09/25/2012 01:17 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2012

'Robocalls' Used By Florida To Fight Illegal Business Signs

Robocalls: They’re not just for telemarketers and political campaign staffers anymore.

Miami-Dade county officials are using automated phone-calls to pester business owners who post advertisements illegally along the city’s main roads, The Miami Herald reports.

In Florida, officials have said the calls combat a proliferation of illegally posted signs for “Cheap Houses” and “Bankruptcy Relief” that serves to remind tourists of the state’s struggling economy.

Signs on public property like highway medians or telephone poles are illegal in many Florida communities. But officials often need a subpoena to trace a phone number on a sign and track down its creator. So they’ve instead programmed computers to call violators every 45 minutes during business hours and leave pre-recorded messages that alert them of the offense, according to the Herald.

The only way for an adverstiser to stop the automated calls is to contact the city, which matches the phone number with an address and issues citations for the illegal signs, the Herald reports. “I’m not chasing them,” one building code official told the newspaper. “They’re coming to me.”

Other states have begun cracking down on illegally placed ads, though local business groups have pushed back against stricter sign ordinances, alleging that they hurt small businesses' ability to advertise their services.

The robocalls have been so successful in Florida that city officials said they’ve seen a 90 percent reduction of signs in some areas, according to the Associated Press. Fines reportedly range from $75 to $250 depending on how many violations a company has committed.

“It’s the only crime I know where a person deliberately leaves their phone number behind,” Hollywood, Fl. Mayor Peter Bober told the New York Times in June. “They want us to call. So let’s call. And keep calling.”



Weird Billboards