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Robocall 'crackdown': FTC blocks more than a billion illegal calls, but problem festers

Nathan Bomey
The Federal Trade Commission blocked more than a billion illegal robocalls in a "crackdown" coordinated with law enforcement agencies.

The Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday that it had blocked more than a billion illegal robocalls in a "crackdown" coordinated with the Justice Department as well as state and local law enforcement agencies.

The agencies collectively took 94 actions against robocallers touting bogus services such as credit card interest rate reduction and medical alerts. The actions included seven new FTC cases, including four settlements.

Consumers get "tens of billions" of illegal robocalls annually, according to the FTC.

So, the latest enforcement action is admittedly a "drop in the bucket," said Andrew Smith, the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau director. 

But the agency will continue its "coordinated effort to stem the scourge of illegal robocalls" by pursuing individual cases and coordinating with policymakers, he said.

A phone showing a third-party app that blocks robocalls in Orlando, Florida, in August 2017.

In 2018 alone, the agency received 3.8 million complaints about unwanted robocalls, which have proliferated in part because technology advancements have enabled perpetrators to impersonate other phone numbers.

"Nearly all" robocalls are illegal, Smith said.

How to stop robocalls: Block numbers on your iPhone, Android and even landline

Learn more: 3 reasons robocalls are hard to stop and 5 things to do about them

If you receive a robocall, the FTC's advice is:

1. Hang up.

2. Block the number. (Tips on how to do that.) 

3. Report it at FTC.gov/complaint.

Examples of the latest attempt to combat robocalls:

• The FTC filed a complaint in a Florida federal court against First Choice Horizon LLC and three individuals working for the company for allegedly concocting a "maze" of operations to target callers, including many seniors. They allegedly offered dubious credit card interest rate reduction services. The FTC is seeking a temporary restraining order, asset freeze and the appointment of a receiver.

• The FTC filed a complaint in a California federal court alleging that a company operating as 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle, Online Entrepreneur Academy and four related individuals used robocalls and other illegal marketing to lure people into bogus money-making opportunities. The FTC is seeking an asset freeze and temporary restraining order.

• The Department of Justice filed a complaint seeking to enforce a settlement that would ban Florida resident Derek Jason Bartoli from calling phone numbers listed on the federal government's Do Not Call Registry or engaging in deceptive caller ID practices known as "spoofing." The case also imposes a $2.1 million civil penalty on Bartoli, though it will be suspended because he cannot pay the fine.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Robocall 'crackdown': FTC blocks more than a billion illegal calls, but problem festers