Image: Morguefile

Sometimes it seems like telemarketers have a psychic ability to call when you’re sitting down to dinner or worse, taking a nap. Surprisingly, though, most automated dials and pre-recorded messages are actually illegal.

The Federal Trade Commission is calling for new strategies to crack down on the phenomenon, and has launched a consumer education campaign this week to provide information on the calls and what can be done when they are received. The automated dials, which are known as “robocalls,” are frequently scams, and because they operate outside the law, the persons making them pay little attention to the national Do Not Call Registry.

“Companies are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost,” the agency wrote. “If a company doesn’t care about obeying the law, you can be sure they’re trying to scam you.”

A few types of calls — mostly ones for political, research and charity purposes — are still allowed. If you receive any other type, the FTC’s advice is to hang up and report the call, rather than staying on the line in hopes of talking to a human. You could also consider blocking the number, but the agency said scammers change their numbers frequently, so it might not even help.

Later this year, the FTC will host a summit on new ways to deal with unwanted calls, which will be open to the public and will include consumer advocacy groups, members of law enforcement, and the telecommunications as well as telemarketing industries. The agency hopes to uncover new ways to trace wrongdoers, and to keep them from exploiting flaws in the telephone system.

Technology is the answer,” the agency wrote. “Companies are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost.

Fighting back against a perception that little is being done to fight the annoying calls, the FTC also said that it has stopped “billions” of them during the last two years. The Commission also said it has brought 85 enforcement cases against violators, resulting in $41 million in penalties.

Here is the FTC’s guide on what to do if you receive a robocall.

Images: Morguefile, TriStar Pictures

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