FTC fights robocallers with new program: ‘We got to do something to stop it’

Published: Jul. 24, 2023 at 4:36 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Robo calls aren’t just annoying, they’re responsible for millions of dollars lost in the scams behind them.

But the Federal Trade Commission has a new program in place that’s stopping countless calls from ever getting through to the U.S.

For people like Loretta Planavsky the robocalls she was getting went beyond being a nuisance, even when she blocked them.

“It didn’t matter, that same number would come back, you know, maybe days later or week later, but it would come back. It’s a privacy invasion. If they can access that what else can they access about me?” she said.

MORE: ‘Robocallers are like a plague of locusts’: Ohio AG joins FTC in sweep to stop illegal scam calls

Paul Bender was getting 5-10 robocalls a day, so he started using an app called Caller HQ, to help document and report the robocalls.

“If you get a spam text message or a spam phone call, you can then forward it to the law firm behind this,” he said.

The firm uses the data to build class action lawsuits against offenders like call centers.

“It feels like you’re actually doing something rather than just being pestered by these phone calls. I’m actually contributing information that hopefully will help them to either track down or actually have some sort of a judgment late against these people,” said Bender.

He does it for every robocall he gets now.

Planavsky saw far fewer calls once she reported them to the BBB.

While reporting individual calls does help, the FTC’s Project Point of No Entry, or PoNE, is preventing thousands of robocalls from ever getting into the U.S. and through to your cell phone, by going after the providers who are allowing the flow illegal robocalls in o the country.

The Federal Communications Commission has appointed the Industry Traceback Group as the official trace back entity.

When you report a robocall to your provider or the FTC, ITG gets the info and is able to see where the call came from.

“It’s easier now to determine where these robocalls are coming from where in the past it would take us months to do that,” said Fil de Banate with the Cleveland FTC office.

MORE: Read more stories from the 19 News Scam Squad

He says the government is using the data collected from the ITG to identify the biggest offenders, and sending those domestic providers who are letting these calls into to the country a cease-and-desist letter, citing the telemarketing sales rule, and a potential fine of $50,000 per call.

Project PoNE has some teeth and the industry is taking notice.

Since May of 2022 they’ve sent letters to 24 targets. All but two have significantly decreased or stopped the robo calls all together. Data from the ITG shows an 80 percent decrease of tracebacks.

“It’s important to note that a traceback is a snapshot of an illegal robocalling campaign, a fraction of what’s actually going out, and a campaign can be millions of calls. So it’s a very significant decrease in terms of the trace backs and the flow of bad traffic into the country,” de Banate said.

To help the FTC in their efforts de Banate says report robocalls, provide the number they used, save the recordings if they leave a voicemail, and tell your provider that these calls are getting through. It all helps build a case against the bad apples.

Anti-robocallers like Planavsky and Bender are pleased to hear they’re not fighting this fight alone.

“We got to do something to stop it. And you know, it’s not like I’m ancient but I’m getting older and I know that they target a certain age population,” said Planavsky.

“I think it’s awesome. If they can knock out the entryway in because I know a lot of these calls do come from overseas, that can be very effective,” Bender said.

Click here to report a robo call to the FTC.