FTC Enlists Consumers to Help Stop ‘Robocalls’

By Abby Ellin

Oct 20, 2012 7:00am
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(Orlin Wagner/AP Photo)

Don’t like those annoying automated telemarketing calls?

Well, now’s your chance to do something about it.

The Federal Trade Commission  is looking for tech-savvy individuals to come up with a product to thwart so-called “robocalls” from harassing helpless citizens.

In fact, the FTC, which oversees the Federal Do Not Call list (which has a whopping 217 million people on it), is  so frustrated that it’s offering a $50,000 prize for the best technical solution to stop those unwanted calls.

Between October 2011 and September 2012, the FTC received 2,260,021 robocall-related complaints, said spokesperson Cheryl Hackley.

“We’re trying to tap into the technological expertise and innovation that’s out there of the American public,” said Kari Daffan, a staff attorney with the FTC, adding that there’s “nothing that currently exists in the marketplace.”

Robocalls typically originate overseas and are illegal under the 2009 Telemarketing Sales Rule, which stipulates that a consumer must give written permission to receive a call from that entity.

“That doesn’t happen too much, if ever,” said Daffan. “The vast majority of these calls are just scam artists. They’re just making a buck, and they often do it off of the most vulnerable consumers, like the elderly or those who do have debt.”

Not only will solvers get a cash prize, but they can also retain intellectual property rights to their idea. Companies with more than 10 employees are able to compete for the FTC’s Commission Technology Achievement Award. (No cash prize, alas). The agency, in turn, will have the right to feature the solution’s name, text description and images on its website.

The “FTC Robocall Challenge” opens to the public on Oct. 25 and closes Jan. 17, 2013. The winner will be announced in April.

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