PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Every day tens of thousands of Americans get illegal robo-calls.

“Hello, this is Rachel at Cardholder Services, calling in reference to your current credit card account.”

Commercial robo-calls – almost all of them scams – are illegal without your written permission, but they are proliferating rapidly, say Federal Trade Commission officials.

“Used to have to put together a boiler room, hire people, get phone lines, etcera,” FTC attorney Kati Daffan told KDKA Money Editor Jon Delano. “Now, all it takes is a computer and an Internet connection and with the click of a mouse you send out millions of calls very quickly and cheaply.”

The challenge is to find new technology to beat these scam artists, says Carnegie Mellon professor Raj Rajkumar.

“At this point, we do not have the technology,” says Rajkumar.

That’s where the FTC has stepped in.

“We are offering $50,000 to the person or small team or organization that can come up with the best solution,” said Daffan.

While phones can be programmed to block specific numbers, robo-callers use ever-changing numbers that are very hard to trace.

Carnegie Mellon professor Marvin Sirbu is skeptical of any quick improvement.

“I’m optimistic a solution can be found, but I think it will take years, if not decades, to actually implement such a solution,” says Sirbu.

If someone develops the technology to block robo-calls, the winner will be announced this April.

But those robo-calls you’re getting right now from politicians? They’re constitutionally protected.

So, you’re stuck with those forever.

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