A Robocall Blocking Contest? You're On!

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The Federal Trade Commission, overwhelmed by complaints about robocalls, is getting desperate. Come up with a winning solution and you could walk away with big prize money. No, it's not a scam.

If you've ever picked up the phone and heard an automated message you never agreed to get, that's a robocall. And it's illegal. The FTC fields more than 200,000 complaints about these calls every month — many of which are scams, according to NPR's Lauren Silverman. In the fight to stop more than a billion robocalls, the FTC is asking citizens for solutions.

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The contest, called the FTC Robocall Challenge, will be accepting submissions until 5 pm EST January 17. According to the rules, the person or team that the judges think has the best overall solution gets $50,000 and a travel for up to two representatives to Washington, D.C. The winning solution will be announced on April 15.

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Robocallers can use Voice over Internet Protocol or VOIP from offshore locations to stay just beyond the FTC's grasp. That makes the challenge even harder. So far, hundreds of individuals and teams have submitted ideas for solutions. Some are high-tech, while others are fairly straightforward.

One submission by Ron Prosky highlighted on CNN Money proposes phone service providers offer a robocall filter called Robo Nono that asks inbound callers to enter a three-digit code in order to leave a voicemail message.

The Verge's Adrianne Jeffries pointed out that an app submitted to the contest, the Robocall Lookup Tool, allows robocall recipients to automatically submit the call details to a database and is currently free on iTunes. Another submission suggested simply turning your phone off and changing the outgoing voicemail message to say "Due to the number of robocalls I'm receiving, I've turned off my phone so that it won't ring," Silverman reported.

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Robocalls are basically phone spam, and they're awful to receive. To me, they're even worse than the early days of email spam because they tie up your phone line. That feels more personal somehow. Here's hoping someone out there has a solution that makes persistent robocalls a thing of the past.

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