How to stop annoying telemarketers and robocalls

BUFFALO, NY (WIVB) - Sometimes you’re sleeping or you’re in the middle of a meeting when your phone rings. Maybe you’re just sitting down to dinner when you’re disturbed by a call and you think, “Who is that calling?” Many times it’s a dreaded telemarketer.

The National Do Not Call Registry now contains 223 million phone numbers. Several of the numbers belong to Paul Francavilla and his family. The Williamsville man added his numbers ten years ago, but he says the frustrating calls keep coming.

REGISTER FOR DO NOT CALL | Click here or or call 1-888-382-1222. Once you sign up, telemarketers covered by the registry have up to 31 days to stop calling you.

“I think I had one at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning,” he recalled. “The numbers come from all over the United States. I’ve had one from Arizona, [and one] from Florida. I had one from Arkansas.”

Most are robocalls with recorded messages from people he’s never heard of. He played News 4 Investigates a voicemail left on his phone. “Hello. This is Bridget with card holder services calling in reference to your current card account. It is urgent that you contact us concerning your eligibility for lowering your interest rate to as little as 1 percent,” it said.

The robocall told him to press the number one to connect to a live operator.

Understanding the rules

Federal law does allow you to receive some calls, even if you’re on the Do Not Call Registry. Exceptions include political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors and companies you’ve done business with in the past 18 months. If a third-party telemarketer is calling on behalf of a charity, a consumer may ask not to receive any more calls from, or on behalf of, that specific charity. If a third-party telemarketer calls again on behalf of that charity, the telemarketer may be subject to a fine.

Francavilla says he typically ignores the bogus calls. When he does pick up, and finds a human on the other end of the line, he tells them he’s on the registry and they immediately hang up then, he said.

The federal government can fine companies up to $16,000 per call if they keep calling after you ask them to stop.

Keep complaining

News 4 Investigates spoke with Bikram Bandy, a Do Not Call program Coordinator at the Federal Trade Commission, via Skype. He admits there are a ton of entities violating the registry. He suggested filing complaints every time you get a robocall. “I tell consumers all the time that the complaint data is very valuable to us because it’s our eyes and ears on the street as to what’s going on in the illegal world of telemarketing,” Bandy explained.

The FTC’s own figures show more than 200,000 complaints come in every month about the registry. That’s 18.6 million complaints since 2004. Yet, records reveal the FTC has only taken 112 enforcement actions against violators.

FILE A COMPLAINT | Click here or call 1-888-382-1222. The FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems, but your complaint will can help investigate the company and could lead to law enforcement action.

Bandy says the amount of complaints is staggering. “We don’t have the manpower, the resources, to respond to each of those complaints individually or to even investigate them all,” he admitted.

Instead, experts use computer analytics to track trends. “We analyze to try to find the top violators, the top numbers, that are complained about. We look for trends, new types of scams and complaints [as well as] new types of subject matters that are associated with do not call complaints.”

Technology makes it tougher to trace telemarketers because many hide behind fake numbers, a technique called “caller ID spoofing”. “Now, with the internet, you can set up a dialing operation anywhere in the world, and you can make those calls at fractions of the cost that those calls would have cost,” Bandy explained.

Francavilla wants more vigilant enforcement. “Stop these calls. Go after the people making the calls. Get them to stop. Fine them if they have to. Put them out of business if they have to. Stop the calls,” he said.

Technology to the rescue?

The same type of technology the bad guys are using could eventually stop most of the calls. Ultimately, Bandy believes technology – not enforcement – will rescue consumers.

Aaron Foss from Port Jefferson, NY won a contest sponsored by the FTC to find a way to help stop the robocalls and spammers. Foss created software he calls “Nomorobo”.

He told WCBS radio in New York City, “It uses a part of the phone system called simultaneous ring, which allows a phone to ring on multiple devices. My idea was, well, what if one of those phone numbers was a computer, and it would look at the calls that came in, and if it was a robocaller, it would automatically hang up.”

Currently, the software only works with Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS internet-based phone lines (known as VoIP, or voice over IP) in western New York. You can learn more about Nomorobo on their website.

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