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FTC crackdown targets robocalls

The Federal Trade Commission says it is cracking down on robocalls, stepping up efforts to halt illegal automated sales calls that are a growing annoyance for millions of households.

Since September, 2009, the FTC has banned prerecorded telemarketing calls unless consumers give written permission. Marketers are not allowed to trick people into signing a robocall waiver by burying it in fine print.

"American consumers have made it crystal clear that few things annoy them more than the billions of commercial telemarketing robocalls they receive every year," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said when the law was enacted. Despite the ban, the calls are on the rise, the agency said.

Complaints about robocalls have risen steadily from a monthly total of just over 65,000 in October, 2010, to 140,500 in September, 2011, according to the FTC's most recent figures. The agency received 250,000 complaints about unwanted sales calls in September last year, but many don't indicate whether the call was automated or live.

The FTC says making automated calls is easy and increasingly cheap. The calls also are becoming more difficult for law enforcement and regulators to trace because of new "spoofing" technology that allows the originator to transmit a fictitious caller ID.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Patricia Sabatini is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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