EDITORIAL: Any hope for robocalls?

I don’t know about you all but I’ve been getting robocalled like crazy lately. It was actually back in 2013 that a law went on the books increasing penalties for robocalls and it proceeded to be instantly useless. But I will admit that sometime after I penned that Throwback Thursday article in 2016, the volume of them did actually drop a bit. I doubt the two things were connected.

Robocalls?

I would guess that of all the people who read this article, maybe 6 don’t know what a robocall is. For the rest of you, you’ve been as inundated as I have with calls claiming to be “Windows Technical Department,” “Internal Revenue Service,” or “Rachel from Cardholder Services.” Other calls claim there’s some miracle federal program that can save me money on solar energy. Robocalls just what they sound like: automated calls that are designed to prequalify people so that regular human telemarketers aren’t bothered by all the profanity and loud hangups. Hey, I feel for telemarketers. They have a tough job and they probably would do something else if they could. But that doesn’t mean I want to be hit by robocalls.

Automatic dialing machines, as far as I know, are illegal. They have been for a very long time. The thing is, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to set up a computer to make these calls from overseas and transfer them back to the US in the rare case that someone falls for their line of nonsense. This makes enforcement almost impossible until it gets to be a massive, massive problem.

Do not call? Really?

There is a nationwide do not call list. If you’re not on it, stop reading this article and get on it. It doesn’t help much, but it does help a little. At least I think it helps a little. If nothing else it allows me to freak telemarketers out when I reply to them, “You’ve called a number on the federal do not call list. May I have your social security number so I can dispatch an FTC agent to cite you personally?” Hey, you get your entertainment where you can.

The Do Not Call list has a few loopholes however. If you’re using a product or service, or even an entire category of product or service, telemarketers can call you about that product, service, or category. For example, if you’ve called an electrician, then it’s basically game on for anyone who wants to sell you any sort of electrical service. If you use any sort of cell phone or computer (and it’s no stretch to say you are) then anyone selling services for a cell phone or computer can call you with impugnity. This is a loophole that was put in by political parties who didn’t want to lose access to their own members or even those people who are in some way associated with their members.

When it comes to robocalls, the do not call list isn’t useful at all. These companies are already disobeying the law by simply existing and they aren’t a bit scared by federal law.

Can anything be done?

Here, I’m going to say no, nothing can be done other than simply not working with these companies. Robocallers rely on the fact that calling someone over the internet costs nothing and so these operations don’t need a really big return on investment in order to stay in business.

At one point, during the height of the spam e-mail crisis about 10 years ago I recommended that a tax of .1¢ be levied on every email sent. For a regular person, that amount would be nothing. A person who sends ten emails a day would pay under four dollars a year. On the other hand a spammer who sends out two million emails a day would pay $730,o00 a year. That would change the economy of things. Of course, it would also hit legitimate retailers like Solid Signal so I’m glad it didn’t happen. In the meantime, the CAN-SPAM act imposed penalties for those companies in the US who violated the rules. More importantly big providers like Google got really smart about spammers.

Unfortunately a similar solution wouldn’t work as well for robocalls. It’s very easy to disguise your location on the internet. It’s even easier to “spoof” the caller ID information. Unfortunately those are really the only two ways to catch a robocaller.

That leaves good old information. Just tell everyone you know not to buy anything, ever, from a robocaller. Sooner or later the economics will catch up with them and the whole thing will come crumbling down.

 

At least I hope so.