Telemarketers call in reinforcements as they ignore do-not-call list

The FTC offered a $50,000 prize last year to whoever came up with the best idea for thwarting robocalls. Nearly 800 people offered suggestions, many of which, I'm guessing, involved assorted acts of violence.

The contest ended in a tie. Serdar Danis and Aaron Foss each received $25,000 for software intended to spot and block offending calls before they reach people's homes.

Does that mean we'll see anything like this put into operation soon? Probably not.

The FTC says it's not endorsing any particular solution. It awarded the prizes just to highlight the fact that potential remedies are out there and to encourage phone companies to do the rest, such as filtering out unwanted calls.

"The carriers could do more," Greisman said.

But there's the rub. Cracking down on telemarketers basically means phone companies would be cutting back on business from some of their more active customers, albeit really annoying ones. And phone companies have never been particularly eager to do anything that reduces revenue.

They've also discovered that the problem of telemarketing represents a lucrative business opportunity.

In California, Verizon charges $2.50 a month to block calls from anonymous numbers, although this won't stop spoofed numbers. The company also charges $4 a month to block calls from up to a dozen local numbers, but this will still allow "800" numbers to get through.

AT&T charges $7.50 a month for each of the same services, though the company says some customers may have them included in their calling plans.

For the time being, it looks as if consumers' best bet is the FTC's ongoing game of Whac-A-Mole with telemarketers.

Agency officials advise consumers to hang up as soon as an unwanted marketing call arrives. Don't press any numbers if prompted to do so because this will alert the marketer's computers that an active phone line has been found.

And even though it may seem pointless, Greisman encouraged consumers to always report unwanted marketing calls to the FTC.

"We'll find who's making them," she pledged. "It's hard, but it's not impossible."

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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