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Turning the table on telemarketers and robocalls

By Candice Madsen | Posted - Jun 14th, 2017 @ 10:57pm

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AMERICAN FORK — It's tough to find anyone who's not fed up with robocalls, but John Mulholland, of American Fork, decided to start answering these calls.

"It's really obnoxious," said Mulholland. "I want to figure this out and do my part and see if I can help stop these robocalls."

Mulholland, a software engineer, started tracking the calls and also asked to speak to the telemarketers' managers. "I'd say, 'look, you are getting this referral illegally. I'm going to go and rate you one star and I'd also like to know who you bought these referrals from.'"

At the time, most of the calls Mulholland received were from solar companies, and two of those companies told him they got his name from a lead generating company in Nevada, even though Mulholland's number is listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.

"They gather your personal information and then they sell it to multiple companies," he said.

Those companies often don't know or don't care to find out if the numbers are listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.

"It is effective for those businesses that choose to comply with it," said Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. "Are the bad actors going to still do their thing? Yes," she said.

According to the Federal Communications Commission Robocall Strike Force report, 29 billion unwanted prerecorded calls hit American phones last year.

While the Do Not Call list may seem like a lost cause, Giani said it should still be the first line of defense against robocalls. "We are urging people to contact the Federal Trade Commission," said Giani. "We know they've gone after businesses vigorously."

A federal court just ordered Dish Network to pay $280 million in fines for violating telemarketing rules, and a judge in California banned nine people from telemarketing for life and issued hefty fines. The FTC accused them of making more than 100 million calls a year, using the Do Not Call Registry.

"Right now, due to all the technology we have with the internet, it is extremely cheap to do these calls," said Mulholland. During his experiment, he found the more he answered the calls the more he received.

Giani said telemarketers for solar companies are hitting Utah especially hard right now because of proposed rate changes in August.

Giani warns against answering any call from a telemarketer because most of those calls are recorded and if you answer "yes" to a question like, "Can you hear me now?" they could use your recorded voice to charge you for something you didn't agree to purchase.

Many people get tricked into answering robocalls because the number that appears on their caller ID is often spoofed.

"We had someone here have someone call him using his own telephone number," explained Giani.

Since those numbers are falsified and often belong to other customers, they are hard to block, but the wireless industry is working together to stop robocallers.

T-mobile sends customers an alert so they know not to answer. AT&T created its own app called Call Protect, which helps block fraudulent calls and notifies the customer about suspected spam.

Apps that block robocalls


Verizon recommends downloading Nomorobo. It answers robocalls for you and blacklists the number to keep them from calling other customers. The service is free for landlines and costs a $1.99 a month for mobile lines.

Call Blocker

This app works on Android phones and allows customers to block calls at certain times. It costs $9.99 for a year subscription.


This app works on both Android and iOS and uses a community-based spam list to identify robocalls. It costs $1.99 monthly.


YouMail is free and replaces your existing voicemail. It includes an automated virtual receptionist.

Turning the tables

Wireless customers have at least one option for the turning the table on telemarketers. The Jolly Roger Telephone Company allows customers to pick a robot who will do the talking for them. You have to answer the call and then transfer it to your robot. The robot can recognize voice patterns and respond in a way that will tie up telemarketers.

KSL tested the software. Click below to listen to some of those calls.


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