Stopping Robocalls in Their Tracks



As this year’s mid-term elections get closer, you’ll surely notice an increase in robocalls — those annoying phone messages from one of your local politicians asking you to vote for another local politician.

Other robocalls — from telemarketers, charities and research firms – present a similar nuisance, only all year long, year after year after year.

And “nuisance” is the least of the problem. Robocalls are more often a starting point for consumer fraud, with over a billion dollars worth of losses annually, according to the FTC. Robocall scams, often targeting the elderly, include come-ons for “free” medical alert devices, reduced-fee credit cards and mortgages, “vacation of a lifetime” cruises and other offers (apparently) too good to be true.

The truth is: if you have a landline or a mobile phone, you’re likely affected by the robocall epidemic. In fact, 21 percent of all calls to a landline are a robocall, according to recently released Nomorobo data.

What’s also interesting to note is that both the FCC and the FTC define robocalls as unsolicited prerecorded telemarketing calls. The word “telemarketing” in that definition is what gives a few organizations the opportunity to benefit from this loophole, including (but not limited to) charities, political organizations, research firms or companies that have express written permission to call you. Obviously, even these “legal” robocalls are quite annoying.

Despite the FTC’s establishment of its National Do Not Call registry about 15 years ago, the problem is only getting worse. The “Do Not Call” list has been successful in stopping legitimate U.S. businesses from annoying consumers, but illegal robocallers play by different rules because they’re often based overseas and rely on cheap technology to pump out millions and millions of calls daily.

The good news is that due to the sheer volume of consumer complaints (about 200,000 a month) and the fraudulent issues involved with these robocalls, the Federal Trade Commission has been far more active in protecting consumers and fighting robocalls. Just last year, the FTC turned to the private sector for a solution. The FTC Robocall Challenge challenged anyone – company, individual, college class, whomever – to come up with a technical fix to this growing problem.

One of the FTC’s aims was to encourage and find new technologies that would work with any phone — a criteria the winners, including Nomorobo, fulfilled.

Nomorobo’s service works by automatically detecting calls that have been autodialed and stops the calls from being delivered to you. And, unlike the FTC and FCC, Nomorobo doesn’t make exceptions for calls from politicians, charities or research firms. Nomorobo does, however, automatically allow urgent mass-messages concerning matters like school closings, weather emergencies, appointment reminders, prescription reminders, and the like.

Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire; in this case we have to fight robocalls with technology to stop the invasion before it gets worse.

About Aaron Foss

Aaron Foss is the founder of Nomorobo, a service for blocking illegal robocalls from reaching consumers’ phones. He’s the winner of the FTC Robocall Challenge and has testified before the US Senate about the problem of illegal robocalls. In addition to being a serial entrepreneur, he is a professor in the business division at Molloy College in Rockville Center, NY. His previous venture, SideTour, a TechStars company, was acquired by Groupon in September, 2013.


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