FTC Fires Another Salvo In Its War Against Robocallers

by Stuart Zipper

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this past week announced the winners of its contest to find the best solutions to the endemic problem of robocallers, who these days take advantage of VoIP technology to ignore the law and “Do Not Call” lists. Those who follow this blog will remember that I wrote about the contest when it was announced last November.

Since then it seems things have been hopping. There were more than 800 entries for the FTC to sift through before choosing the winners, who are … ta da … Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss, who share the $50,000 top prize, and Google, which as a large corporation gets a certificate of honor but no money.

The two individuals who won “both focus on intercepting and filtering out illegal prerecorded calls using technology to ‘blacklist’ robocaller phone numbers and ‘whitelist’ numbers associated with acceptable incoming calls,” the FTC explained in its press release announcing the winners (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2013/04/robocall.shtm )

Google, meanwhile, took honors for a “Crowd-Sourced Call Identification and Suppression” solution designed by Daniel Klein and Dean Jackson. The Google solution, particularly, is hoped to spell an end to the infamous “Rachel from Card Services” robocalling scam. Reportedly, the FCC has been receiving an extraordinary 200,000 complaints per month complaining about that scam.

I think it’s only fair that I note that it is not only scammers who use robocallers. There are some putatively legitimate businesses who also do, but they cross the line with their sales calls and are usually relatively easy to shut down.

The big question that remains, though, is whether the newly minted solutions that won the FTC contest will actually work. And, even if they do, I fear it will be only a matter of time before the scamming community figures out some other nefarious way to circumvent the system.

In the meantime, as I’ve mentioned before, Phone.com subscribers do have a way to block most robocalls, and at no extra cost. One simply uses the menu system that’s a standard feature on every Phone.com service plan, both for business phone and home phone use. If calls all go to a menu, instead of ringing directly to an extension, Rachel and her cohorts are stopped dead in their tracks.