PD Editorial: When the do-not-call list gets ignored

  • A familiar sight should be popping up a little less often starting Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004. On that date the Federal Trade Commission regulations go into effect requiring telemarketing firms to identify themselves. Under the new FTC regulations the name displayed by Caller ID must either be the company trying to make the sale or the firm making the call along with a phone number to call if you no longer want to receive the calls. The regulations are part of the do-not-call registry which started last October. (AP Photo/Roswell Daily Record, Bill Moffitt)

<i>If I'm on the "do-not-call" list, why do I keep receiving robocalls and other unrequested solicitations?</i>

You're not alone if you've asked that question, particularly during election season. The answer may be what you already suspect: Many telemarketers and businesses don't care. They're calling you anyway.

Businesses have long shown little respect for the fences erected by the do-not-call list. But as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, those fences are being ignored more than ever.

In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the list, received roughly 2.6 million complaints about violations. Last year, an election year, the number increased 54 percent to nearly 4 million.

The main problem: technology. Most big companies still respect the list, but many smaller companies are taking advantage of technological advances that make it easier and cheaper to make automated calls.

One particularly annoying development is the automated robocall that loops in a live telemarketer as soon as a human answers. According to the Times, some are using technology that tricks residents into believing the call is from a relative or a friend. Or they simply hide the origin of the call to get around caller-ID screens.

"These are fraudsters, and they were never going to comply with the do-not-call list," Lois Greisman, associate director of the FTC's division of marketing practices, told the Times.

But the FTC is not giving up. Since the Do-Not-Call Registry was created 10 years ago, the FTC has taken action against 530 businesses and individuals accused of violating the list. Just last month, the FTC announced the biggest fine to date. The Florida-based home-financing firm Mortgage Investors Corp. agreed to pay $7.5 million. It was a handsome victory for the FTC, but it's small victory in the grand scale of things, given that some 221 million phone numbers are now listed on the registry.

The FTC has tried other techniques as well. The commission recently offered $50,000 to whoever came up with the best idea for thwarting unsolicited calls. According to the Times, the challenge generated 800 ideas and ended with a tie between two people who developed software that would help identify and prevent calls to those who have listed themselves as solicition-free zones.

So what's the answer? Tougher penalties? More resources for the FTC so it can crack down on rogue telemarketers? Equipping those who want to be left alone with a cybervirus that can be unleashed on businesses that don't respect do-not-call? We don't know. But we would like to hear your ideas.

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