Robocallers Overwhelming FTC and Do-Not-Call List

WaPo has a report, headlined How robo-callers outwitted the government and completely wrecked the Do Not Call list, reporting that the FTC receives 19,000 complaints per day from people on the Do-Not-Call list about robocallers. The FTC not only does not have the resources to do much about it, but when it tries, its efforts are blocked by spoofing technology. A depressing excerpt:

In the age of live telemarketing, the mere threat of prosecution or penalty was enough to deter companies with shareholders and reputations to protect. In the robo-calling epoch, dialers couldn’t care less. One, nobody knows who they are or where they’re calling from, because they all spoof their numbers. Two, more of them are doing it every year, since it’s cheap and easy to blast out automated calls from anywhere in the world. All this makes it nearly impossible to identify robo-callers, let alone penalize them. At a hearing on robo-calls in October, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was getting so many of them, she’d disconnected her home phone. “The list,” she said, “doesn’t work.”

* * * With an annual budget of $300 million — by contrast, the FBI’s is $9 billion — the FTC is a relatively puny federal agency. There are only 43 employees in the Division of Marketing Practices, which oversees unwanted calls. None of them . . . work full time on the issue. Ami Dziekan, who works in a different department, is the lone steward of the Do Not Call Registry. Since the robo-call ban went into effect in 2009, the FTC has brought just 33 cases against robo-callers. In those cases, defendants have been ordered to pay nearly $300 million in relief to victims, and nearly $30 million in civil penalties to the government. But even then, the FTC can’t force perpetrators to pay the fine if they argue they’re broke. Which robo-callers often seem to be. So the FTC has only collected on a fraction of those sums: $18 million in relief and less than $1 million in penalties.

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