‘No-call’ reporting app blocks unwanted telemarketers

via ‘No-call’ reporting app blocks unwanted telemarketers

PDF: New PSC No Call App

We’ve all had those calls that are trying to sell us something, or that appear to be scams. In the past few years, we’ve gotten some help in the form of Caller ID and call blocking, but these remain only marginally effective at stopping unwanted telemarketing and scam calls. “Do-not-call” lists have been somewhat effective as well, but are challenged by the explosion in automated calling (“robocalls”).

Now, the Mississippi Public Service Commission has unveiled a new smartphone app that makes it easier and quicker to report an unwanted call. The free “MS No-Call App” is available from the Apple Store and Google Play, and it allows users to register numbers with the statewide list, and file complaints immediately from their smartphones.

“We want to empower people by placing a tool literally in their hands to help us get at these predatory telemarketers,” noted PSC Chairman Brandon Presley in a news release. “This free app was a long time coming, and I know it will revolutionize the way we track down the lawbreakers and shut their call operations down.”

Since the rollout of “no-call” legislation both at the national and state levels in 2003, Mississippians have been able to place their numbers on “do-not-call” lists. And last year, the PSC began allowing cellphone numbers to be added to the list.

Last December, the Federal Trade Commission reported that more than 226 million numbers had been placed on the national list since the do-not-call lists became active in 2003. And in 2015, that number increased about 3 percent. Some industry experts attribute that rise to increasing use of robocalling technology. It’s a big problem; billions of robocalls are placed every month, and CNBC reported 2.6 billion robocalls last May alone.

For companies or individuals who violate the state and/or federal do-not-call laws, there can be stiff penalties, and many companies have found themselves on the wrong end of judgments and lawsuits from regulators, costing them millions. Around 20,000 companies and organizations have applied for access to the national list, according to the FTC report. But the list has not stopped criminals from violating the law on a regular basis, a lot of them using robocall technology. Many robocalls originate from overseas, making it difficult to stop them.

When I heard about the new app, I decided to give it a try. After downloading and installing the app, I was asked to enter my name, address, and email, as well as the telephone number I wanted to add to the list. Once registered, the user can add additional numbers to the list, file a complaint about a call they received and sign up for additional information. There was a disclaimer that your number will be added to the do-not-call list, and you may be asked to file an affidavit to support your complaint, should it be needed.

Usage is simple and straightforward, and should allow you to immediately report numbers that come to your cellphone or landline. When reporting a questionable call or text, you’ll be asked for specific information about the number the caller used, the time and date of the call, what the call was about, whether you have an existing business relationship with the caller and whether you answered the call.

There are numerous apps that use the national registry, and others that block calls from known scammers, spammers and robocallers. A list of some of these is available at https://www.ctia.org/consumer-tips/robocalls.

For more information about Mississippi’s No Call Law, visit www.psc.state.ms.us or call 1-800-637-7722.


Negative option contracts keep you on the hook


via ‘Negative option’ plans keep you on the hook, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170814_A003_1The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170814_A005_2

This sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? For only $1.03 plus shipping, you could try a new product that promises “visibly whiter teeth.”

Teeth-whitening products have soared in popularity in recent years, and anything that promises to deliver a brighter smile is bound to get attention. But many consumers who signed up for one particular “trial” offer found themselves on the hook for hundreds of dollars per month until they were finally able to cancel their subscriptions.

The Federal Trade Commission last week got a federal court to put the brakes on a wide-ranging scheme involving 78 companies, at least 87 different websites and dozens of bank accounts. The agency accuses the operators of the plans with “using deceptive claims, hidden fine-print disclosures and confusing terms” to lure customers into providing billing information, and began charging them about $100 a month if they didn’t cancel within eight days. In addition, they allegedly used an “order confirmation page” to trick customers into signing up for a second subscription, leading some customers to pay more than $200 a month until cancelling.

Now, any reasonably-intelligent person would know there’s always a catch to an offer that starts out costing so little. Many of us remember the “buy a record for a penny, get 10 more free” plans that became common in the 1980s (and which still exist today). For a ridiculously small, up-front payment, you could get 11 albums for “free.” But if you signed up for this offer, you found yourself getting a shipment every few weeks, for which you had to pay full price, until you cancelled. (Of course, the terms of most of these offers were pretty clearly stated, even if you had to look at the fine print, and even if you had to wait on the phone awhile, you usually could cancel.)

This type of operation (legitimate or scam) relies on what’s known as the “negative option.” If you sign up for the offer, you’re obligated until you cancel. If they don’t hear from you, the assumption is that you are agreeing to continue the service. (If that’s what you want, it’s not a problem.) In reality, most recurring services are provided on a negative-option basis. But what distinguishes a scam from a legitimate offer is that scammers go out of their way to make it difficult for you to cancel, or trick you into more obligations.

Negative-option subscription plans (and their cousins, automatic-renewal contracts) are more common today than ever, and companies find them attractive because they don’t have to go to the expense of trying to get customers to renew. It takes a lot of expense and trouble to lure new customers or to try to persuade existing ones to renew their commitment.

But the problem for consumers is that, even if they try to cancel, it can be difficult. You’ve probably notice that most subscription services (there are some notable exceptions, such as Netflix) don’t readily supply you with an easy way to cancel, and make you call and explain why you’re trying to cancel.

For negative-option or auto-renewing contracts associated with subscription offers, the FTC requires the following information be provided clearly and conspicuously, and these are good questions to ask before you sign up for any subscription service or trial offer:

  • What is the minimum purchase requirement, if any?
  • How and when can I cancel my membership?
  • How many notifications will I have to respond to, and how often will you receive them?
  • How do I reject merchandise, and who pays for returns?
  • How much time do you have to reject merchandise?
  • Is postage and handling included in the product price?

Finally, it’s a good idea to keep copies or information for all transactions and conversations you have with the company or its representatives, and keep track of any dates required to cancel services. While a free trial should give you the chance to try something you might (or might not) end up wanting, it shouldn’t be a ticket to a customer-service nightmare.

For more info on buying plans and negative-option agreements, visit http://bit.ly/2fpP14s.

Dish Network case results in record telemarketing fine

via Dish Network case results in record telemarketing fine, clarionledger.com

PDF: Dish Network Fine

Satellite TV provider Dish Network will have to shell out $280 million to settle charges that it violated federal law when its representatives called millions of consumers to get them to sign up for Dish Network TV services.

The Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice announced the action Wednesday, in a stinging rebuke of the Colorado-based company’s sales practices that closed an 8-year-old case. A U.S. District Court in Illinois didn’t mince words in its statement, in which it accused the company of creating a situation in which “unscrupulous sales persons used illegal practices to sell Dish Network programming any way they could.”

The agencies were joined in the lawsuit by the states of California, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio, which will share in $112 million to address alleged violations in their respective states. In addition, the federal government will pocket $168 million from the settlement, the largest civil penalty ever obtained for violations of the FTC Act. Dish Network has a reported 13.5 million subscribers nationwide.

“The National Do Not Call Registry is a popular federal program for the public to reduce the number of unwanted sales calls,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This case demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to smart enforcement of consumer protection laws and sends a clear message to businesses that they must comply with the Do Not Call rules.”

Specifically, the court found that “millions” of Dish Network-authorized calls violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, The Telephone Consumer Protection Act and state law. (Sixty-six million of those calls on their own were found to be violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.) The complaint alleged in reference to the Telemarketing Sales Rule that Dish “initiated, or caused a telemarketer to initiate, outbound telephone calls to phone numbers on the DNC Registry, in violation of the TSR, violated the TSR’s prohibition on abandoned calls, and assisted and facilitated telemarketers when it knew, or consciously avoided knowing, that the telemarketer was engaged in violations of the law.”

“The outcome of this case shows companies will pay a hefty price for violating consumers’ privacy with unwanted calls,” said Maureen K. Ohlhausen, acting FTC chairman. “This is a great result for consumers, and I am grateful to FTC staff for their years of tenacious work investigating and developing this case. We and our DOJ and state partners will continue to bring enforcement actions against Do Not Call violators.”

The court’s ruling contained four provisions, which included requiring Dish and its primary retailers to ensure they are fully compliant with the “Safe Harbor” provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule (which protect you and me from certain calling practices); requiring Dish to hire a telemarketing-compliance expert to ensure compliance; requiring Dish to allow unannounced inspections of calling facilities or records; and prohibiting Dish from violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule in the future.

Dish has gone on record as disagreeing with the verdict and said it plans to appeal. “The penalties awarded in this case radically and unjustly exceed, by orders of magnitude, those found in the settlements in similar actions,” a representative noted in a statement. “Dish has long taken its compliance with telemarketing laws seriously, has and will continue to maintain rigorous telemarketing compliance policies and procedures, and has topped multiple independent customer service surveys along the way.”

It wasn’t clear how much, if any, of the settlement money will be returned to affected consumers.

Feds, Fla. authorities shut down robocall ring that targeted seniors

via Feds, Fla. authorities shut down robocall ring that targeted seniors, clarionledger.com

PDF: Robocall Ring Seniors 1Robocall Ring Seniors 2

With millions of Americans deeply in debt, many are looking for a lifeline to help them deal with it. Statistics released around the end of 2016 showed that Americans’ personal debt had exploded by $460 billion, the biggest increase in nearly a decade and bringing total indebtedness dangerously close to the record-setting 2008 levels of $12.7 trillion.

Such debt makes some Americans vulnerable to promises of relief from their crushing load, and millions are getting robocalls and marketing pitches from both established companies and fly-by-night scam artists. Many of these schemes target seniors, many on fixed incomes who are already carrying heavy debt loads. But this week, the Federal Trade Commission and the Florida attorney general shuttered one tangled operation that pitched “worthless” credit card rate reduction programs to millions.

Orlando-based “Card Member Services,” doing business as Payless Solutions, allegedly set up robocalls that promised that consumers could pay off their debt faster and cheaper in exchange for up-front fees ranging from $300 to nearly $5,000. But, according to authorities, it was all too good to be true.

A federal district court judge last week signed eight orders against the operation, the agencies announced last week, stemming from a joint complaint against the operation, which ran from 2011 until the 2015 complaint.

The operation is accused of claiming that consumers could save at least $2,500 in a short period of time if they paid the fees, but many consumers reported they got no action in return for their money. Some consumers received a “package of financial education information,” and in some cases, found that the defendants had used their personal information to apply for new credit cards without their knowledge or consent. In addition, many of the numbers called were on the national Do-Not-Call Registry, and violated other telemarketing statutes.

Under the action announced last week, charges have been settled against 18 defendants, in some cases imposing financial penalties. Monetary judgments of $4.8 million were requested, but were suspended because the defendants said they couldn’t pay. The FTC’s news release noted the defendants were ordered to stop their illegal activities, but didn’t say whether any of them are going to jail or if any of the scam’s victims are going to be compensated.

If you get a call from someone claiming to be able to reduce your interest rate, or enroll you in a special program that requires up-front fees, it’s probably a scam. Giving your personal information to someone who calls you with such promises can result in identity theft, so be skeptical if anyone calls. If it’s a robocall, let it go to voicemail. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message. That also gives you the option to check it out before returning any calls.

Phone scammers using new tactics

IRS-phone-scam-prevent-fraudFrom Phone scammers using new tactics, clarionledger.com

PDF:Phone scammers using new tactics

It’s hard to imagine a world without caller ID. But it really wasn’t but a couple of decades ago that most people had no idea who might be on the other end of the call when their phones rang. Since so many calls even then turned out to be from telemarketers or scammers, many people just relied on their answering machines if they wanted to screen their calls.

Having been invented almost as soon as the telephone itself, the answering machine helped record business calls for many decades before finally becoming affordable enough for everyday consumers in the 1980s. When they finally had access to answering machines, people began to “screen” their calls, introducing the notion of being able to put off answering a phone call (or ignore it completely). So when the first Caller ID units were introduced in the 1980s, they became instantly popular. For the first time, you could actually see who was calling while the call was in progress — and decide whether to answer.

Of course, telemarketers and scammers found ways to get their calls through, with some unscrupulous companies even beginning to “spoof” phone numbers to fool the Caller ID by hiding the real number from which the call originated. Since then, phone scammers and potential victims have been engaged in a sort of virtual arms race, with each side aided by technology designed to defeat the other’s strategies.

Recently, Inc. magazine ran a story by Joseph Steinberg alerting consumers to three ways phone scammers can steal your money. The first involves a scammer calling your phone using an autodialer (a machine programmed to call thousands of numbers), then hanging up before anybody can answer. They do this repeatedly, in a bid to pique your curiosity so you’ll call the number. A second variant involves the scammer calling your number, waiting for an answer, then introducing the sound of crying or screaming. At this point, the scammer hangs up, hoping you’ll call back to see if you can help.

And in the third tactic, the criminal texts you with an alarming message that someone is in danger of being hurt or killed, with a request that you call back. By placing a call to one of these numbers, you can incur huge charges on your phone bill, and they often aren’t included on phone plans.

These scams are known as “473,” “Ring-and-Run” or “One Ring” scams, and the scammers only want to get you to call specific numbers so they can bill you for huge charges. The number 473 is the area code for some island nations, but a lot of other numbers and countries are used as well. (Criminals, noted Steinberg, adjusted their tactics after consumers learned to avoid making calls to numbers starting with 809.)

This latest advice comes on the heels of what’s become known as the “yes” call scam, in which a criminal gets someone on the phone and asks you a seemingly innocuous question such as “Can you hear me?” only to find that the crook has recorded your “yes” answer and used it as evidence you ordered a product you never agreed to order.

To help you avoid these scams, Steinberg has this advice: “If you miss a call, whomever called can send you a text message (or leave a voicemail),” he advises. “If they did neither, and you don’t know who called, don’t worry about it. Also, remember that it’s unlikely that someone you do not know who is in distress at a location with which you are not familiar would dial a random number in another country and ask you to help them — they would call the police.”

To see Steinberg’s excellent article (including a list of area codes of concern), visit http://on.inc.com/2na78JY.

Robocallers disguise true purpose

From Robocallers disguise true purpose, clarionledger.com

Federal and state law enforcement agencies recently announced they had closed the investigation into an illegal telemarketing operation that allegedly placed billions of “robocalls” promising consumers a free cruise to the Bahamas in exchange for taking a phone survey. After the survey was over, the recipients got a sales pitch for cruises and various vacation packages instead of their promised free cruise.

This case has been brewing for several years. In 2011 and 2012, a company called Caribbean Cruise Lines and its partners made phones ring across the continent, raking in millions of dollars. During the scheme, a reported 12 million to 15 million robocalls a day were made, often under the guise that the calls were being used to conduct political research. This is just the latest in a string of investigations and settlements that began in 2015, but the recent announcement (the fifth and final consent judgment) closes the books on this far-reaching operation.

The latest action prohibits owner Fred Accuardi and his companies from assisting or participating in operations that violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule and other applicable laws. In previous judgments, fines of $1.35 million had been levied, but all but $2,500 of those fines were suspended after the defendants said they couldn’t pay.

Mississippi’s Public Service Commission and attorney general’s office were among the 10 state regulators (along with federal authorities) recognized for their role in shutting down the operation. “I commend the FTC, my fellow attorneys general and the Mississippi Public Service Commission for their hard work and dedication in the fight to protect consumers from this type of illegal business practices,” noted Attorney General Jim Hood last week.

The original complaint charged Accuardi and his companies with “assisting and facilitating the illegal calls by providing robocallers with hundreds of telephone numbers, making it possible for them to choose and change the names that would appear on consumers’ caller ID devices, funding a part of the robocalling campaigns, and hiding the robocallers’ identities from authorities,” the FTC noted in a news release.

While you’re unlikely to be getting more robocalls from this particular operation, most phone users get these calls every day. The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for enforcing a number of rules and regulations of the growing robocalling industry. Here are a few points of the law regarding robocalling, courtesy of the FCC:

  • Most calls made without your consent are illegal. A company may call your landline or cellphone only if you have previously given your consent to call them. You can give permission on paper, by filling out an online form, or by pressing buttons on your phone in response to specific requests. According to the FCC, “telemarketers are no longer able to make telemarketing robocalls to your landline home telephone based solely on an ‘established business relationship’ that you may have established when purchasing something from a business or contacting the business to ask questions.”
  • There are exceptions. Certain robocalls are permissible, such as those made to announce school closings, airline flight cancellations and for a number of other reasons. Robocalls made to landlines (not cellphones) are permissible if they are for “market research or polling,” as well as calls made on behalf of nonprofit groups. In such cases, the caller is required to tell you at the beginning of the message who’s calling and list a contact number for you to call for further information.
  • You can opt out. The FCC requires telemarketers to give you the opportunity to opt out of receiving future calls immediately during a prerecorded telemarketing call through an automated menu. “The opt-out mechanism must be announced at the outset of the message and must be available throughout the duration of the call,” notes the FCC. You should also place your numbers on the National Do-Not-Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov).. You can register for Mississippi’s Do-Not-Call registry at  https://www.psc.state.ms.us/nocall/subscriber.aspx or by calling 1-86NOCALLMS (1-866-622-5567).
  • File a complaint. You can report robocalls to the FCC by visiting http://bit.ly/1Muo1aL by phone at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); or by mail to: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th St., S.W., Washington, DC 20554.

Law puts dent in telemarketing scams

AdobeStock_95445790.jpegvia Law puts dent in telemarketing scams, clarionledger.com

From the moment you start talking to a telephone scammer, your chances of escaping unscathed drop precipitously with every second. These people have spent years perfecting their craft, and are skilled at reaching their goal of getting paid.

Phone crooks know that, if they can get you to pay in certain (anonymous and untraceable) ways, their chances of success are much higher. In recent years, some telemarketers (both legitimate and scammers) have started taking payment through cash-to-cash transfers or cash-reload card PINs. Some scammers have even been able to convince victims to go and purchase iTunes cards and other types of gift cards.

The law has been pretty slow to catch up with the fast-evolving bag of scam tricks, but adjustments to an old law might put a dent in their plans.  In June, new provisions of the Telemarketing Sales Rule went into effect, making it illegal for telemarketers to request or accept payments via cash-to-cash money transfers (like those from MoneyGram and Western Union) and PINS from cash PINs from cash reload cards like MoneyPak and Vanilla Reload. The revisions were announced in November.

“The amended TSR also bans telemarketers from calling to ask for your bank account information and using it to create a ‘remotely created check’ that you never see, or sign,” notes the FTC’s Bridget Smalls in a recent blog post. “If a telemarketer you haven’t done business with calls to ask for your bank account number for any purpose, say ‘No’ and hang up.”

Here are a few more things the TSR’s new teeth helps control:

Unauthorized billing. Telemarketers must get your “express informed consent” to be charged, and the amount must be specifically authorized. “If a telemarketer has your account information before the call — known as “pre-acquired account telemarketing” — and offers you goods or services on a free trial basis before charging you automatically,” notes the FTC on its website, “the telemarketer must get your permission to use a particular account number, ask you to confirm your desire to approve a charge by giving the telemarketer at least the last four digits of the account number and, for your protection, create an audio recording of the entire phone transaction.”

Call abandonment. Telemarketers are required to connect their call to a sales representative within two seconds of the consumer’s greeting. This will reduce the number of “dead air” or hang-up calls you get from telemarketers. In addition, when the telemarketer doesn’t have a representative standing by, a recorded message must play to let you know who’s calling and the number they’re calling from. The law prohibits a recorded sales pitch in a cold call. And to give you time to answer the phone, the telemarketer may not hang up on an unanswered call before 15 seconds or four rings.

Requires caller ID transmission. Telemarketers must transmit their telephone number and if possible, their name, to your caller ID service. This protects your privacy, increases accountability on the telemarketer’s part and helps in law enforcement efforts. (Of course, illicit operations might still “spoof” the caller ID to make you think it’s from a local number.)

Restricts Robocalling. Most businesses need your written permission before they can call you with prerecorded telemarketing messages, or robocalls. Businesses using robocalls have to tell you at the beginning of the message how you can stop future calls, and must provide an automated opt-out you can activate by voice or key-press throughout the call. If the message could be left on your voicemail or answering machine, businesses also have to provide a toll-free number at the beginning of the message that will connect to an automated opt-out system you can use any time.

It’s important to keep in mind that some prerecorded messages still are permitted, such as the airline letting you know your flight’s been delayed or cancelled, reminders from your doctor, dentist or school, and other categories that don’t promote goods or services. You can still get pre-recorded calls from political campaigns, calls from certain health care providers and messages from a business contacting you to collect a debt. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.

Mississippi no-call law expands to cellphones



via Moak: Mississippi no-call law expands to cellphones, clarionledger.com, 4/7/2016

You’ll soon be able to add your cellphone number to Mississippi’s “No-Call” list, effective July 1. Gov. Phil Bryant this week signed the bill, which will become effective July 1.

Central District Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown noted in a news release that the measure (SB 2366) hopes to control telemarketing at a time when the number of Mississippians with telephone landlines is decreasing and cellphone use is increasing. Mississippi is among states with the highest “cell-only” households, in which consumers have ditched their traditional landlines for cell phones.

Mississippi’s “No-Call” list became effective in 2003, giving consumers much-needed relief from annoying telemarketing calls. Telemarketers must purchase a list of numbers before they start calling, with steep fines for violations. But the service didn’t cover cell phones. A growing chorus of advocacy groups, lawmakers and citizens have been requesting for years that something be done about cell phone solicitations.

“We are very pleased that Mississippi citizens will now be able to add their cellphone numbers to the No Call Registry,” Brown noted.  “Consumers are tired of unsolicited phone calls and are ready for this relief.  I plan to add my cellphone number on July 1.”

Many states have Do-Not-Call lists, as does the U.S. government. Keep in mind that adding your name to either or both lists should protect you from the lion’s share of telemarketing calls, but you can still get calls from exempted causes and organizations, such as nonprofit organizations and political calls.

“It’s important that our laws keep up with new technology, especially as more and more Mississippians cut the cord on their landlines,” added Attorney General Jim Hood. “The passage of SB 2366 is a victory for Mississippi consumers who are tired of picking up their cell phones only to learn it’s an out-of-state telemarketer on the other end of the line. This measure should help curb those annoying and unwanted calls.”

Once you’ve added your number to the list, it can take up to two months before it takes effect. To register your home landline number, or your cellphone number, or to file a complaint, you may call 1-800-356-6430 or visit our website www.psc.state.ms.us.

Feds shut down solar marketing scheme

Solar panel on the desert

Stock Photo

via Moak: Hucksters market solar panels, clarionledger.com, 3/16/2016

There’s a lot of interest these days in solar and other alternative energy sources. As consumers have looked for ways to lower their energy bills, solar energy has long been touted as a key component in the nation’s energy future. However, in the decades since solar energy has been part of the discussion of America’s energy future, development has been slow. (I remember writing a paper about solar energy back in high school about 35 years ago.)

The price of solar installations is still beyond the reach of many consumers and often still outweighs the potential cost savings. That fact, coupled with falling energy costs of late, have presented constant challenges to the growth of the solar industry. Still, there is increasing demand and interest in “rooftop” solar systems.

That demand makes consumers vulnerable to hucksters. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission shut down an operation that is accused of “bombarding” consumers with millions of recorded calls, which allegedly alarmed consumers by telling them there was “urgent” news about their energy bills, but they were really just a way to generate leads for companies selling solar systems.

According to the agency, defendants Francisco Salvat and his companies illegally made more than 1.3 million pre-recorded calls to consumers with phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry, warning them that they needed to act quickly to avoid a coming spike in their electric bills.

“Mr. Salvat’s companies ignored the Do Not Call Registry and made illegal robocalls,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Breaking the law isn’t a great way for a company to introduce itself to potential customers.”

If they answered the robocalls, consumers were given the option to “push one” to lower their energy bills, which then transferred them to a telemarketer who tried to sell them on an expensive solar panel assembly. If they agreed, the telemarketer would schedule an appointment with a private solar company, selling the customer’s information to them in the form of a sales lead. However, the FTC claims that problems arose when consumers’ request to be taken off the call list were ignored.

The FTC is seeking a federal court order permanently barring the defendants from the allegedly illegal conduct, as well as civil penalties for their alleged telemarketing violations. The Department of Justice filed the complaint on behalf of the FTC in a California U.S. District Court against KFJ Marketing, LLC; Sunlight Solar Leads, LLC; Go Green Education; and Francisco J. Salvat, individually and as an officer of each of the three businesses.

The businesses are charged with violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule by calling consumers whose names are in the national Do Not Call registry; continuing to call consumers who had requested no further calls; and making illegal robocalls. The complaint requests civil penalties, relief for consumers, and a court order to bar the activities in the future.

If you’ve had similar issues, you can file a complaint with the FTC here. Legitimate solar energy companies abide by a set of ethics called the SEIA Solar Business Code, which guides how they will sell and market solar systems. For more information and advice on solar systems, check out this column I wrote back in November.

South gets lion’s share of robocalls



via Moak: Rise of robocalls, clarionledger.com, 2/25/2016

It’s a daily annoyance for some; a nightmare for others. You’re going about your daily business and your phone rings. You don’t recognize the number, but answer it anyway, only to find a short silence on the other end, then the voice of a recorded message or a click as you’re transferred to a telemarketer or debt collector. You’ve been robocalled.

Robocalling (automated dialing) is occurring with increasing frequency. Recently, a website called Youmail released its statistics on robocalling, revealing that (at least) 2.3 billion robocalls were made in January alone. That means that 858 robocalls are being placed every second of every day, statistically speaking.

According to Youmail (which sells call-blocking and voicemail services), the most robocalls are being made by debt collectors, hounding you because you’re late on that credit card payment. Fifteen of the top 20 numbers reported by Youmail’s National Robocall Index were from debt collectors, by themselves amounting to 175 million calls during January. The top caller: a “bank debt collection company” (possibly credit-card giant Capital One) placed 34.7 million of those calls, all by itself.

Robocalls are easy and cheap. Using special software and mass-dialing technology, debt collectors – or sales operations — can input thousands or millions of telephone numbers, then call consumers on a preset schedule. Although the vast majority of calls are blocked or ignored, enough must get through that it’s a profitable venture.  According to Youmail, about one in six calls are robocalls.

It also seems from the Youmail report that we Southerners get the majority of robocalls. Of the top 20 area codes, 15 are in Southern cities. (No Mississippi cities were listed, but it’s a safe bet that Magnolia State residents get a lot of those calls.) The top-robocalled area codes were for Atlanta (three Atlanta area codes made the list), Houston, Dallas and Birmingham. Other Southern cities included Fort Lauderdale, Baton Rouge, Memphis, Charlotte and Columbia, South Carolina. Unsurprisingly, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., also made the list. Atlanta residents were by far the most likely to get robocalled, with enough robocalls to ensure every Atlantan got at least 30.

All this spiking activity doesn’t even count the number of political and survey robocalls we get; since a primary is coming up here in just a few days, you’re likely to get your share if you haven’t already.

If you read this column on a regular basis, you might remember that I wrote about some new robocalling guidelines from the Federal Communications Commission. In June, the FCC adopted a set of rulings which would help address the growth of nuisance robocalling. According to the FCC, robocalls are the largest source of complaints to the agency (more than 215,000 in 2014).

The wide-ranging measures encouraged the growth of technologies that could block or restrict robocalls; gave consumers the right to revoke their consent to get robocalls; empower consumers to stop companies from calling a number that has been recently reassigned to another consumer; and protections to keep consumers from getting a call just because they’re in an acquaintance’s phone.

Indeed, some companies are rising to the occasion. One promising company, Nomorobo, offers technology that can recognize and block robocalls, but it isn’t currently available for cell phones and traditional landline phones (only Voice-over-IP, or VOIP is supported.) There are also numerous apps that promise to block cell phone calls, some of which are free, some not. CTIA – The Wireless Association (previously known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association) has a list of apps athttp://www.ctia.org/your-wireless-life/consumer-tips/blocking-robocalls.

Of course, robocalling technology has its upside. Schools, for example, make effective use of robocalling to let parents know of school emergencies and closings, and your bank can let you know if your balance is getting low. But the biggest growth in the robocalling industry isn’t so positive; millions of customers lose billions of dollars each year by robocalling scammers.

For now, it appears that robocalling is here to stay, but you aren’t powerless. If you get a call and don’t recognize the number, you can just ignore it or save the number to a “scam” contact in your phone’s address book, and make its ringtone silent. You can also report the number, but without a little more information, it’s difficult to make a case.

One of the best options has always been – and still is – the Do-Not-Call Registry. If you are getting unwanted calls, it could help to place your number on the list. The federal list is at http://www.donotcall.gov; the Mississippi list is athttps://www.psc.state.ms.us/nocall/nocall.html.