Monday, June 18 , 2018, 5:08 am | Fair 51º


Diane Dimond: Hello, FCC and FTC — Can You Hear Me Now?

It happens 2.9 billion times each month. All across this nation, citizens are being pestered by privacy-invading telephone calls from either live or tape-recorded telemarketers, spammers and scammers even though there are state and federal laws against such unwanted calls.

Think about this: 2.9 billion calls a month translates to 96.6 million of these annoying and frustrating calls placed every single day. That's 4.25 million phone calls every hour, causing many who answer them to want to tear out their hair.

So, what's Washington doing to help alleviate this productivity-killing, ever-present nuisance that plagues us? After all, unwanted prerecorded calls are clearly illegal unless the company has your prior written permission to phone you.

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are tasked with enforcing the federal robocall laws and regulations. In 2003, the FTC set up a handy-dandy National Do Not Call Registry for which citizens could register. Just plug in your home and/or cellphone numbers, and viola! You are (supposedly) protected from this most bothersome form of communication.

I just double-checked my home phone number the other day — which, by the way, is an unlisted and blocked number — and the FTC registry told me: "You successfully registered your phone number ending in XXXX on June 29, 2003. Most telemarketers will be required to stop calling you 31 days from your registration date." Really? Then why am I still getting multiple maddening phone calls every single day?

Just for kicks, I also checked my cellphone number and my husband's, and got a similar message. No need to re-register, I was informed, for we are shielded from the telephonic nuisance. Yeah. Right.

Back in 2016, Sen. Chuck Schumer introduced a spiffy-sounding bill called the Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones Act (or ROBOCOP Act), which would have required phone companies to offer free tools to block robocalls. Schumer promised the bill would grant us all some relief.

"The ROBOCOP Act will finally help put a rest to these dreaded calls that are interrupting family dinners — or worse — scamming people out of their hard-earned money," Schumer said during a splashy news conference. "Robocalls are one of the things that annoy Americans the most." Well, I'm annoyed, Mr. Schumer, that you didn't work harder to actually get that bill passed. It died in committee.

Since that time, entrepreneurial companies have developed computer software (apps) to help consumers control these calls by blocking them from even ringing.

The YouMail firm is a pioneer in the field of counting and mapping robocalls, and its list of the worst robocalling hotspots across the nation is considered a must-read. Even the FCC cites its statistics. YouMail offers a free blocking app and boasts that it helps consumers ward off more than 500 million unwanted calls a year.

A newcomer in the field is RoboKiller. This app promises it can automatically block more than 100,000 telemarketers and robocalls from ringing through even if they change their numbers. It also has a "revenge" feature, an Answer Bot (different recordings of human conversation) that will engage the live telemarketers in meaningless chatter so as to waste their time.

But before you rush to get one of these apps, realize that there are now all sorts of pre-taped robocalls you probably want to get. Your doctor's office might be calling to remind you of an upcoming appointment. The company you bought your new appliance from could be calling to give you a delivery time. Utility companies are using robocalls these days to tell customers when they need access to read your meter.

Just last fall, Lois Greisman of the FTC admitted to Congress that Americans' privacy is being invaded by the sheer number of these unwanted calls, and that "robocalls are also frequently used by criminal impostors posing as trusted officials or companies." Well, if these calls are illegal to begin with, why do they keep happening 2.9 billion times a month?!

Greisman said the FTC is using "every tool at its disposal to fight these illegal calls," yet every year, millions of us continue to file complaints. It is pretty clear that Washington has dropped the ball on this problem.

Midterm elections are coming up, folks. I intend to copy this column and write a form letter saying, in effect: "I am a taxpaying U.S. citizen. You are supposed to uphold the anti-robocall law and protect me. Step up the prosecution of these annoying scofflaw companies! Or get lawmakers to pass laws with teeth in them." I plan to send it to the White House, the FTC, the FCC and all my elected officials in Congress. And I will remind them I vote. Join me?

Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >