Even if you no longer have a landline and only use your cell phone, and you’re signed up for the federal Do Not Call list, the problem of unwanted telemarketer calls continues to get worse and worse.

In response, the Federal Trade Commission has launched a new effort to locate the callers and bring legal action against them.

According to Janice Kopec, the Do Not Call registry enforcement program coordinator at the Federal Trade Commission, a new technique called the “honeypot” involves using more than 200,000 old, inactive phone numbers that have been given up by people.

“Those phone numbers, just like everyone else, get hit with robocalls and get hit with unwanted calls, and so we use those phone lines as a way to hear what the pitch is,” she said.

“We’re also using those phone lines to identify trends, and also in some cases to gather evidence to find where these wrongdoers are calling from.”

Why is this technique referred to as the “honeypot”?

“The phone numbers aren’t doing anything in particular to attract this attention any more than mine or yours is, but they’re still drawing bees to honey, so to speak.”

Kopec said the main goal is to shut down robocallers and rogue telemarketers so they can no longer bother people, and if they’re engaged in fraud, to freeze whatever money they have so it can be refunded to consumers who have been ripped off.

She said that over the past eight years, “We’ve brought 131 law enforcement actions to court. All of those cases target people who are making unwanted and illegal calls.”

Kopec explained each enforcement action may include multiple individuals and companies that are engaged in this activity.

“In total we’ve targeted over 400 companies and well over 300 individual defendants,” she said.

Kopec added the FTC is focused on cracking down on two distinct types of illegal calls.

“The first type we see is a scam or a fraud call, sometimes it’s a live operator calling specifically to rip you off, trying to defraud consumers,” she said.

The other type of call is illegal and unwanted, but it’s not necessarily selling or pitching something that’s fraudulent.

“You might get multiple calls to see if you’re interested in solar panels or something like that. There may ultimately be a legitimate company selling whatever the pitch is, but the telemarketers calling you are illegally calling you: They’re making robocalls to you without your consent,” she said.

Kopec pointed out several apps, including some free ones, can help consumers block robocalls, and certain carriers have also developed telemarketer blocking technologies, but if you do get robocall, “you want to hang up, don’t talk, don’t argue with these people, don’t say anything, don’t press 1.”

If you respond in any way, she said, you will simply get more annoying calls.

“Anytime you do that you are confirming to them that there is a live person at the end of your phone line, and that will potentially increase the number of future robocalls that you’ll get.”

She added as tempting as it can be to “argue with them or to engage with them in some way, don’t do it —just hang up.”

To file a complaint about a telemarketing call you can go to donotcall.gov.

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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