Federal, state officials announce major crackdown on illegal robocalls

Federal, state officials announce major crackdown on illegal robocalls
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State and federal officials on Tuesday announced a major crackdown on illegal robocallers across the country, claiming the joint effort has targeted the operations responsible for over 1 billion robocalls.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), state attorneys general and local officials have taken 94 enforcement actions against a slew of illegal robocalling operations as part of their ongoing efforts to stave off the scourge of billions of robocalls dialing up U.S. consumers every year, according to the announcement.

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The FTC is filing charges against multiple companies and individuals, including an array of defendants who the agency says ran a "maze of interrelated operations that used illegal robocalls to contact financially distressed consumers" — largely senior citizens.

And agencies across 25 states announced they have brought 87 enforcement actions against robocalling companies in states including Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and more.

"We're all fed up with the tens of billions of illegal robocalls we get every year," Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said in a statement. "Today's joint effort shows that combatting this scourge remains a top priority for law enforcement agencies around the nation."

The actions against robocalling operations included warning letters, fines and charges in court over the past year.

The FTC said the companies targeted by the joint effort included spammers promoting "credit card interest rate reduction services, money-making opportunities and medical alert systems." 

The commission announced four new complaints against individuals and companies allegedly behind a significant number of illegal robocalls, including a company that sold "bogus credit card interest rate reduction services" and an individual who has participated "in the illegal telemarketing industry for several years."

According to some estimates, 47.8 billion robocalls were placed in the U.S. last year, an increase of 17 billion from the year before.

Tuesday's update on "Operation Call It Quits," the nickname for the effort by federal, state and local officials against robocalls, comes amid escalating frustration in Washington over the scourge of illegal calls that have aggravated consumers as well as targeted vulnerable populations with scams.

"Every year, our office gets more consumer complaints about unwanted robocalls than just about any other issue," Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in a statement. 

The technology subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is set to mark up an anti-robocall bill on Tuesday. The bipartisan "Stopping Bad Robocalls Act" will likely move to the House floor soon.

And the Senate last month voted 97-1 in favor of a separate but similar anti-robocall bill, increasing the chances that the U.S. will see an anti-robocall law as soon as this year.