Feds See Recent Rise in Robocalls

Prerecorded telemarketing calls are illegal, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

By Sabina Kuriakose
|  Tuesday, Nov 20, 2012  |  Updated 11:53 PM EDT
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Feds See Recent Rise in Robocalls

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The Federal Trade Commission said it has seen a spike in the number of robocalls in the past 18 months.

"This is your second and final notice to lower your credit card interest and payments,” says the prerecorded message on the other end of the phone line. 
 
It’s the seven digit scourge.  Robocalls coming from area codes across the country.  The now infamous voice of “Rachel” from Cardholder Services promises to lower your credit card fees. But ask to be taken off of the calling list, and you’re more likely to be hung up on—or worse, as Nancy Miceli of Farmington discovered.
 
“That’s when he went into a rant of 4 letter words.  And they were very personal and they were directed at me,” recalled the mother of two, “At the end of it he said "I'll take your -- number you -- and he called me a very, very politically incorrect name.  And he hung up on me."
 
Nancy started getting the near-daily robocalls on her cell phone three months ago.  The calls come from all over, including Boston, New Jersey, and even Canada.  The Federal Trade Commission estimated that millions of robocalls are made every day.  All identify themselves as cardholder services.
 
"It's a generic name, it's a fairly recognizable name, so we find that it's frequently used,” said FTC attorney William Maxson.
 
These types of prerecorded telemarketing calls are illegal.  The numbers they call from are usually spoofed, meaning faked.  Just this month the FTC shut down five different companies using the "cardholder services" scheme.  The companies were based in Florida and Arizona, and all operated under several different names.  The government said the companies’ claims that they can reduce credit card interest rates for an upfront fee are false and have cost consumers tens of millions of dollars.  The FTC said it’s seen a spike in the number of robocalls in the past 18 months.
 
"Essentially they just load the phone book into their robodialers and they blast the calls out,” explained Maxson, “Some of these dialers just run through numbers sequentially so they'll dial numbers that aren't even real numbers."
 
That means no number is safe from robocallers.  The frustration is building.  Facebook groups are cropping up for people to voice their anger, and countless YouTube videos have been posted with those recorded calls.

And, just like Nancy, more people claim the company reps are becoming abusive.
 
“We've heard of many people that have had bad reactions, they've been yelled at when they ask to be put on ‘Do Not Call’ lists, which is why we recognize it is an enforcement priority to go after these guys,” said Maxson.
 
The government’s national Do Not Call list seems to be no protection against these robocalls.  Nancy’s on it, and it hasn’t helped her.  The FTC said it’s difficult to track down the callers.  So what can you do?
 
Don't press anything!
 
Even if the company gives you an option of being taken off of the calling list.
 
"If you press 2 to say you want to be put on the 'do not call' list, what they'll do is they'll end up selling that information to other companies that just want to know what are phone numbers that work, what are phone numbers where people answer the phone and listen to a message. And so by pressing two, perversely you'll end up getting more calls,” explained Maxson.
 
Maxson’s best tip is to hang up the phone.
 
You can also protect your phone number by being careful about which companies and websites you give it out to.  And if you get a robocall, you can file a complaint with the FTC.  Nancy’s already done that, but there’s no quick fix.  So in the meantime, she’s still getting those calls.  She’s since blocked several of the phone numbers.
 
"It will happen again. It's inevitable,” said Nancy.

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