Robocalls come in all manner of teeth-gnashing manifestations. One of the latest: We answer a call, but suspecting a robocall, we say nothing. After a moment’s pause, a voice says, “Hello?” with an intonation meant to entice a reply, a hello as in, “Hello? Why aren’t you saying anything?” Then you reply “Hello” and the recorded robocall embarks on its spammy spiel. You’d slam the phone down if it didn’t mean breaking the device’s screen.
Federal and state authorities feel your pain. Teaming up with officials in Illinois and other states, the Federal Trade Commission has announced a new crackdown on robocallers, targeting them with a series of lawsuits and settlements that included hefty fines and cease-and-desist orders. Defendants in those cases were responsible for placing as many as a billion robocalls, the FTC said. No, you did not receive the majority of these, it only seems that way.
In Congress, a bill called the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act has been introduced that would require phone carriers to offer to customers technology that would identify and block spam calls at no extra cost, The New York Times reports.
It’s good that government is taking action, but we’ve heard this dial tone before. Authorities in the past have trumpeted crackdowns on the unscrupulous generators of robocalls. And? Like an epidemic unloosed, the robocalls continue.
Robocalls do more than annoy. They trick people into giving up sensitive information, like Social Security numbers and credit card data. They scam people out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The volume of robocalls is eye-popping. An estimated 4.7 billion robocalls were made to mobile devices in May, The Washington Post reports. The FTC says its gets about 10,000 complaints about robocalls daily.
“We’re all fed up with the tens of billions of illegal robocalls we get every year,” Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. Battling “this scourge remains a top priority for law enforcement agencies around the nation.”
That’s heartening, but it’s going to take more than intervention from law enforcement agencies and governments to whittle down the scourge of robocalls. All of us potential marks must play our part.
How? There are call-blocking apps that you can download (some are free, some charge a fee). You can also sign up for the federal Do Not Call Registry, though the FTC reports that robocallers have figured out how to access phone numbers on that list. You can report robocalls to the FTC at ftc.gov/calls. And, of course, there are common-sense steps — hang up immediately on automated recording calls, and allow unfamiliar phone numbers to go to voicemail.
Marc Rachman, an intellectual property expert, told the Tribune’s Corilyn Shropshire that federal authorities’ efforts to combat robocallers is “like whack-a-mole.” Shut down one robocall enterprise, another pops up. Authorities and telecom companies should keep up the vigilance, but so should consumers. Block robocallers, and report them. Let’s all help put a stop to the scourge.