocalls is “Do not push any buttons, and hang up immediately.” 

Michael Rosenthal is not Brad Pitt, but he is a fighter nonetheless, who tried to stop the barrage of daily calls to his Fairfax home by taking on the telemarketers.

He recorded their recorded messages, and dialed a number to reach a real person.

"Usually what would happen is 'click,' they would hang up," said Rosenthal. He says the calls come from all types of businesses, from carpet cleaning to credit card services. “What’s really annoying is that they make it really hard almost impossible to figure out who it is doing it.”

But engaging the robocallers is a mistake, says Federal Trade Commission staff attorney Ken Abbe. It can even trigger more calls, because it tells the company there’s a human on the other end of the line. "Hang up don’t push 1, don’t call a number in the robocall, all that’s going to do is connect you to a scam artist," said Abbe.

What’s more, the FTC says almost every single robocall is a scam. “Virtually every robocall has been illegal since September 2009, so chances are if you get a robocall from a telemarketer, it’s a scam,” said Abbe. He says the calls are only legal if you’ve given a company written permission to call you.

The most common offers are bogus services that require a monthly payment such as “credit card services, debt negotiation, auto warranty, and medical insurance,” said Abbe.

The FTC receives about one million complaints a month about telemarketing robocalls.

Click here to see the top 100 violators of the Do Not Call list.

Companies, claiming to be some type of credit card service, are not only number one on consumers’ gripe list, they’re numbers two, three, four and five. We looked at 10,000 complaints filed with the FTC in September of 2012. One in 10 complaints came from Californians and almost all were from people who said they were already on the Do Not Call list.

Finding out who's calling is especially tough. The majority of people complaining to the FTC didn’t know who was calling them. It’s an experience Michael Rosenthal knows firsthand.

Even when Rosenthal tried getting their names, he couldn't get answers.

"They’re breaking the law and they know they can get away with it and that’s what pisses me off," Rosenthal said. 

The FTC says you can take simple steps to stop the calls. Don’t answer, don’t push any buttons, and if you get the company’s name, file a complaint. 

While the FTC has recovered $69 million dollars in fines, robocalling remains a robust business. For the first time, the agency is reaching out to consumers in a summit to hear from industry and the public about how to attack the increase in robocalls.

Click here for more on the forum on Thursday. (insert link http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/robocalls/)

You can tweet your questions with the hashtag #FTCrobo or ask questions live via the FTC’s Facebook page

Keep in mind, even if you’re on the Do Not Call list, three groups can still call you.

Charities can call you if you’ve donated to them in the past.

Surveys are also legal, if they aren’t asking you to buy anything.

And when it comes to politicians, well, there’s no limit to the number of robocalls a politician can send you. Even if you are Brad Pitt.

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