FTC launches new operation to combat illegal robocalls

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (WMTV) -- More than 2 billion robocalls are made per month -- Some of them are legal, while others are not. The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau (BBB) wants you to know how to spot an illegal robocall, and what to do about it.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said nearly 2.4 billion robocalls are made per month, and the number has increased significantly because internet-powered phone systems make it cheap and easy for scammers to make illegal calls.

In June, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced "Operation Call it Quits." The operation includes 94 actions targeting operations around the country that are responsible for more than one billion calls.

A robocall is a phone call with a recorded message, rather than a live person, according to the BBB. The callers could include bogus companies claiming to lower utility bills or credit card rates, government grants, vacation packages and calls from fake IRS agents.

A robocall is legal in the U.S. if it's regarding a candidate running for office, a charity asking for donations, and informational messages, such as reminders from your doctor's office. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities are also allowed if the organizations make the calls themselves.

A robocall is illegal if the recording is trying to sell you something. If you haven't given written permission to get calls from the company on the other end of a sales call, the call is illegal. Buying a product or contacting a business with a question does not give them legal permission to call you.

The FTC recommends you take three steps to reduce unwanted robocalls:

  • Hang up: If you get a recorded sales pitch call, hang up. The FTC says do not speak to anyone, and don't press a button to supposedly remove your name from the list -- It could result in even more calls.

  • Block: You can reduce the number of unwanted calls by using call-blocking technologies.

  • Report: After you hang up, report the unwanted or illegal call to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. The more information they have about the call, the better.

The FTC also says not to trust calls that say they are from the IRS or Social Security Administration. Scammers know how to fake Caller ID information.

The BBB says you can help stop robocalls by reporting the calls you receive. You can report directly to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint, or you can report to the BBB at BBB.org/ScamTracker. The BBB shares the information with government and law enforcement agencies.