FTC launches new initiative to combat robocalls

"Operation Call it Quits" is a joint-agency crackdown on companies responsible for more than a billion illegal robocalls.

Dhara Singh CNET News Intern
Dhara Singh is one of CNET's summer interns and a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. She loves digging deep into the social issues that arise from everyday technology. Aside from wording around, you can catch her discussing Game of Thrones or on a random New York City adventure with her dSLR.
Dhara Singh
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The Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement partners unveiled on Tuesday a new initiative to combat robocalls. "Operation Call it Quits" is a partnership at the local, state and federal level that includes 94 actions targeting illegal robocall operations, including shutting down robocall companies and issuing fines in the millions. 

"Nearly all robocalls are illegal unless you've given consent in writing," Andrew Smith, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said during a press briefing.

The initiative comes at a time when illegal robocalls have permeated not just household and business landlines but also hospital phone lines. These calls run the gamut from services that promise to reduce your credit card's interest rate to operations that say they'll help you earn money from home. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill mentioned during the briefing that last year alone $10.5 billion was lost to phone scams in the United States. 

"The actual amounts are probably much higher ... because ... the elderly don't report their calls," said Hill. 

For consumers, simply answering a call from an unknown number can increase the likelihood of further robocalls because it signals to scammers that the phone number is active, says the FTC.  

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

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission gave wireless carriers the green light to block robocalls for customers by default. 

Similarly, the FTC hopes that in the upcoming months Congress will give it greater jurisdiction over telecommunications carriers to trace calls back to their source, according to Smith. 

Watch this: How to stop robocalls