Illegal robocalls vary by state, hard to trace

6:15 AM, Aug 27, 2013   |    comments
(Photo: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
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(USA TODAY) -- At least once a day, Carole Sanfilippo gets a telemarketing call, despite having registered her phone number on the national Do Not Call registry three years ago.

Sanfilippo, of Cathedral City, Calif., has complained to the Federal Trade Commission about the unsolicited calls, which she said have become more frequent than before she was on the registry.

"I think it's actually worse than it was before," she said. "I don't know what else to do than what I've already done."

Though complaints about illegal telemarketing calls have skyrocketed nationwide, some states have recorded more complaints than others.

Lois Greisman, the FTC's director of marketing practices, says telemarketers are "very likely" to avoid certain states if they've gotten into trouble with the attorney general's office for violating the state's do-not-call list.

Marguerite Sweeney, a deputy attorney general in Indiana, said 59% of do-not-call complaints in 2012 to her office were about computer-generated recorded messages often aimed at selling consumers useless extended auto warranties or enrolling them in debt-reduction programs. Identifying these tech-savvy telemarketers, she says, is difficult.

"Tracking down the telemarketers is a big challenge," she said. "The investigation leads us offshore and to call centers in foreign countries, and sometimes, the investigation leads nowhere because they're using a fake number. But when we can identify, we pursue enforcement of our law very aggressively."

FTC records show Indiana still has fewer do-not-call complaints per resident than many neighboring states. Next door, Illinois registers more complaints per resident than any other state - nearly three times as many as Indiana. Connecticut, Arizona, Colorado and Rhode Island also have more complaints per 100,000 residents than the rest of the country.

FTC officials say the complaints don't necessarily indicate more problems. Increased awareness about the do-not-call program, including outreach by consumer advocates and state officials, have resulted in more customers such as Sanfilippo filing grievances when they're bothered by robocalls.

Those close to the issue are working to fix it.

Aaron Foss, a New York-based freelance software developer, won the FTC's recent public challenge for someone to create a solution for robocalls. His creation, "Nomorobo," will be live by the end of the summer, with a basic version available for free.

Nomorobo intercepts robocalls before they get to the consumer's phone and hangs up if it perceives a threat.

In beta testing, Foss said Nomorobo blocked 80% of robocalls. He said he hopes to solve what he calls a "quality of life" issue.

Greisman says that Foss' innovation would give more consumers the ability to protect their privacy, a "tremendous, promising development," while the FTC continues to go after robocallers violating the law.

Do Not Call Complaints

In 2012, the most recent year for which the FTC has state-by-state data, complaints about violations of the national Do Not Call Registry reached an all-time high. Some states saw far more complaints per 100,000 residents than others.

State Phones registered Complaints in 2012 Complaints per
100,000 residents
Illinois 9,428,321 234,473 1,822
Connecticut 3,013,067 63,018 1,760
Arizona 4,498,144 113,992 1,758
Colorado 4,342,049 86,422 1,689
Rhode Island 797,350 17,727 1,686
New Jersey 6,951,831 147,853 1,676
Washington 4,924,897 113,916 1,668
Delaware 717,216 14,822 1,634
Oregon 2,791,116 62,161 1,605
Ohio 8,557,707 178,544 1,547
New Hampshire 1,147,287 19,350 1,468
Massachusetts 5,558,073 90,943 1,381
District of Columbia 576,471 8,482 1,373
Maryland 4,528,061 77,867 1,336
Alabama 3,207,509 61,734 1,285
Wyoming 428,013 7,276 1,281
California 24,524,648 481,212 1,277
Nevada 1,822,122 34,281 1,259
Michigan 7,573,033 124,117 1,257
Virginia 6,004,720 100,105 1,236
Idaho 1,088,730 19,497 1,230
Louisiana 2,687,052 55,518 1,214
Florida 14,010,491 230,019 1,207
Tennessee 4,309,124 77,280 1,207
Georgia 6,794,716 115,783 1,180
New York 13,295,784 221,495 1,138
Pennsylvania 9,651,242 145,027 1,138
Texas 14,789,360 279,642 1,089
Kentucky 3,134,519 47,416 1,085
Utah 1,823,554 30,018 1,066
Maine 1,005,478 14,124 1,063
New Mexico 1,350,760 22,099 1,061
Kansas 2,267,642 30,180 1,051
Vermont 456,279 6,565 1,048
Nebraska 1,430,058 18,725 1,016
West Virginia 1,129,341 18,762 1,011
Iowa 2,367,584 30,737 1,004
North Carolina 6,460,030 96,789 1,002
Arkansas 1,917,890 29,103 991
Minnesota 4,168,083 52,138 975
South Carolina 2,913,765 44,306 947
Montana 742,721 9,224 924
Oklahoma 2,536,997 31,574 833
South Dakota 599,111 6,272 761
Missouri 3,849,290 43,628 726
Wisconsin 3,872,916 38,291 670
Hawaii 725,779 8,656 630
Mississippi 1,549,358 18,314 615
North Dakota 486,759 4,109 601
Indiana 3,745,232 35,570 546
Alaska 330,754 2,398 332

Source:Federal Trade Commission

MEGHAN HOYER, USA TODAY

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