Feds offer $50,000 prize for new plan to block robocalls

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The automated messages that always seem to dial your phone at the worst possible time have become such a headache that regulators are offering a $50,000 prize for the best proposal to block them.

The cash award will go to the winning idea that can put an end to illegal commercial robocalls, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday, October 18th.

The automated calls are a top consumer complaint, according to the Federal Communications Commission, and a problem regulators have had trouble solving on their own.

"We think this will be an effective approach in the case of robocalls because the winner of our challenge will become a national hero," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, said in a statement.

"Shady telemarketers," as the FTC refers to the businesses operating the auto-dialers, place thousands of calls each minute. Often such calls display false or misleading caller ID information and are frequently deceptive, the FTC said.

FTC officials said Thursday they were working with industry insiders and experts to find a solution to the problem.

While the challenge is open to the general public and private companies, organizations employing more than 10 people will compete for the FTC's Technology Achievement Award and not the cash prize.

Entries will be graded on three criteria -- how well they work, how easy they are to use and whether it could be easily rolled out to the masses.

The FTC posted the rules and fine print on Challenge.gov, the federal government's clearinghouse for finding solutions to a myriad of issues through partnerships with the general public. Entries must be received by January 17, 2013.