Special Report: How to Stop Annoying Robocalls

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(Olive Branch, MS) It's election season, so get ready to be bombarded with those automated calls asking for your vote. If not that, it's a sales pitch for a credit card or maybe a vacation.

In just one month last year, officials from the Federal Trade Commission say they got more than 140,000 complaints about robocalls.

This more than doubles the figures from 2010.

In Tennessee alone, the state agency that manages the Do Not Call Program says it got 811 complaints in 2011 regarding telemarketers and robocalls and 985 already in 2012.

New laws might soon provide more protection, but we discovered loopholes might be to blame for your phone still ringing. 

"A little over a year ago, we were probably getting five a week," says Olive Branch resident John Doddridge.

"There's nothing wrong with your credit.  We're calling to lower your credit card interest rate," says Doddridge of how the robocall began. The pitch sounds awfully familiar.

According to the FTC, these calls are illegal. In fact, with today's laws most robocalls are, even if your number isn't on the Do Not Call list.

There are exceptions including those from politicians, non-profits and in some cases, surveys.

Those exceptions are also how many companies are trying to skirt around the law.

We recorded a call on our producer's cell phone that starts out with a survey, but ends up being a vacation, sales pitch.
"In other cases they'll call and say we're doing a market survey and ask you some silly questions and do the same thing and flip into some sort of sales call," says Better Business Bureau President Randy Hutchinson.

According to the FTC, that bait and switch is still against the law.

Brandon Presley heads up the Public Service Commission in Mississippi where you can't even register your cell phone on the state's Do Not Call list, "There are people being taken advantage of in our state because the law is not strong enough."

A bill introduced during the last legislative session would have added text messages and fax numbers to Mississippi's Do Not Call law, but it died in committee.

"We just ask the Mississippi legislature in the next session to, or I do, to please close the loopholes and give us additional teeth in the law to go after these companies and shut them down," adds Presley.

The other big problem he says, "Technology has outpaced the law."

Crooks are able to fake caller ids, and open and close up shop before anyone catches on.
The FTC says its working even harder to stop the problem. 

Just last week, workers held a Q&A about robocalls with consumers on Twitter and Facebook. 

The agency is also planning a summit in the fall.

"We're going to investigate, we're going to find these robocallers by tracking them back through the network, even though they have spoofed caller IDs, even though they're hiding their identity as best they can," says William Maxson, staff attorney and Program Manager for Do Not Call Enforcement at the FTC.

The Federal Communications Commission also helps administer laws against telemarketers and Do Not Call. 

The agency adopted new rules earlier this year, but they've yet to go into effect.

So what can consumers do in the meantime?

Experts still advise signing up for your state's and the federal Do Not Call list.

If you get a robocall, despite the new requirements for telemarketers to allow you to "opt out" by pressing a certain number, the FTC says don't do it!

Maxson says pressing anything lets companies know it's a good number and you run the risk of it landing on even more lists.

So hang up, keep the number and file a complaint. It's how Doddridge now handles every robocall.  

He's literally flipped the script!

"I would ask them the name of the person that was calling and then I would ask what company are you calling for," Doddridge says.

At least one of the companies Doddridge complained about has been fined by the  Mississippi Public Service Commission.

"It makes me feel like, hopefully, I'm putting a stop to some of the calls."

Unfortunately, text messages are not covered by the federal Do Not Call.  However, those new FCC rules, which have yet to go into effect, are supposed to stop unwanted texts. 

In the meantime, talk with your wireless provider about blocking messages from third parties. 

To file a complaint with the FTC, click here.

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*Arkansas does not have a state Do Not Call list.  It was merged with the federal list many years ago and they encourage consumers to file a complaint with the FTC.