Feds offer $50,000 for solution to stop robocalls

Increasing complaints about illegal robocalls just prompted the federal government to take unusual action in the effort to catch robocall scammers and stop the scams.

For the first time, the Federal Trade Commission is challenging the public to help. The agency is offering $50,000 for the best technical solution.

Unless you give advance permission, a recorded message trying to sell something is illegal. Sue and Gary Hempel of Shoreline get at least a call a week.

"I hate it. I absolutely hate it. It drives me crazy," said Sue.

We all hate it -- calls about credit card services, home security systems, bargain cruises. They're all deceptive, and all in violation of the robocall regulations.

I get them all the time. So I posted a rant on my Facebook page and a lot of you chimed in.

Jim in Kirkland says he gets up to 10 calls a week.

"It drives me nuts" commented Darlene in Freeland.

From Brenda in Sedro Woolley: "They won't take 'NO' and will argue with you, and I'm on the NO Call list!"

Some of you, like Kelly in Tacoma, have even disconnected your landlines to avoid the irritation.

The FTC wants to draw from your outrage. The agency joined technical experts and telecommunications leaders in a first-ever Robocall Summit held Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The FTC says the big challenge for regulators and law enforcement is technology. Scammers are using technology to hide their locations and identities but different phone companies use different technical systems that make it difficult, often impossible to track down the people behind the calls.

Regional FTC Director Bob Schroeder says most of the robocall scammers are in foreign countries, using the internet to make the phone calls.

"They're spoofing the number that comes up on caller i-d , so there's not a way right now for us to track them through the numbers that come up," Schroeder said.

With so such a large-scale problem to combat, the FTC is taking a strength in numbers approach to finding a solution. The agency is on the hunt for innovative technology that can help beat the scammers at their game and encouraging anyone with solid ideas to step up.

"The way to deal with them is to use technology to identify calling patterns, identify the calls, and block them before they even get to your house," Schroeder said.

Until that happens, regulators say your only alternative is to hang up immediately when you get a robocall trying to sell you anything- or a robo survey that does not clearly spell out who's conducting the survey and why at the beginning of the call. Never press any numbers. Never try to talk to a human. That just insures you'll get even more robocalls from scammers.

Even better than hanging up, whenever possible, use caller ID or voicemail to screen the call If you don't recognized the number, just let the phone ring. Whatever you do, do not call back.

The FTC says reporting the robocall phone numbers does not help track the scammers, but it does help investigators monitor the scope of the problem. By reaching out to innovative companies or individuals, the agency hopes to identify a technical solution that will work, will be easy to use, and can be executed with minimal difficulty.

Entries will be accepted starting Oct. 25.

More info:

FTC on robocalls