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Taking on the robocallers

Fred Williams

Joe Bertini was getting fed up with annoying “robocalls” offering a dubious scheme to cut the interest rate on his credit card balance — especially since he doesn’t carry a balance. So he decided to retaliate.

After all, automated voice calls are more than annoying — they’re illegal.The Telemarketing Sales Rule, a consumer protection law, bans robocalls for the purpose of making sales. Consequently, the calls have become a signature tactic of financial scammers, who aren’t concerned about legal niceties.Taking on the robocallers

“They kept calling me again and again — it was very annoying,” said Bertini, a math teacher in Connecticut.

For other people, the calls are worse than an inconvenience. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that card rate scams have taken more than $100 million from people who could hardly afford to lose the money. The fraudsters promise to cut your rates in return for an upfront fee of several hundred dollars, then they fail to deliver on the promise. Hawkers of dubious grant programs, auto warranties and other schemes also use robocalls to find victims.

Finally, instead of just hanging up, Bertini pretended to go along. The caller promised to cut the interest rate on his cards. When a live voice replaced the recorded one, Bertini feigned enthusiasm for the idea. Then when the caller started telling him how to make his payment for the service, he made some excuse for a delay and put the call on hold. And left it there.

Bertini said it was satisfying to feel that he’d made the scammer waste time, but after using the trick repeatedly, it backfired. The brush-off apparently got under the skin of one caller, who decided to tie up Bertini’s phone by calling him back repeatedly.

The official advice on handling these calls does not involve tricking the caller into thinking they’ve found a victim. The FTC recommends hanging up, as a first step, and filing a complaint. Don’t press “1” to talk to a live representative, even to have your name removed from their list — it could just invite more calls. And most important: Don’t fall for tempting promises of having the interest rate slashed on your outstanding balance. You can apply for a low-rate balance transfer card yourself — and if you don’t qualify, a fly-by-night telesales operation is not going to change that.

But what can be done about the annoying calls? The FTC estimates that one prolific service made 2.5 billion automated calls during an 18-month period on behalf of shady financial companies. The agency has launched a “Robocall Challenge,” offering a $50,000 bounty for the creator of a technique that can block the calls.

In the meantime, Bertini said he has found a partial solution. His phone service lets him block up to 13 numbers, so he checked back in his records for the primary sources of junk calls and put them on his personal blacklist. He’s noticed a sharp — and welcome — decrease in robocalls.

The tactic can have mixed results. Robocallers routinely trick the caller ID system by faking the number they seem to be calling from. So if you have to pay to block a number, consider the cost, especially since the number you are blocking might change soon anyway.

Bertini’s cable-based phone service lets him block several numbers at no charge, and he’s prepared to fight. “I think they’re constantly changing the number from which they dial,” he said. When that happens, “we’ll be playing the blocking game.”

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  • Why Bother

    Nothing that you do will stop them from calling you. The major players behind this have made millions of dollars, which means that they are too big to fail.
    One of the major players specializes in aiding the rich with tax evasion and shell corporations set up in Belize. You can bet that the well to do in this country are not getting lower your credit card interest rate calls and due to that fact our government just considers a few phone calls a minor annoyance.
    The FCC has temporarily halted 5 of the minor unprofitable boiler rooms. They will receive a slap on the wrist and be back at it within a few days.
    In the meantime the calls will continue since the major money is being made with what is called a CNAM revenue-sharing program through companies like http://www.telephonemanagement.net
    In their own words: ‘Every day your company makes thousands of outbound phone calls. Every one of those calls generates revenue for many companies, why not yours? Our CNAM revenue-sharing program helps you make money every time a Caller ID request is made by a phone carrier. A high-traffic call center can lose hundreds to thousands of dollars a day to phone carriers by allowing them to charge for access to your own data.’
    You can now see why the criminals keep calling even though they know you won’t fall for their scam. If someone does make the mistake of answering the phone and falling for their con then it is just icing on the cake for them. These people are the lowest form of filth on this planet. The only way to stop this is to contact the FBI and ask why this crime family is allowed to operate and facilitate the ongoing criminal operations. This is one of the reasons that the RICO act was put in place, so why aren’t they using it. Is this because this isn’t a high profile, news worthy operation or is the FBI too understaffed and busy with Homeland Security issues. Maybe if we were rich they would take this seriously, but then if we were rich we would be using that criminal organizations services and protecting them instead of trying to shut them down. It is alleged that they launder money from Pacific Telecom through a trust bank account in Oregon and into foreign accounts at Scotiabank in Belize and other destinations.
    Why hasn’t the FBI used the RICO act and gone after this organization? On October 15, 1970, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 1961–1968), commonly referred to as the ‘RICO Act’, became United States law. The RICO Act allowed law enforcement to charge a person or group of people with racketeering, defined as committing multiple violations of certain varieties within a ten-year period. The purpose of the RICO Act was stated as ‘the elimination of the infiltration of organized crime and racketeering into legitimate organizations operating in interstate commerce’. S.Rep. No. 617, 91st Cong., 1st Sess. 76 (1968). However, the statute is sufficiently broad to encompass illegal activities relating to any enterprise affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
    Any criminal activity can be reported to the FBI here: https://tips.fbi.gov
    Report it at http://www.fcc.gov/complaints
    Report it at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov
    People should continually file complaints with their Attorney Generals office.
    There is a blog site that has information on one of these operations: http://telemarketerspam.wordpress.com