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The FTC reveals more about robocallers (cnbc.com)
62 points by hhs 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

I made it to this quote:

> "We have a strong robocalling enforcement program"

...and literally could not make it further. The FTC may have legal or technological problems not of their making, and by some arcane measure may have a "strong" enforcement program, but whatever they are doing is by no means effective.

Allow me to translate the government speak for you,

"You all have no real way of forcing us to do more currently, so we are going to avoid making a blunder and simply we will say we are super commited to the idea that we are having literally any effect at all"

For me, it’s incomprehensible how toothless US institutions have become over the past decade — and even more, how okay the American public is with that.

There are no robocalls in Germany, where I reside. It’s a completely non-existing problem. And the FTC would have all the power to stop this right now instead of complaining about it.

If you don‘t believe me, look at what the CAN-SPAM act did to corporate communication (worldwide).

It‘s as easy as slapping a 10.000$ fine on every single robocall that‘s either made by a participant or relayed through an operator network. Problem solved in days.

But hey, it‘s „good for business“ (while probably bad for overall GDP), that explanation seems to always work to keep Americans at bay.

What did the CAN-SPAM act do? From my perspective, I remember a lot of talk, and in the end a few emails added unsubscribe notices at the bottom (but generally not the spammers).

Did nothing to halt SPAM in any appreciable sense, but did lead to a lot of spammers adding a footer to their mails mentioning that they weren't SPAM, and that they were legitimate mails - referencing the act.

I wonder how much of that is more enforcement and how much just the language barrier insulating you from millions of low paid english speaking developing world workers trying to scam you? Possibly slightly higher call charges to Germany as well.

Robocalls aren't a problem in the UK either. There's only a small amount of telemarketing ("have you been involved in an accident", "PPI", "free insulation"). Occasionally we get the PC scams too. But fully automated calls are vanishingly rare.

Are you not using a landline? Because I and everyone I know get a dozen "your BT line is being disconnected press one for more information" calls a week. The "your computer is infected" calls seem to be going out of fashion mind. Are these not robocalls? The UK callers selling a free boiler or double glazing are only once a month mind so thats something. Perhaps it's because we are on the phone book? Anyway our experience is very different from yours.

Did you register to say you _don't_ want random calls? Sounds like you probably didn't.

The UK has a law that says you mustn't call people who don't want calls. Obviously "Never call me again" makes that clear the first time, but there's a (marketing industry operated but government regulated) scheme called the Telephone Preference Service (tpsonline.org.uk) to let you say you don't want unsolicited calls from anybody. They don't really advertise it (why would they) but they are obliged to operate it or else the government will make up its own rules that would presumably be far tougher, like maybe "Nobody wants these bloody calls, knock it off".

Obviously there are still straight up _crooks_ but the thing about such a Do No Call list is it's also full of people who _hate_ telemarketers. When I was a student (~20 years ago) we had a pinned up script for timewasting telemarketers. We could waste five, ten, fifteen minutes of their time and they were never going to make a sale. And their calls were illegal anyway, so now they're losing money on a crime and when we hang up they're getting reported for the call on top of wasting all that time. So the effect is it's not very profitable AND it's illegal.

I haven't had a robocall in maybe a decade.

Thank you. Of course we are on the TPS. That's probably why we get so few UK cold calls. But the backstreet Indian call centres who are nothing but a scam are hardly going to pay attention to it. I don't know how some people are in the Uk are avoiding them. I always assumed they just cycled through every number in the country.

I don't have an answer, just anecdata, nobody I know who still had a UK landline gets these calls. Text spam, occasionally, on their mobile, but actual robocalls, or live unsolicited marketing don't happen.

Pretty sure cycling through every number would get you dropped by anybody in that business. In terms of flagging yourself for attention it's like you spray-painted "Crack for sale here, no cops please" on the side of your drug warehouse. Dialling random numbers will have way too high a ratio of uncompleted calls versus anyone with an actual list of actual contacts, it would take a phone company IT person ten seconds to find out which of their customers is doing that and "suggest" they go elsewhere.

Much more likely they work from a "sucker list" vetted to weed out people like my 20-year old housemates last century who will just lose you money. That would explain nobody I know getting calls. So, I guess maybe you're just unlucky? No more help here I'm afraid -shrug-

A significant portion of the American public has bought into the idea that money is the ultimate quality metric: if you're making money, you must ipso facto be doing something right. Conversely, if you are poor, or if you are doing something that prevents someone from making money, that is bad. This is one of the reasons Donald Trump is so popular: he's richer than you, so ipso facto he must be doing something right. He must be smarter than you, because if he weren't he wouldn't be richer than you.

This mindset is evident even here on HN where, for example, "Move fast and break things" is an accepted item of conventional wisdom. Moving fast and breaking things are not good in and of themselves, they are good because if you move fast and break things you can make more money than people who move more deliberately and don't break things. (Until, that is, your airplanes start to fall out of the sky.)

That's the reason that the U.S. government won't move against robocallers: they are making money, so ipso facto they must be doing something right. If you move against the robocallers, that's the beginning of a slippery slope to questioning the idea that money is the ultimate quality metric, and that will completely undermine the foundation (such as it is) of the current power structure.

It sounds a lot like prosperity theology too. This was argued against in the book of Job when Satan took the position in his bet with God, to the effect of "Job is only loyal because you shower him with riches and nothing ever goes wrong for him".

It's ironic how popular prosperity theology is with American Evangelicals.

Prosperity preaching is heavily ingrained in US culture

But flaunting wealth and saying your acumen caused it turns out to be effective all over the world because people want it. A lot - most - wealthy people dont even know they have enough money to have a decadent lifestyle and dont know where to start. Most are not consciously avoiding something flashy but are also constrained by their peers from being accepted for doing anything different.

So there is still a lust for people that can attract attention based on their perceived wealth.

The prosperity-theologists have their scripture as well: Ecclesiastes 10:19

This is the problem with theocracy: you can find a scripture to justify just about anything.

I'm not even sure it's "bad for overall GDP", I'd say the average american has to spend a lot of money on BS services like credit protection, robocall protection, tax filling services, crazy prices for common drugs and other rackets that wouldn't exist if regulation was better

Somebody makes that money. It is very important to this small but influential group that individual American citizens continue to be ripped off.

Those people spend a certain amount of money via the legalized bribery of campaign contributions to ensure that the government remains incompetent at tasks like reining in robocalls.

That's not the GDP you are looking for. Its a miss allocation of resources. You might as well build a ten ton screw for all the benefit achieved.

Right,the problem is that GDP is a bad metric that only counts dollar spend and doesn't count destruction of value via externalities.

Spam was stopped by free market competition for email accounts. You still get tens of spam messages each day, but you don't see them because your spam filter is good. Telecom monopoly is the reason robocalls still exist. This problem's solution was found a century ago with the Sherman Antitrust Act, but the government refuses to enforce it.

My prediction is that we're less than five years from the death of general telephony, defined as no longer being able to rely on a person or business having a direct-dialable voice contact, whether land, mobile, or VOIP. Instead there will be some mix of messaging systems or apps, most requiring pre-arrangement for contact.

There will be hangers-on (older businesses, government offices), but expect that a major firm (F-100) will announce shutting off phone service entirely in this window.

(Busineses are hit as hard as households, or worse, by phone scams.)

And I think telcos actively want this.

This is exactly what I've been saying this whole time. I'm glad people are catching on. Just a couple years ago, I was considered a kook for never answering phone calls and only calling back if someone leaves a message. Already, I know of more people who are doing the same thing. More business's, even in the medical industry, seem willing to communicate over email. The writing is on the wall for ye olde telephone system. Everyone in positions of power seem complicit with phone scams, probably because it will effectively force people off it.

A few months ago I was bored and ran some email addresses in my contacts through haveibeenpwned. Turns out my radiologist uses his work email (a .edu address) for Kickstarter, Disqus, Dropbox, and 11 others. Now I call his landline when I have a cancer related question. I used to just email him.

There goes my afternoon.

Wow. Discussing medical records via email is a textbook HIPAA violation from the get-go.

Email is unfortunately also quite problematic (as sibling comment notes).

Any particularly good arguments / posts you've made on this?

"Bartoli sent 57 million calls to registered phone numbers in a six-month period of 2017 alone, the complaint says. He is now subject to a proposed court order permanently banning him from calling numbers on the Do Not Call registry."

I'm sure he is shaking in his boots. Where are up to $40,000 per violation fines? This is a toothless pseudo-enforcement and political hay.

The proposed punishment is here: https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/182-3105/d...

There was a $2M fine, but it's suspended if he complies. Argh.

Wait, what? He's been ordered to obey the law that he wasn't obeying?

I still think the simplest way to get rid of spam calls is to charge a small fee for each call, perhaps 5 or 10 cents but instead of the money going to the telco have it passed through to the person being called. For people who are friends, family or who call each other back and forth it will basically cancel out over time. But it would put the spam callers out of business.

If you can do that, you can just do call blocking which is far simpler.

And your version creates a whole new abuse vector for tricking or hacki g people into making toll calls.

Whitelist >>> blacklist.

Chargeback to the endpoint telco (nearest the recipient), at $5/call, who can pass charges to their upstream(s).

Egress hygiene should improve markedly.

How is that simple?

Just fine them.

That requires active enforcement, which requires both resources, intent, and process. The parent's strategy requires a much simpler infrastructure change and zero maintenance.

How is managing a new multibillion dollar multimillion account holder fraud-friendly market zero-maintenance?

One of the more annoying things about battling these fools I’ve found is the pain it is to report these companies via FTC official complaint form. They should make this process as easy and unobtrusive as possible. Even if it led to more noise, getting people to participate is one of the most important steps to solving the issue IMO (second only to effective enforcement of law and punishment of abusers).

A friend reports that their state's AG phone spam report form requires reporter info be passed on to calling party.

The thing about solar panels and calling a single number 1,000 times really hit home for me.

Once or twice a day for years my (ex)wife would get calls trying to sell her dead father solar panels. The calls just never stopped coming. Why call every day? I wasn't able to find out anything more about the company than they were located in Irwindale.

I always pondered this type of spam in particular. If I pretended to be interested in their product, someone would eventually show up at my house to sell me panels. Would THAT person know who was calling me?

One time, I became so frustrated, I think the call had interrupted some alone time my wife and I were having. I told the guy I'd come down to Irwindale with my assault rifle (which I don't own) and "stalk from office to office pumping round after round into colleague and coworker." He didn't recognize the Fight Club quote but proceeded to tell me threating him was a federal crime and that he would be filing a police report. I begged him to put his name on a police report so I'd know who he was. He then called me by name, and told me my address and that the police would be on their way soon. Except, it wasn't my name or address, it was my dead father-in-laws. After this, the calls stopped for a few days. But eventually they resumed.

Another irony is, in a pure free market, your solution of violence, both the threat of it let alone acting on it, is a natural conclusion. The only way we have a civil society is trust that there can be effective intervention before there's violence.

And as most states have no meaningful regulations for payday loans, my position if I'm ever called to be a juror in an assault or murder case by someone with such a loan against the owner of a payday lending company, is juror nullification. It's not murder. It's the free market taking care of things.

I couldn't agree more. Calling every day isn't marketing, it's harassment.

One of the consequences of only allowing law enforcement to commit violence is, anything they aren't interested in enforcing becomes de facto legal.

The irony of an illegal phone scammer threatening to call the police was not lost on me.

> The only way we have a civil society is trust that there can be effective intervention before there's violence.

I can't get over this statement. It is clearly axiomatic and sums up so many of the frustrations in my life.

And yet, from 3 months ago: The FCC has fined robocallers $208M and collected $7k



Isn't the whole issue that DIDs numbers aren't properly regulated an anyone can buy any number and also forge caller ID?

If you buy a US number or sell them you should be required to identify yourself or your company. If your numbers are used for fraud you should held liable in some form.

Most of these calls don't come from hacked voip systems but legit sellers of trunking and DID services.

The option to silence unknown numbers in iOS13 has killed their annoyance for me. Soon though they'll flood voicemail boxes making just as annoying to figure out u missed something important or not. If that happens then captcha for voicemail needs to be a built in option. Though for now they arent a bother.

> Soon though they'll flood voicemail boxes making just as annoying to figure out u missed something important or not.

Consider yourself lucky if that hasn't already been happening to you...

I have a landline for business reasons, and that thing gets a dozen robocalls a day. The telco's voicemail apparently has trouble understanding that two seconds of static followed by a hangup is not worth saving.

The cell spam is relentless. I even get three calls a week (always from new, different numbers) to my iPhone that leave messages in Mandarin. I don't speak Mandarin. I've never done business anywhere that would warrant that.

I needed a VM spam filter years ago.

Your cell number is from an area likely to have a lot (i.e. 5%, maybe) of Chinese folks (especially visitors rather than permanent immigrants), it's a scam aimed at them and you're just among the collateral annoyed. It is easy/cheap/etc. enough for the robocallers to just hit all the numbers in your area in hopes of a few bites from those who speak Mandarin and fall for the equivalent of the IRS scam in Mandarin.

You can install an anti-spam filter on your landline by connecting a modem on the landline. A modem allows you to control the phone-line programmatically: if the number is unwanted, just let your program to hang it up. Software like NCID (http://ncid.sourceforge.net/) provides a solution for interpreting the Caller-ID of the incoming calls.

Even better, because the modem only rejects incoming calls, it won't interfere with your phone. You can continue using it as usual.

All can be done on a Raspberry Pi.


Of course, a graph where vertices are phone numbers and edges are "likely has in contact book" is probably fairly straightforwards, if not cheap, to buy...

They already seem to have caught on. Most of my robo calls leave voicemails now.

iOS13 is still in public beta, right? I'm looking forward to the GA of that release, which I guess is slated for Fall.

One interesting side effect of declining phone use is that political polls rely on calling people. The Democratic Party is currently using landline polling as a debate entrance criterion. With declining usage among certain groups the phone polls will have bias.

In the UK indigenous cold callers are once a month, low rent Indian based callers are three times a day. It's hard to see how local enforcement would help. I wouldn't like a penny on all incoming calls but it might be worth it.

Local enforcement would penalise the carriers that deliver the garbage to you. They’ll figure out a solution to not interconnect with scummy VoIP providers used by the scammers.

They wouldn't figure out how to avoid scummy VoIP callers, they would drop VoIP support.

There’s no such thing as VoIP support, or rather, all telephony is now VoIP, even if not exposed to the consumer.

Even good old analog PSTN is only analog up to a point before being converted to digital IP-based stuff.

Not for me, I get robo called once a month. I've also had this phone number for over a decade, so it's been put into a lot of database now.

PSTN space is finite, tractable to exhaustive search (see "war dialing"), and recycled.

Every number is harassed.

Though this suggests one possible solution: a vastly increased number space. Bye-bye memorisation though.

I honestly think the only reason something is happening with this is people who speak with President Trump complain about it.

Otherwise you can basically do anything you like in the US right now. I realize how salty that sounds but I think this is the theme unfortunately.

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