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FTC losing patience with phone marketing 'robocallers'

Calls open summit to look at menace of automated calls

Faced with evidence that automated 'robocalling' phone marketing is on the rise again, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is planning a summit to explore new ways of fighting back against a practice that was supposed to have been outlawed in 2009.

As ordinary Americans know all too well, robocallers - computer systems that dial phone numbers on a random basis to market products and services - are probably as big a problem as they've ever been. In the past, some of these calls pushed bogus services while other were simply unwanted.

For some, the scale of the harassment is not an occasional issue either and can mean receiving up to a dozen such calls a day, every day.

With the exception of charities and political parties or those opting in to receive them, robocalling is supposed to be illegal under the Telemarketing Sales Rule but a hardcore of abusers seem not to have got the message.

"The FTC hears from American consumers every day about illegal robocalls and how intrusive they are. We're ratcheting up our efforts to stop this invasion of consumers' privacy," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

The FTC hoped that its open-door 18 October summit would help develop ways of stopping abuse, including more effective ways of tracing the numbers of companies engaged in robocalling. The organisation would also host a Twitter and Facebook Q&A with ordinary phone subscribers on 17 July, it said.

"The agency has stopped companies responsible for making billions of robocalls since September of 2009, and will continue to identify, locate, and prosecute those responsible for illegal robocalls," said an FTC press release.

Ignoring the issue was not an option for the FTC which emphasised that it had levied fines totalling $41 million (£26 million) since September 2009 when the law changed.

In the UK, the Telephone Preference Service allows subscribers to opt out of automated and unsolicited calls. Although the tactic was never as widely used as in the US, the evidence is that a small number of companies continue to use to harass phone subscribers in the hope that few will bother to complain.


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