The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a competition this past week that challenges small businesses to discover an innovative solution that will block illegal robocalls on landlines and mobile phones.  The agency is offering a $50,000 prize to the team that presents the best technical solution.  The competition was launched because complaints to the government are up sharply about unwanted phone solicitations.  Government figures show monthly robocall complaints have climbed from about 65,000 in October 2010 to more than 212,000 this April.  More general complaints from people asking a telemarketer to stop calling them also rose during this period from about 71,000 to 182,000.

The federal do-not-call list was put in place nearly a decade ago to limit telemarking sales calls to people who did not want to receive them, the registry has more than 209 million numbers on it.  Although in recent years telemarketers have rarely checked it to update their lists, or ignored it completely.   Telemarketers may think twice in future though, Sen. Chuck Schumer has introduced legislation that would up the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony that carries up to 10 years in prison, per call!

Robocalls with prerecorded messages have become the marketing vehicle of choice for phone fraudsters.  Fraudsters use caller-ID spoofing so that when a person tries to call back the robocaller, they get a disconnected number or something other than the source of the original call.  Robocalls are an attractive option for fraudsters because they can use an autodialer that can blast out millions of calls in a matter of hours, they are hard to trace, and they are cheap.  Fraudsters will often try to trick a consumer into thinking the call is from a charity or a political candidate then eventually switch to an illegal telemarketing sales pitch in an attempt to get the victims information.

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