New tech is making it easier for telemarketers to make calls and hide from law enforcement.
The Federal Trade Commission receives more than 375,000 complaints about robocalls every month from people on a national registry of phone numbers that are off-limits for sales calls, according to a report.
The National Do Not Call Registry was created to give consumers the choice to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls. The database added more than 3.8 million phone numbers in fiscal 2017, and now contains more than 229 million active registrations, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which curates the list.
While it’s illegal for companies to solicit numbers on the registry with sales calls, joining the database doesn’t exempt particular phone numbers from political donation requests, debt collection calls, telephone surveys and other exempted calls. The FTC found that 2,259 telemarketers and other businesses paid a total of $12.6 million to access the registry in fiscal 2017, and 15,536 groups subscribed to access five or fewer area codes, which comes at no charge.
The list has been immensely popular among consumers since it was created in 2003. Americans added more than 10 million phone numbers to the registry in the first four days of the registry’s existence, and after three months it contained nearly 52 million entries. To date, the FTC has brought 134 enforcement actions against businesses and telemarketers that illegally use the registry.
But modern advancements in tech have made it cheaper and easier for groups to make high volumes of illegal calls, according to the FTC. Using Voice over Internet Protocol technology, people can make illegal calls from anywhere in the world, and it’s also become easier for telemarketers to fake caller IDs to hide from consumers and law enforcement.
Researchers found that pre-recorded messages, or robocalls, have become especially prevalent in recent years. In 2009, the FTC received about 63,000 monthly complaints about robocalls, but by 2017 that figure skyrocketed to more than 375,000 complaints every month.
“The net effect of these technological developments is that individuals and companies who do not care about complying with the registry or other telemarketing laws are able to make more illegal telemarketing calls cheaply and in a manner that makes it difficult for the FTC and other law enforcement agencies to find them,” the report said.
The FTC has so far held four public challenges where teams compete to create the best methods for blocking illegal telemarketing calls, and the Federal Communications Commission is currently working out rules to block calls on VoIPs and make it harder to spoof caller IDs.
The FTC is also streamlining its process for reviewing complaints and increasing the amount of consumer complaint data it publishes.
“It is important that the FTC work to keep it accessible and effective for consumers and telemarketers,” researchers wrote. “As new technology provides new challenges, we actively seek to address and confront these challenges.”