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FCC should end robocalling altogether

Johnson City Press • Jun 12, 2019 at 12:07 PM

Ever get a call from your own phone number? It happens, thanks to the number spoofing technology spammers and scammers use to make robocalls.

More often, you’ll receive a call seemingly from your own area code. Might it be your doctor’s office? Your bank? Your sister’s new number? Even legitimate businesses — satellite radio for example — use the local number trick in hopes you’ll answer.

Since caller ID is not universal, you never know who might be on the other end. So you answer, only to receive another message about saving on your high-interest credit cards, buying an extended warranty or supporting who claim to be local volunteer firefighters.

Frustrated, you press 1 when prompted and demand to be taken off the call list. Click. A few hours or a few days later, another call comes from another local number. Protest. Click.

How many times have you repeated this maddening routine? Federal and state “do not call lists” are useless against these unscrupulous, victimizing callers. These automated campaigns are capable of sending out millions of calls in a single day.

Some relief could be on its way. After a storm of complaints from the public, the Federal Communication Commission earlier this month finally voted 5-0 to allow phone carriers to identify the numbers and block the calls by default. Carriers have until the end of the year to develop the technology.

It can’t come soon enough. The annoyance alone is enough to force the issue, and blocking is a step in the right direction.

But consumers should demand more of regulators. Beyond the pestering nature, these calls are predatory. Unsuspecting consumers may be bilked into buying useless services and providing credit card numbers and other personal information that could lead to identity theft.

The FCC already prohibits anyone from making robocalls to cell phone numbers without the recipients' prior consent. The FCC allows non-commercial robocalls to landlines, but they must provide two things: pre-recorded messages to identify the caller and a telephone number or address where the caller can be reached. The FCC cracked down on some extended warranty scammers 10 years ago, as have some states.

So why do we get the calls at all? Why are spammers still in business? The federal government must step up its efforts to end caller ID spoofing and to prosecute people and companies who make automate commercial calls. Furthermore, political campaigns, pollsters and charitable organizations really have no business intruding with random robocalling either, even to landlines. The practice should be banned altogether.

In the meantime, you can do your part. The FCC recommends hanging up on illegal robocalls and protecting yourself with technology like a call blocking app. Allowing a number you don’t recognize to roll to voicemail is another good strategy. If it’s truly an important call intended specifically for you, the caller will leave a message.

You can report robocalls and other abuses at ftc.gov/complaint.

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