The phone rings – again.
The area code is the same as mine, but I don’t recognize the number. I don’t answer.
About a minute later, there is part of an automated message on my voice mail. “If you’d like to speak to a representative, press one,” it says. “If you’d like us to remove your number from our call list, press 2.”
It’s from the “Health Enrollment Center” and is the same as the 24 other calls received in May.
And that’s on the cell phone. The home phone has another 30.
They’re robocalls. They just keep coming … and coming … and coming.
I tried pressing 2 to have my number removed, but that obviously didn’t work.
I tried pressing 1 to speak to an actual person and ask why they keep calling me when I’m on the national Do Not Call list. They explain that the numbers are automatically generated, but they’ll put me on the list not to call.
That didn’t work either.
I tried to find out who was behind the calls, but that was pointless. Either the live person you reach doesn’t know – or they’ve been instructed not to tell.
I’ve even tried blocking the numbers, but that doesn’t work either. The 25 calls in May all came from different numbers, as did the 50 other numbers I’ve blocked since April 1.
That’s a process called “spoofing.” It’s when the caller deliberately disguises the number on your caller ID so you don’t know who it is from. “Neighborhood spoofing,” which is what all but three of my calls were, is where the number is similar to your own. The theory is that if it’s the same area code and exchange as your number, you’re more likely to answer it. It fools some people.
Spoofing is illegal. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), penalties can be up to $10,000 for each violation.
But regardless of the number that pops up on the caller ID and the potential penalties, it’s exasperating. And I shouldn’t have to deal with it if I’ve put my numbers on the Do Not Call list.
I even tried filing a complaint but when the numbers keep changing, how could anyone actually follow up?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for enforcing the Do Not Call rules. According to the website:
“To date, the Commission has brought 141 enforcement actions against companies and telemarketers for Do Not Call, abandoned call, robocall, spoofing, and Registry violations. To date, 127 of these FTC enforcement actions have been resolved, and in those cases the agency has recovered over $52 million in civil penalties and $72 million in redress or disgorgement.”
I guess whoever is making those “health enrollment center” calls isn’t part of the enforcement actions – yet.
It’s no consolation, but I’m not alone. Hiya, a software company in Seattle, says that “a total of 26.3 billion robocalls were made to American phones in 2018, up 46% from the previous year’s total of 18 billion.”
“Nearly every American has faced that moment where they think they’re getting a call from somebody they know, only to realize it’s an annoying robocall,” said Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH-05). “They’re a nuisance, a waste of time, and the scams perpetrated by robocallers often have a real-life impact on our vulnerable populations.”
He’s introduced the STOP Robocalls Act: Support Tools to Obliterate Pesky (STOP) Robocalls Act.
“The proliferation of robocalls is a quality-of-life issue, and we need to take action to curtail them,” he added.
His bill is co-sponsored by Congressman Michael Doyle (D-PA-18) who is the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology (C&T). Latta is the Republican leader on that subcommittee.
The STOP Robocalls Act would:
- Require the FCC to do a study on requiring voice over internet protocol (VoIP) providers to keep records on each call that are sufficient to trace and track the source of the call.
- Require the FCC to issue regulations establishing a process for private entities to voluntarily share information with the Commission. Such information includes a call or text message that has been illegally spoofed or is an illegal robocall.
- Allow carriers to provide robocall blocking technologies to customers on an informed opt-out basis at no charge, creating a way for customers to receive free illegal robocall blocking services.
Latta’s bill isn’t the only one dealing with the issue. Six other bills have been introduced to help stop robocalls and other unwanted calls and texts.
Aaron Foss, the founder of Nomorobo, testified during a recent subcommittee hearing on the bills. Nomorobo is a phone app that says it has stopped over 1 billion robocalls. It was the winner of the FTC’s Robocall Challenge.
“I propose that we change the laws around sales robocalls from an ‘opt-out’ system into an ‘opt-in’ one,” he told the subcommittee. “Right now, you have to take action if you don’t want to get the calls. I believe that you should have to take action if you do want to receive them from certain parties. In order to make sales robocalls, you must have the current owner’s express written permission.
“It doesn’t matter if the call is being made to a landline or a mobile phone, a residential line or business one,” he explained. “It doesn’t matter if your number is on the Do Not Call registry or not.
If you don’t have consent, the answer is ‘No’.”
If only it were so simple.
The bills are a priority for both political parties, but they will take a while to enact and then the agencies responsible for enforcement will have to write rules.
In the meantime, ctia.org, a website for the U.S. wireless communications industry, has a list of call-blocking apps for each cell phone operating system. There are also call blocking devices that can be added to land lines, but they’re not cheap.
Such apps and devices will have to do until something better comes along.
Now excuse me while I delete another 15 robocall hang-ups from the home phone and take this cell phone call.
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Maggie Leigh Thurber is a writer for The Ohio Star. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.