Win Up to $25,000 in FTC’s Robocall Crackdown Contests

Photo (cc) by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

The FTC is cracking down on robocalls, and you can win up to $25,000 to help hang up on the annoying interruptions, especially if you’re tech savvy.

Just a day after the Federal Trade Commission announced a $7.7 million civil penalty against a Florida cruise line and seven other companies allegedly masking robocalls as a legal political survey, the agency announced two contests challenging the public to help it fight telemarketers who misuse phone lines.

Both contests involve a honeypot, an information system that may be used by government, private and academic partners to lure and analyze robocalls. The FTC wants the public to develop a crowd-source honeypot and better analyze data from an existing honeypot.

The challenges are part of the FTC’s long-term multipronged effort to combat illegal robocallers, and contestants of one of the challenges will compete for $25,000 in a top prize.

Consumers have previously sought to fight back on their own by tormenting telemarketers and finding ways to keep them at bay.

“At the Federal Trade Commission we know that consumers on the Do Not Call Registry continue to receive illegal and unwanted telemarketing calls, and that robocalls in particular are a growing problem,” FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny said in a public statement. “Law enforcement alone cannot put a stop to robocalls. We also need to go toe to toe on the technological front to develop powerful solutions to the problem.”

The contests:

  • Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back: The FTC asks contestants to create a technical solution for consumers that will identify unwanted robocalls received on landlines or mobile phones, and block and forward those calls to a honeypot. A qualifying phase launched March 5 and runs through June 15; and a second and final phase concludes at DEF CON 23 on Aug. 9, when five contestants are selected from the qualifying phase and move to a final round, competing for a top prize of $25,000. Up to two honorable mentions may be awarded $10,500, and each remaining finalist may also be eligible for $2,000 for a total of $50,000 in cash prizes.
  • DetectaRobo: The analytic contest will take place during the National Day of Civic Hacking, June 6, an annual global effort to unite citizens in collaborating with government to solve a variety of technical challenges. Participants will be given data from an existing honeypot and must develop an algorithm that identifies which calls are likely robocalls. Contestants will be encouraged to join a hackathon near them or participate in the FTC’s contest virtually.

In 2012, the FTC Robocall Challenge garnered more than 800 submissions and resulted in at least two solutions available in the market today. Last year, the FTC hosted a three-phase honeypot contest at DEF CON 22.

In the Florida cruise line case, the FTC and 10 state attorneys general acted against Florida-based Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc. and seven other companies whose telemarketing campaign from October 2011 through July 2012 averaged about 12 million to 15 million illegal sales calls a day, the agency charged. Consumers who answered these calls typically heard a prerecorded message supposedly from “John from Political Opinions of America,” who told them they had been “carefully selected” to participate in a 30-second research survey, after which they could “press one” to receive a two-day cruise to the Bahamas.

Consumers who completed the survey and pressed one were connected to live telemarketers who sold not only the cruises, but also preboarding hotels, cruise excursions, enhanced accommodations, and other travel packages, the FTC said.

The defendants agreed to court orders settling the charges against them, the FTC said.

“Marketers who know the ropes understand you can’t steer clear of the Do Not Call rules by tacking a political or survey call onto a sales pitch,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Anyone who assists in making illegal calls is also on the hook.”

Most of the cruise line’s penalty will be suspended after it pays $500,000.

The FTC was joined in this action by the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington.

Are you getting a growing number of robocalls? If so, do you take any action to stop them? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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