The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced yesterday it will start sharing complaint information about illegal robocalls with companies that are developing technology to stop them.

According to the FTC news release, when consumers report Do Not Call or robocall violations to the agency, the robocaller phone numbers consumers provide will be released each day to telecommunications carriers and other industry partners that are implementing call-blocking solutions. Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen said that this is the kind of public-private partnership the FTC wants to champion.

The announcement further states:

The consumer complaint data is crucial because many of today’s call-blocking solutions rely on “blacklists” -- databases of telephone numbers that have received significant consumer complaints -- as one way to determine which calls should be blocked or flagged before they reach consumers’ phones.

The new data that FTC is making available also will include the date and time the unwanted call was received, the general subject matter of the call (such as debt reduction, energy, warranties, home security, etc.), and whether the call was a robocall.

When filing a complaint, the FTC makes it easy for consumers to identify the subject of the unwanted call with a drop-down menu on its website. This information is particularly helpful to law enforcement and industry. The data is posted to the FTC website every weekday, with Monday postings including weekend data, and is available on the Do Not Call (DNC) Reported Calls Data webpage.

The FTC has also posted this page, to provide quick information about reporting unwanted calls. Here’s what it says:

  • Do Not Call:After your number is on the registry for 31 days, you can report unwanted sales calls.
  • Robocalls:Report calls that use a recorded message instead of a live person (whether or not your number is on the Registry).
  • Tell us what the call was about:Check the category that best describes what the call was about, for example debt reduction, home security or vacations.

Reminder: Even if your number is registered, some organizations may still call you, such as charities, political organizations, and telephone surveyors. For a full description of who may still call you, please consult our Consumer FAQs

Debt collectors may continue to call you whether your number is on the Registry or not. Know your rights regarding debt collection. If a debt collector is not respecting your rights, report it to us

(There is a “continue” button, which takes you to a 3-step form to submit a complaint.)

insideARM Perspective

While all of the fields are not required in the FTC’s form, the process is not perfect. For one, you could spend a fair amount of time doing this. Two, there is a catch-22; If you answer, that seems to generate more calls – and possibly risk, for instance, if you say “yes” to confirm your name (see the consumer comments on this page). If you don’t answer, you have limited information with which to complete the form.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also has current initiatives related to stopping unwanted calls. In late June they released two Notices of Inquiry (NOI), one related to tracking reassigned numbers; the other related to authenticating the source of calls by telephone service providers.

Unwanted robocalls have received a great deal of attention recently. Rightfully so. Speaking personally, I get them constantly on my cell phone. Not only are they a nuisance, but the proliferation of these scam calls makes one suspect of all calls that are not from a friend already in my contacts. This too could be a real problem, as it will cause people to ignore – and possibly to report – legitimate calls. For instance, from a federal student loan collector calling to explain your options to resolve accounts not only through collection but also through other unique federal options such as rehabilitation and consolidation, followed by income driven repayment plans and even discharge. Ignoring or reporting these calls has real financial consequences, like mounting interest.

Just becasuse a call is "robo" by current FCC definition - doesn't make it bad. It begs the question, just who will be the arbiter of what is a legitimate call and what isn’t? 

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