The Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement plan to file charges against several companies and individuals as part of a major government clampdown on illegal robocalls
The mission, known as "Operation Call it Quits," includes two FTC commissioners from the opposite ends of the political spectrum: Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a Democrat, and Noah Phillips, a Republican. The government says that there are tens of billions of robocalls made every year -- and when it comes to those calls, Phillips said, there's no political disagreement "whatsoever."
"Robocalls are not just an annoyance that every single American feels several times a day," he said. "They can be a real problem for people who do pick up the phone and sometimes fall victim to those kinds of scams."
The FTC is announcing a major crackdown on illegal robocalls, including 94 actions targeting operations around the country that they say are responsible for more than 1 billion calls. The commission says companies targeted in the enforcement actions were using robocalls to pitch everything from "bogus credit card interest rate reduction services" to "fraudulent money-making opportunities" and "medical alert systems."
The pair acknowledges that it will be a tough battle - especially because many of the calls come from overseas. "Today announcing Operation Call it Quits is part of the solution to the problem, it is not the whole of the solution," Phillips said, adding "it's going to take engagement from industry. It's going to take technological development, it's going to take engagement from consumers, which we at the FTC also try to do, and the hope is through all of these combined efforts we can help push back."
Experts applaud the joint law enforcement efforts -- but say the dampening effect on illegal robocalls may only be temporary.
"When there's a crackdown or an enforcement action, you see fewer robocalls from the people who are cracked down on. They usually stop," said Alex Quilici, CEO of the call blocking company YouMail. "The challenge is they're replaced by someone else who often does the same scam."
Among the seven FTC cases, four are new and three are new settlements. The defendants in some of these cases have already had their assets frozen. Others are expected to potentially pay fines ranging anywhere from $250,000 to $2 million.
"It often feels like whack-a-mole for us," Slaughter said, "but when we whack a mole, we are stopping a substantial number of cases of a number of unwanted calls, and that's important to me."