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Better laws needed to stem the tide of robocalls

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 four-and-a-quarter million phone calls every hour, causing many who answer the calls to want to tear their hair out.

So, what’s Washington doing to help alleviate this productivity killing, ever-present nuisance that plagues us? After all, unwanted pre-recorded 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. Back in 2003, the FTC set up a handy-dandy Do Not Call Registry citizens can sign up for. Just plug in your home and/or cell phone numbers and – voilà! – 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’s 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 the numbers for both my cell phone and my husband’s and got a similar message. No need to re-register, I was informed, we were shielded from the telephonic nuisance. Yeah. Right.

Back in 2016 Senator Chuck Schumer introduced a spiffy sounding bill called the Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones Act (ROBOCOP) which would have required phone companies to offer free tools to block the calls. 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,” Schumer said. 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 through on your phone.

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 over 500 million unwanted calls a year.

A newcomer in the field is RoboKiller. This app promises it can automatically block over 100,000 telemarketers and robocalls from ringing through even if they change their numbers. They also have a “revenge” feature, an Answer Bot – different recordings of human conversation – that will engage the live telemarketer 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 pretaped 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 American’s privacy is being invaded by the sheer number of 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 multiple millions of us continue to file complaints. It is pretty clear that Washington has dropped the ball on this problem.

Mid-term 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 the U.S. Congress. And I will remind them I vote. Join me?; e-mail to